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Town Of Chevy Chase To Pay For Purple Line Environmental Study

by Aaron Kraut — May 15, 2014 at 8:05 am 736 24 Comments

An example of an amphipod specieas, Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal Maňas

The Town of Chevy Chase will pay for a $10,000 study to look for an endangered shrimp-like creature thought to be in streams near the proposed path of the Purple Line.

The Town Council on Wednesday agreed to make a requested $15,000 charitable donation to the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail (FCCT) nonprofit group. The FCCT will use $10,000 of that contribution to pay for a study by an American University professor, who will survey local stream Coquelin Run for the amphipod and two tiny crustacean species like it.

Some opponents of the Purple Line argue the Maryland Transit Administration wrongfully ignored the potential for the 16-mile light rail to harm the species in its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The presence of the rare creatures — generally smaller than half-an-inch — are indicators of healthy freshwater streams.

The MTA has said it didn’t address the amphipod question in its Environmental Statement because there is no record of the species in the Maryland section of Rock Creek.

Led by Chevy Chase environmental lawyer John Fitzgerald, the FCCT said it sought out American University biology professor David Culver, who has done surveys of amphipoda in the D.C. section of Rock Creek.

The contribution request did not include any detailed information on the study. In its unanimous 4-0 decision to grant the donation, the Town Council required the FCCT to provide a copy of its contract with Culver within 10 days.

Of the remaining $5,000 in the donation, $4,000 will go to fund the FCCT’s annual Save The Trail 5K (set for May 24) and $1,000 will go toward updating the group’s website. FCCT board member Jim Roy said the group makes around $2,000 to $3,000 each year from the annual 5K event.

Fitzgerald and Roy explained the details of the environmental study to the Council during the public hearing, after a resident and a few members of the Council asked what the study was about.

“I object to this whole procedure of allowing additional testimony. I think the application should be decided on the basis of the application,” said resident Don Warren, a Purple Line supporter. “What the Town Council is doing is coaching the applicants to provide additional satisfactory information.”

The $15,000 donation elicited the same kind of debate the Council’s $350,000 lobbying contract did earlier this year. The vast majority of those who testified in person on Wednesday did so in support of the contribution and the environmental study.

Responses on one of the Town’s listservs provided a more mixed view.

“During the recent campaign there was plenty of talk on consensus building, responsible spending, and open government,” wrote Town resident Jacob Bardin. “I am hopeful that the new council will act on the campaign rhetoric, and not use our tax dollars to support this controversial organization.”

Bardin referenced the fence controversy surrounding FCCT President Ajay Bhatt. When a resident brought that up, new Councilmember Vicky Taplin said Bhatt’s backyard fence in the Purple Line right-of-way was a personal issue and had little to do with the FCCT’s request.

Another resident described the FCCT as “a beacon” of information throughout “this entire ordeal,” referring to the Purple Line.

Purple Line rendering via MTARoy claimed that the MTA and Purple Line proponents have attempted to mislead people by outright lying in renderings of a newly built Capital Crescent Trail alongside the Purple Line.

Critics of the FCCT often point out that the Purple Line will include a rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail that has the support of the area’s major biking organizations.

Most of the individuals who spoke Wednesday made it clear they side with the FCCT and the Town against the Purple Line.

One resident said she feared Town residents wouldn’t be able to leave because of all the increased traffic from increased development she assumed would come as a result of the light rail. Councilmember John Bickerman said the environmental study would help the Town fight massive new buildings part of the Bethesda Downtown Plan, despite the fact county planners have yet to reveal any zoning recommendations.

Another resident said she doubted Montgomery County — which would be responsible for rebuilding the Capital Crescent Trail — would “pony up” for the estimated $100 million rebuilt trail. County officials have promised the rebuilt trail is a mandatory element of the project.

The environmental study, 5K race and website upgrade are all part of the FCCT’s “Now or Never” campaign, which comes on the heels of the federal government’s Record of Decision — the document that essentially approved the MTA’s Environmental Statement.

Fitzgerald said the study will start this spring and won’t be completed until a second surveying period in the fall.

Some questioned how that timeline qualified the donation as an urgent need — one condition required in the Town’s recently reworked charitable contribution policy. The Town has a budget surplus of almost $9 million and has dedicated $300,000 to contributions in its budget for next fiscal year.

“These guys are hard to find,” said Bickerman, referring to the tiny critters.

Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal Maňas

  • People’s Republic of Maryland

    So amazing what NiMBYs will do to impede progress when they believe their stuff may be impacted. Just limousine liberals like all of Montgomery County.

    • josfitz

      Let’s actively work to change that.

  • Wayne Phyillaier

    So .. so called “Save the Trail” says the arthopods haven’t been found in Coquelin Run yet because an experienced arthopod hunter has not yet been paid to look there. So if the arthopod hunter does find them where he is paid to look, doesn’t that show that they are not really endangered but merely hard to see unless you are looking??

