Tak­ing aim at Tysons green space — again

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY RANDY ATKINS

Ajust-re­leased an­nual re­port card gave the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay a C grade, not­ing that the bay’s “over­all health re­mained steady de­spite many pres­sures . . . across its wa­ter­shed.” This ten­u­ous con­di­tion is threat­ened by Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­posal to elim­i­nate fed­eral fund­ing for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay cleanup. But that’s only part of the prob­lem when it comes to pro­tect­ing this na­tional trea­sure, and some­times lo­cal of­fi­cials don’t seem to be do­ing their part.

Sev­eral years ago, when Fair­fax County Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment staff started plan­ning the street grids for the trans­for­ma­tion of Tysons Cor­ner into a mod­ern ur­ban cen­ter (re­peat­edly promised by of­fi­cials to be a “green” city of the fu­ture), it drew in a new ramp from Route 267 and an ex­ten­sion of Boone Boule­vard that would plow right through a Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Re­source Pro­tec­tion Area.

Re­source Pro­tec­tion Ar­eas are buf­fers ideally kept pris­tine from auto pol­lu­tion and other runoff that could en­ter the bay. They are a key part of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Preser­va­tion Act en­acted by the Vir­ginia Gen­eral Assem­bly and es­tab­lished to cre­ate a co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween the com­mon­wealth and lo­cal gov­ern­ments in re­duc­ing and pre­vent­ing “non-point source” pol­lu­tion. Shock­ingly, how­ever, it seems that lo­cal gov­ern­ments can eas­ily claim ex­emp­tions for build­ing roads through pro­tected ar­eas un­der cur­rent law.

With the Boone Boule­vard plan, a coali­tion of area com­mu­ni­ties de­cided to ap­peal to logic. Af­ter a long, hard-fought bat­tle by the Save Tysons Last For­est move­ment, of which I was a part, the Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­vi­sors (and other politi­cians) ap­peared to have an epiphany. In early 2013, it voted against the RPA-en­croach­ment plan. We thought we had won.

But that didn’t de­ter trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials. The road war­riors are now plan­ning to drive four-plus lanes of Boone Boule­vard along­side a stream val­ley east of the orig­i­nal RPA, then plow them right through the other side of the for­est, over the stream and through loop­holes in Vir­ginia law. All of this is be­ing pro­posed with­out any se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal study.

This year, my neigh­bor­hood, the Greater Tysons Green Civic As­so­ci­a­tion, reached out to the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity. DEQ of­fi­cials re­sponded: “First and fore­most, nei­ther the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Preser­va­tion Act or the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Preser­va­tion Area Des­ig­na­tion and Man­age­ment Reg­u­la­tions re­quire that de­ci­sions re­gard­ing RPA en­croach­ments, ex­cep­tions or ex­emp­tions made by a lo­cal gov­ern­ment be ap­proved by DEQ, the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Recre­ation (DCR) or EPA.”

It seems that Fair­fax County can do what­ever it pleases in a Re­source Pro­tec­tion Area — and it is.

Be­cause all this made lit­tle sense, our civic as­so­ci­a­tion filed a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest with the county to find out more about the Boone Boule­vard de­ci­sions. The doc­u­ment dump we re­ceived in­cluded an email from a branch chief in the Fair­fax County Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works and En­vi­ron­men­tal Ser­vices say­ing that the pro­posed Boone align­ment “re­sults in a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact to the Old Court­house RPA and stream chan­nel, would con­flict with the restora­tion plans un­der­way and would likely re­quire that the stream be re­lo­cated when the road is built at a cost in cur­rent dol­lars of $1,300 per lin­ear foot of stream im­pacted.”

A Fair­fax County se­nior trans­porta­tion plan­ner for­warded that email to col­leagues, writ­ing that “it doesn’t seem we can get the bless­ing . . . from storm wa­ter per­spec­tive given the fact that [the cur­rent plan] does cross the wet­lands and stream. We can pro­pose some mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures in this fea­si­bil­ity study but we will not com­mit to any of them.”

That’s just a small ex­am­ple of the dis­mis­sive­ness the doc­u­ments re­vealed. And while our com­mu­nity has re­peat­edly tried to bring this to Fair­fax County lead­ers’ at­ten­tion again, the same su­per­vi­sors who were so en­vi­ron­men­tally con­cerned just a few years ago ap­proved the first piece of the Boone Boule­vard ex­ten­sion, which takes new aim at a Re­source Pro­tec­tion Area.

It is clear that for the long-term health of our en­vi­ron­ment, we need to elim­i­nate or re­vise ex­emp­tions for pub­lic roads that cut through pro­tected ar­eas. And, even if ex­emp­tions rules aren’t changed, de­vel­op­ers and lo­cal of­fi­cials should do the right thing. Our politi­cians need to re­con­nect with their con­sciences. We in the pub­lic must hold them ac­count­able.

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