Your View: We must protect what natural resources we have left

Your View: We must protect what natural resources we have left
The Potomac Yard Metro Station is set to open on May 19. (File Photo)

To the editor:

The announcement of the opening of a new Metro station in Potomac Yards coincides with Earth Day this year. It should be a reason to celebrate but instead it has generated a great deal of sadness and disappointment among those of us who keep hoping that the city’s elected leaders and the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities will make protecting and restoring what little remains of the town’s natural resources a much greater policy priority.

There was an alternative with far fewer environmental impacts but the city claimed that the development benefits were greater if the station was located on the east side of Potomac Yards near Potomac Greens. The construction of a new Metro station here required the razing of wetlands and trees, and the loss of at least one state rare wetland plant species, the critically imperiled Torrey’s Rush.

The Torrey’s Rush is a very rare plant species in the mid-Atlantic region, and the Alexandria population of this species is the only one known in the eastern half of the state, according to the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora. This species was discovered in Alexandria in 2018 by the city’s ecologist on a Virginia Native Plant Society field trip to Potomac Greens Park, an easement that had been established to protect the George Washington Memorial Parkway from encroaching development.

In 2019, Stantec, a contractor for the city, dug up the Torrey’s Rush from the Potomac Greens wetland park and relocated the plants to some other place in the park where they most likely have perished, according to local experts. This transplanting of an endangered species and the filling in of a wetland that once covered much more of this area should never have occurred and did not need to happen.

The National Park Service, which held the easement, was pressured by Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, to allow this project to be built where it would have the largest environmental impacts. The direct impacts were easier to see. However, the indirect impacts on the remaining wetlands, tidal and non-tidal, were unknown but are likely to be significant.

We certainly need more mass transit options to fight global warming and climate change. But we also need wetlands and species like the Torrey’s Rush and the many other native plants that once flourished along the Potomac River near Daingerfield island and along streams like Taylor Run and Strawberry Run.

In selecting to place the new Potomac Yards Metro station within the boundaries of an old but flourishing wetland, local elected officials and the city department charged with being a steward of these natural resources showed once again that protecting and restoring the city’s natural environment is not a priority in Alexandria, even on Earth Day.

-Andrew Macdonald chair, Environmental Council of Alexandria