    • Brian

      No. You fail at logic (and spelling). “Amphipods” have long been suspected in the area, but few (if any) surveys have been conducted. If the endangered amphipods are found where they are thought to be, that certainly doesn’t mean that they’re everywhere. Duh.

      • Anonymous Bethesdan

        As an apparent supporter of the amphipods and the fight against the purple line, please explain to me and others how the proposed purple line will harm the hays spring amphipods. The trains won’t be running through the creek itself (at least I don’t think they will), and it’s hard to imagine the project contributing to runoff or pollution in the watershed in excess of other projects or existing properties in the area. Did the building of 495 across Rock Creek Park harm the creatures over the past few decades? They’re still there. And if they still exist in the creek today, then I can’t see how building a rail and bridge network will negatively affect them.
        I do support the building of the purple line, and believe residents of Chevy Chase would be best served fighting for certain concessions, such as noise barriers, tree replacement, and appropriate crossings of the rail. But trying to block a public project by constantly arguing (seemingly minor) environmental issues is a waste of taxpayer resources (both townspeople AND county residents), and gives people fighting real environmental concerns a bad name.

        • Brian

          That’s a great question, and the answer is more complicated than can be adequately conveyed in this forum. So please excuse my curtness. Amphipods are a great barometers for water quality (kind of like the canary in the gold mine) because of their vulnerability to environmental changes. As just one example of the impact, the PL will indisputably destroy trees upstream. It is well understood that trees reduce soil erosion, reduce sediment, and filter pollutants. Trees also help decrease flood risks. The loss of trees for the construction of the line itself, combined with the increased development around stations, will adversely impact the amphipods if they are there.
          The second part of your inquiry seems to concern “why should we care?”. The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental legislation have had a tremendous impact on the quality of our natural environment. Most people take this for granted because they don’t live somewhere (e.g. China) where industrialization takes a back seat to nothing. I applaud the Town for its efforts in this regard.
          Sure, it’s easy to say that residents are a bunch of NIMBYs, but if they don’t care about environmental issues in their backyards, who will? Should they just say “Oh, I’m sure the government did its job correctly”?

          • Wayne Phyillaier

            Yes, the answer is complicated. Much too complicated to be answered by only pointing to the trees that will be lost to construction. We must also look at many other factors that impact the environment such as impact on number of automobile trips and their emissions, how land use patterns and economic growth will be changed, etc. The Sierra Club has looked beyond the trees to consider these other factors and has endorsed the Purple Line,
            http://www.purplelinenow.com/SierraClubpick.html

          • Brian

            Ah yes, the famous “appeal to authority” logical fallacy. The fact is that the Sierra Club did not consider the amphipod issue, which is the subject of this conversation. I know there are a lot of words on this page, but do your best to keep up.

          • Wayne Phyillaier

            Brian:

            You say that the answer to the environmental question is complicated, then you attempt to answer the question by only citing one of the many factors – loss of trees. Set aside the Sierra Club for now – my criticism of your simplistic answer is still valid.

            Do you always respond to counter arguments with snarky comments like “I know there are a lot of words on this page, but do your best to keep up.” Classy.

          • Brian

            Nope, I only respond with sufficient snark when the previous comment was irrelevant or included a personal attack.

            I obviously couldn’t discuss every factor, which is clear from the length of the ESA. Again, duh. For you to “criticize” that limitation, and then attempt an even shorter counterargument is just hypocritical.

          • chapoutier

            Wayne’s response was neither irrelevant nor did it include a single personal attack. So much for that vaunted “reading comprehension” you claim to have a monopoly on.

          • chapoutier

            Wayne wasn’t arguing that your argument is simplistic because it was short. He was arguing it was simplistic because it was focused exclusively on the very, very immediate environmental impacts of some lost trees and a bug and ignores potential broader environmental benefits. Where’s that reading comprehension again?

          • Anonymous Bethesdan

            Brian, I politely acknowledge we won’t agree on this subject. It seems quite evident to me and others that those CC residents arguing the amphipod angle don’t really give a hoot about the environment. If that was the case, the town would promote and enforce such environmentally friendly practices such as rain barrels and gray water reclamation, mandatory composting, etc. Instead, it’s simply a small faction of the townspeople who are grasping one of their final straws to block the line from happening. That straw simply happens to be a tiny little crustacean in this instance.
            I almost always side with environmental concerns. Just in this case, the greater good of a public project (reduce cars on East-West highway, provide rapid transit between two major MoCo urban areas, etc.) seemingly outweighs the environmental concerns being touted by a handful of town residents (tree loss and the amphipods) (important to also note their town does not border Rock Creek itself). Again, the correct angle to fight here is for mitigation. (tree replacement, noise barriers, a better path, improved safety, and ensure crossings are built so the town is not cut off) However, to do that, the small faction of townspeople would need to accept that the train is coming, and they can’t allow that, can they?

