Your Views: No cause for celebration

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A rendering of the Potomac Yard Metro Station design. (Rendering/WMATA)
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To the editor:

The Army Corps of Engineers has given Alexandria the green light to fill in a wetland along the George Washington Memorial Parkway so the city can finally build its new Metro station in Potomac Yard and reap the rewards of so-called smart growth.

Hip-hip-hooray. Three cheers for Eco City Alexandria and the eco-minded staff and elected officials who convinced federal and state officials that the best place – indeed the only place – to build a Metro station was in a wetland in a park owned by the city and protected by a scenic easement.

When challenged by real environmentalists to explain their choice, staff responded by saying that the Metro station will provide greater environmental benefits than the wetland. It’s the sort of rationale you would expect to hear from President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency today as it goes about weakening wetland regulations, not from elected Democrats who say that they care about fighting climate change and protecting the city’s natural environment.

But, now, after spending millions of tax dollars on consultants and public relations, the City of Alexandria has gotten approval to construct a Metro station where they and developers always wanted it to be.

At first, the National Park Service wasn’t inclined to remove scenic easement protections on the wetlands since those guidelines were established to protect the Parkway from further development after Potomac Greens was built. But that all changed when Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote the acting director of the National Park Service a letter in which they parroted the city’s position that the Metro station had to be built there.

The senators encouraged the NPS to accept millions of dollars for improvements to Daingerfield Island in exchange for doing exactly what the city has always wanted to do. As you might expect, money and political pressure did the trick, and the NPS agreed to the deal.

The city followed up with a survey of the forested wetlands. As you might imagine, they didn’t find much worth saving. Nor did they find the tidal wetlands that connect these wetlands to the Potomac River, or the rare aquatic species that are there, until citizens pointed them out.

But that was not enough to stop a city with deep tax pockets and support from developers from beating back citizen opposition and getting a permit to drain a wetland they were intent on occupying from the start.

Wetlands have always been thought of as “improvable.” Today, there are far fewer freshwater marshes to save along the Potomac River and rapid climate change is making them even more valuable as we become more vulnerable to flooding and ecological havoc.

But that didn’t stop Alexandria from putting a Metro precisely where it shouldn’t be. In selecting this location for a Metro station rather than one of several other locations, Alexandria’s elected leaders have shown that they are not environmentalists but developers. This is not a cause for celebration, but shame.

-Andrew Macdonald, former vice mayor, City of Alexandria

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