Chevy Chase Residents, Environmental Groups Threaten Lawsuit Over Purple Line

by Aaron Kraut — June 25, 2014 at 5:10 pm 531 13 Comments

An example of an amphipod specieas, Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal MaňasA group of Chevy Chase residents and two environmental groups have threatened to sue the federal government unless it reconsiders its evaluation that no endangered species will be harmed by the building of the Purple Line light rail.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sustainable Economy, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and three Chevy Chase residents including John Fitzgerald sent the Federal Transit Administration and other federal agencies an official notice on Wednesday (see PDF below).

The group claims the FTA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in deciding that the Purple Line would have “no effect” on the endangered Hay’s spring amphipod and Kenk’s amphipod believed to live in various areas along the nearby banks of Rock Creek and Coquelin Run.

Unless the agencies agree to meet with the group and address their concerns within 60 days, the letter says the group will file a lawsuit claiming the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.

The group also cites the unfinished research of American University biology professor David Culver, who the group claims has found evidence that the shrimp-like critters live in stream areas that would be directly affected — and perhaps wiped out — by construction of the 16-mile light rail through Chevy Chase:

As discussed below, while the Service has stated that the Project will have “no effect” on either species, see 1/7/14 Letter from Genevieve LaRoche, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to Daniel Koenig, Federal Transit Administration (Attachment A) — and that determination has evidently been relied on by the FTA as a basis for avoiding formal section 7 consultation– new research conducted by a leading expert on the species, Dr. David Culver at American University, calls that conclusion into serious question and, at the very least, warrants further scrutiny by the Service before irreversible damage may be done to the habitat of these two highly imperiled species. We would therefore like to meet with representatives of the Service to discuss this recent research; what additional relevant information may be obtained in the near future; and the Service’s willingness to conduct an on-site review of some of the pertinent sites so that the agency may gain a better understanding of the impacts and risks entailed by the project.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail hired Culver to conduct surveying for amphipods with a $15,000 grant from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Culver is scheduled to go back out to the streams in the fall to survey for the creatures:

The most successful sampling technique for amphipods cannot be used in areas with high amounts of fine sediment making detection more difficult. A 2004 study on amphipods in Rock Creek Park demonstrated the relative success rate in detecting amphipods by seasons, showing that amphipods could be found in springs at some months of the year even when none were detected just a few months prior. Simply put, the inability to locate either amphipod species at a given time does not indicate they are not present in those habitat since it is characteristic of the amphipods (even more so than many other endangered species) to be difficult to find.

The letter said Culver has found seven springs and seeps close to the projected path of the Purple Line, as well as two small wetland areas that may provide suitable habitat for the Hay’s spring and, or Kenk’s amphipod. Two of the seeps are just east of Rock Creek and below the Capital Crescent Trail and are immediately adjacent to the Project. The letter said those areas would be destroyed if the Purple Line were to move forward as planned.

The FTA did not do a “Biological Assessment” because of the conclusions of Fish and Wildlife officials. Fitzgerald and the environmental groups want the agencies to do a more detailed evaluation within a supplemental environmental impact statement.

The letter quotes Culver, known for finding the amphipods in D.C., as saying, “It’s not like there’s a wall between D.C. and Montgomery County….The only reason not to look is if you don’t want to find anything.”

The group said it does think the Purple Line project can happen — if it includes suitable protections for the amphipods.

“We believe that there are solutions and alternatives available that can allow the Project to move forward without harming any endangered species,” read the letter.

But time is ticking.

“However, if the Service and FTA do not act within 60 days to correct the violations described in this letter, we will have no choice but to consider pursuing litigation to address these failings,” the letter concluded.

PDF: 60-Day Notice: Amphipod Protection Along Purple Line Route

Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal Maňas

  • NowYaTellMe

    Amphipods!?!? We’re talking about amphipods!? How embarrassing.

    • HTTR

      Well, the invertebrate exhibit has been shut down at the zoo so, we might as well talk about amphipods in Chevy Chase. The invertebrates should have hired an attorney as the amphipods did.

      • josfitz

        Yes, the more litigious the better.
        That is always good for a long delay, the more ridiculous the better.

  • Floyd

    Gotta love Chevy Chase, they certainly picked the right guy to do their study.

    “Simply put, the inability to locate either amphipod species at a given time does not indicate they are not present in those habitat since it is characteristic of the amphipods (even more so than many other endangered species) to be difficult to find.”

    Basically it’s heads I win, tails you lose. If he finds it then they are certainly there. If he doesn’t find it, then it means they are there but he didn’t happen to catch any. By his reasoning, since the amphipod hasn’t been found in many locations, it must be everywhere. Thing probably isn’t even endangered, just “difficult to find.”

  • HTTR

    The amphipods were all killed in the construction of Ajay Bhatt’s fence.

  • Ajay Bhatt

    What we know and love as the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver
    Spring is not only a beautiful shaded park in which thousands enjoy
    walking, biking and running in the shade of forest canopy, but also home
    to a diversity of plants and trees that support a web of life. We are
    NOT Anti-Transit but before clear-cutting this 25 acres of forest for 3
    miles of MTA’s 16 mile Purple Line we expect federal and state agencies
    to follow the law that no endangered species nor their habitats are
    adversely affected. Because it seems that the state and federal
    agencies involved in the project have failed to consider this issue
    completely, FCCT along with Center for Biological Diversity, Center for
    Sustainable Economy and several individuals have initiated this action.
    Ajay Bhatt
    Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail

    • Frank

      Shorter Ajay Bhatt: “We are anti-transit.”

    • L. R. Riding Hood

      The part of the trail East of Wisconsin Ave. is creepy unless you’re out at peak hours. Otherwise, I feel like Little Red Riding Hood.

  • Norman

    Friends of the capital crescent trail don’t let friends build fences on the capital crescent trail. What a hypocrite.

  • MBD

    The trail east of Wisconsin Ave is shady and peaceful – which it will no longer be if trains roar by and the trees are razed. In addition to the environmental impact, Montgomery county residents (and tax payers in general) should also care about the fiscal irresponsibility, opaque decision making, and dishonest reports presented to us.

    We want public transportation based on honest studies and reports as opposed to phony numbers and developers’ interests – facilitated by elected representatives who do not prioritize quality of life for the majority.

    You may want to take a look at the Saturday/Sunday edition of the Wall Street Journal in order not to be “fed” information only from local planners, politicians, and newspapers.


    • What does Fox News think?

      I don’t necessarily trust our state government and local newspapers, but let’s not try to pretend the Wall Street Journal is a fair source, especially an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal written by a small government conservative who it’s clear has no idea about the project.

      • josfitz

        Wall Street Journal provides the most unbiased news of all of the sources that I read. Yes, we’ll get far by demonizing the state and local governments and why not throw the national, state and local business community under the train while you are at it. Stop nasty, don’t hate.


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