This story, from the August 1 edition of The Northwest Current, also mentions Soapstone Valley and the Van Ness/North Cleveland Park/Forest Hills ANC. ANC 3F hosted a community meeting on July 18th. You can view it here. And to read more about Soapstone, see Marjorie Share’s July 8th article.
by Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Amid concerns about a potentially disruptive sewer project in Glover Archbold Park, the Wesley Heights/Foxhall advisory neighborhood commission is calling for further study of alternative solutions.
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority has focused on a plan to re-line 4.3 miles of pipe, which it says is aging poorly and at risk of failure without upgrades. Under this proposal, the authority would build an access road along the length of the pipe for construction and maintenance vehicles — probably by widening existing trails. A companion project is planned for 1.4 miles of Soapstone Valley Park in the Van Ness area.
Both residents and the National Park Service have raised concerns about the project’s threat to hundreds of large trees in the parks.
At the neighborhood commission’s July 10 meeting, water authority project manager Jessica Demoise said if her agency can’t work out a way to access the pipes, the sewer lines would have to be relocated to areas outside the parks. The relocation would require disruptive excavation and the installation of nearly two dozen pumping stations to counteract the flow of gravity. There would also be possible noise and odors associated with this option.
Neighborhood commissioners said at a meeting last Thursday [August 1] that the pumping stations option from the water authority (also known as DC Water) represented a false choice.
“DC Water admitted that the alternatives were not real options,” neighborhood commissioner Kent Slowinski said.
“Frankly, we’ve seen enough of that to be able to say, ‘This is not an acceptable alternative and you need to come up with something else,’” added commissioner Tom Smith. “I don’t think we know enough to say, ‘This is the solution that should be used,’ but I think we know enough that all the agencies need to get together and come up with more alternatives than we’ve seen.”
The neighborhood commission meeting came a day after Tara Morrison — superintendent of Rock Creek Park, which has jurisdiction over Glover Archbold and Soapstone Valley parks — published a Viewpoint article on the matter in the July 31 issue of The Current. Morrison wrote that the Park Service estimated that the access road plan would remove 650 to 950 trees with diameters exceeding 17 inches in Glover Archbold Park and up to 160 in Soapstone Valley Park.
“The impacts from removal or disturbance of potentially thousands of trees would be substantial,” she wrote, disrupting animal habitats, creating open areas that would stimulate invasive plant growth, and increasing stormwater runoff.
Morrison also said that the need for ongoing access and an anticipated future replacement of the pipe in 50 years would prevent the forest from healing. The Park Service is also asking the water authority to find new alternatives to its plan, which Morrison expects “in the near future.”
One option suggested by the neighborhood commission was to create a separate sewer easement within the park, away from existing trails, the Foundry Branch stream and other park resources. Commissioners also recommended installing “green infrastructure” on streets and properties abutting Glover Archbold Park to reduce runoff.They further said that Foundry Branch should be “daylighted” — relocated from a pipe to a natural streambed — as part of the project, and that the water authority should be required to conduct a more detailed environmental review than it has proposed.
But the commission’s main emphasis was on ongoing collaboration to identify a better solution. Commissioners called on the water authority to meet regularly with the Park Service; the D.C. Department of the Environment; affected neighborhood commissions, citizens groups and environmental organizations; and nearby residents.
Water authority spokesperson Pamela Mooring wrote in an email that the project team is continuing to review alternatives.
“DC Water continues to explore all technologies and means of access for the project,” she wrote. “We will be working closely with all stakeholders, especially NPS, DDOE and the ANCs. We appreciate their concerns and will remain engaged with them. As yet, no decisions have been made as we continue to examine all options.”
Thursday’s meeting focused exclusively on work in Glover Archbold Park, but the Forest Hills/Van Ness neighborhood commission — which covers Soapstone Valley Park — will likely pass its own resolution in the future regarding the issue, according to commission chair Adam Tope. His commission will also form a special committee to look into the issue, he added.
The National Park Service is soliciting public input online through Aug. 18. The site is available at tinyurl.com/pipe-project-comment.