At the June 26th public meeting on a project that would address the century-old sewer system running through the Soapstone Valley, no one challenged the need for relining the pipes and repairing manholes. DC Water’s presentation made it clear that the pipes and manhole covers, now more than 110 years old, have degraded to the point where action is needed. They presented photos of holes in the infrastructure, pipes invaded by tree roots, and a pipe exposed at a stream crossing. They talked about a significant leak into Soapstone Valley Stream in 2015.
DC Water’s presentation did meet with some challenges from the crowd, however. This was the public’s first chance to ask questions about the Soapstone Valley Park Sewer Rehabilitation Environmental Assessment (EA), and the meeting room at Forest Hills of DC was packed with neighbors who showed up to hear Louis Arguello, head of the project for DC Water. William Elledge, the previous head of this project for DC Water, also participated in the presentation, along with Nick Bartholomew, the point person for the National Park Service; and Eric Lienhard, a representative of the consulting firm Hazen and Sawyer.
A number of audience members were from the Van Ness apartments immediately to the south of the Soapstone site, and from Audubon Terrace, the street immediately to the north. Members of the ANC 3F Parks and Trails Committee were in attendance, as well as David Dickinson, chair of ANC 3F. Neighbors listened intently and asked many questions.
The meeting was civil, but there was some tension in the air. Responses to some questions did not sit well with an audience concerned that this valuable community asset will become a major construction site beginning late 2020 or early 2021 if the EA receives a “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI.
Some of the tensions with the community may arise from the EA itself. It is, by design, a “worst-case scenario,” said Steve Saari of the Department of Energy and the Environment and Energy. In an interview, he gave the example of the EA for the Broad Branch Stream daylighting project. It had estimated 40 trees would have to be removed, but only two actually were.
However, the public meeting also left important questions unanswered about the process of repairing and relining the aging sanitary sewers and manholes, installing protection and erosion prevention around these assets, and restoring two storm sewer outfalls in the valley.
With respect to relining of the pipes, ANC 3F Parks and Trails committee member Marjorie Share had found an alternative to the steam and hot water technology that is DC Water’s preferred method for curing the new lining. UV curing has been gaining acceptance primarily because it requires a smaller footprint and is the less polluting of the two. At the community meeting, DC Water mentioned the UV method but again stated that its preference is the hot water and steam method, and did not explain its rationale.
Also, DC Water appeared to depart from what was in the EA as to the purpose of constructing heavy equipment access paths and construction sites. At the meeting, DC Water said the paths would be used for streambank stabilization and other stream rehabilitation work to protect the newly-repaired pipes and manholes from further damage and erosion. The EA itself suggests, at least at first, that the purpose of the paths is the equipment for relining the pipes. These are the steps outlined in an EA appendix for a trenchless pipe rehabilitation (Statement of Findings, page 6):
- Clearing along access paths
- Installation of mulch matting along access paths
- Installation of bypass pumping equipment at manholes downstream and upstream of the project area
- Sewer pipe cleaning, which requires access for water jetting and closed-circuit television trucks
- Installation and sealing of cured-in-place liner, which requires access with a refrigerated delivery truck and boiler truck
- Site restoration
Four pages later, the appendix reveals a need for more heavy equipment access paths once the relining work is complete. At the meeting, DC Water said they would use the same roadways built for the relining work to do the asset protection work. But this raised more questions: What are they really basing the size of their construction site on? Could the footprint be smaller?
Another question was concerning the estimated loss of 371 trees and the impact on the stormwater runoff and pollution. The response was that the tree loss would have no significant impact on the flood plain. Tree replanting and erosion protection is clearly outlined in the EA as mitigation efforts, but the impact of tree removal itself is not considered.
Frustration with lack of clarity on these issues and others bubbled up at the ANC 3F Parks and Trails Committee meeting on Monday, July 8th. This meeting was also attended by Soapstone Valley neighbors from Van Ness apartment buildings and Audubon Terrace. They were upset that DC Water had not contacted immediate neighbors directly about the public meeting, and they want the agency to provide a contact person to hear their concerns and complaints once the project begins.
To deal with questions about whether the EA was using best practices, committee member Marjorie Share proposed hiring an engineer for an expert opinion. David Dickinson and others voiced interest, but it was left up in the air. In the end, the committee voted to support the EA with modifications. Committee chair Alex Sanders and David Bardin planned to have a draft resolution with requested modifications to the ANC by Friday, July 12th. The date of the next ANC 3F meeting is to be determined.
But the wider community still has a chance to give feedback on the EA to DC Water and the National Park Service. NPS is collecting comments through Friday, August 2nd. Submit them through its online comment form or write:
Superintendent Rock Creek Park
Attention: Soapstone Valley Sewer Rehabilitation EA
3545 Williamsburg Lane
Washington, DC 20008