          • josfitz

            No, but let’s not tear reason to tatters. You make extremely valuable points but don’t you agree this is slightly academic?

            Could the Purple Line and the Capital Crescent Trail for hikers and bikers possibly coexist? If so, why not strive to make that happen for the benefit of all.

          • Brian

            Hi Josfitz, the plan is for the CCT and the PL to coexist. The problem is that that the Georgetown Branch section of the CCT will be remarkably different from what it is today, and it will also come with the expense of losing wildlife diversity. In fact, I don’t believe anyone will disagree with that. The difference of opinion lies in whether that loss of diversity is worthwhile given the supposed long-term benefits of the PL. And that’s what I find most unconvincing – all of the supposed benefits that have been shared with me are just generalities (i.e. more transit is good, it reduces pollution, less traffic, etc.). But when you dig into it and actually read the environmental impact statement, you’ll learn that many of these things aren’t actually true. For example, the EIS clearly states that the project is not intended to reduce traffic, and it says nothing about having the effect of reducing traffic. And that makes sense because the whole idea is to develop around the stations – meaning more people with cars in the same amount of space. So even if some people switch to mass transit, there will be greater density, and hence just as many people on the roads. Consider that with the loss of tree canopy and the noise and vibrations of trains every couple of minutes, and it seems strange to me that any local residents would be for the PL unless they just blindly love mass transit. That’s my opinion anyway, and I’m glad that you’re willing to listen. Many people are not.

          • josfitz

            Extremely well said. Good points all. As you stated, there are trade-offs that must be resolved. One aspect, however, has not been addressed. Even if the ability to utilize mass transit along the PL does not result in any reduction in auto traffic what about the increased mobility that will be afforded by those who do not own vehicles but who need to commute across our suburban ring. There is a value to them to provide a transit route. And, what about the autos that would have utilized surface streets that due to the line’s existence utilize it instead. Also, the PL will provide a mass transit route to Silver Spring and on to New Carrolton that does not require circuitous ravel through DC; it’s a must shorter trip. These must be considered along with the excellent points you have made. Unfortunately, these situations that require trade-offs are never easy. Heck, even situations that don’t require trade-offs are difficult. We live in complicated times.

        • josfitz

          Exactly. Moreover, the quality of the environment along the ICC route is now adjudged to be better than it was before this connector was built. Anyone remember the (I don’t know what it was but some sort of) tadpole and the supposed brouha over that? Does anyone see any similarities here? I (who have nothing but common sense) would argue the Amphipods would not be put in danger by running carefully constructed purple line capital crescent hiking/bike trail through the area.

  • Gull

    “Councilmember John Bickerman said the environmental study would help the Town fight massive new buildings part of the Bethesda Downtown Plan, despite the fact county planners have yet to reveal any zoning recommendations.”

    Just how would this study help a ‘fight’ against the Bethesda Plan? Last I checked if there are any massive new buildings they will continue to be along and west of Wisconsin avenue where the Metro and existing big buildings are. And even if they do propose more density – the area is already impervious – a parking lot, 2 story home and 15 story tower all have the same impervious surface if they have the same footprint on the ground – except the ‘massive new building’ would likely come with green roofs and infiltration tree pits which would actually be better for stormwater than what is there now… These people will say anything to make themselves look good even though there is no nexus.

  • Biker

    So if they find the endangered amphipods will Chevy Chase do anything to protect them?
    Limit the massive amounts of chemical applications used by their TWO golf courses?
    Ban the use of lawn fertilizer and pesticides?
    Require all homes to install rain barrels?
    Retrofit driveways and sidewalks with water permeable pavers?

    Don’t hold your breath

    • Brian

      Reading comprehension must be poor on this site. If they find endangered amphipods, it’s a sign of good water quality. So… I’m not sure what your point is. All of those things are good suggestions, but they’re not relevant to the issue.

    • chapoutier

      Talk about water quality and Endangered Species Act notwithstanding, they care about this critter exactly as much as it allows them to pursue their agenda. Perhaps they do find this amphipod and perhaps they can say with any sort of authority that the PL would negatively affect its habitat and perhaps there are good public policy reasons why we want to save it. Still doesn’t change the fact that it is being used disingenuously by people who simply don’t want the PL in their neighborhood.

      • Anonymous Bethesdan

        B-I-N-G-O.

      • Brian

        Even if your wild generalization is true for every PL opponent, so what? Is there something “dirty” about using existing law to support one’s cause? Isn’t that the democratic way?

        • chapoutier

          I don’t understand your definition of “the democratic way” in this context. But I’d at least have a little respect if you just came out and admitted what is evident to everyone else.

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