Letter to the Editor: We must save the Potomac Yard wetlands

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Renderings of the Potomac Yard metro from 2016.
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To the editor:

Alexandria and Arlington are losing natural habitats to so-called smart growth development at an alarming rate.

Elected officials say that such density and growth will expand the tax base, which they argue we need in order to grow sustainably and smartly. But is this expansion really green and really all that smart? Let’s take a look at Potomac Yard, where the City of Alexandria plans to build a new Metro station to encourage higher-density commercial and residential development.

Alexandria’s preferred option, known as Site B, will destroy and degrade a few acres of wetlands situated between Potomac Yard and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The new station will also degrade the quality and character of the G.W. Parkway and the Potomac Greens Scenic Easement, which includes the wetlands.

This entire situation raises serious legal questions given that the National Park Service failed to protect the Parkway, wetlands and scenic easement.

These remaining wetlands were once part of a much more extensive network of freshwater tidal wetlands along the Potomac River. Such places should be protected and further restored, not destroyed. But the city rejected alternatives presented in the Environmental Impact Statement that would have prevented the destruction of these wetlands and other natural habitat.

The decision to build the station in the wetlands was pushed through Alexandria’s city council by politicians like Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, who will likely be our next mayor. He argues that locating the new Metro station closer to the Parkway will free up more space for about 13 million square feet of new development and get more cars off the road. OK, but what about the environmental and monetary costs?

The Potomac Yard Metro project is now expected to cost Alexandria taxpayers millions more than it might have if another option that doesn’t impact the wetlands or Parkway had been chosen. To reduce the price tag of the Site B station, city council – without any public knowledge – recently dropped a key entrance from the proposed design.

The only thing currently standing in the way of the destruction of the wetlands is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must issue a permit approving the filling in of the wetlands.

The idea that marshes and wetlands are “improvable” has been with us since the founding of Alexandria. And we can see the results all around us. There are fewer and fewer marshes, and it’s harder and harder to clean up the Potomac and restore its ecological integrity, especially in the age of global warming.

This is not sustainable, nor is it smart, but it is still preventable at Potomac Yard.

-Andrew Macdonald, former Alexandria vice mayor

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