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.
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