Two Chevy Chase residents and the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail organization filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming the proposed Purple Line will harm two shrimp-like creatures, one of which is endangered, in Rock Creek Park.
The lawsuit was filed by John Macknight Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua, both of Elm Street, and the Friends advocacy group. It asks for an injunction to stop the project until a thorough study of the project’s impact on endangered amphipods can be conducted.
The lawsuit alleges that construction of the 16-mile, $2.37 billion light rail will impact two shrimp-like species called amphipods—specifically the Hay’s Spring amphipod, which is classified as endangered, and the Kenk’s amphipod, which the complaint says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “also warrants listing as endangered.”
Both are less than 10 millimeters in length and have been known to live in rock crevices and underground near springs in Rock Creek Park. According to the complaint, The Hay’s Spring amphipod in particular has limited habitats in the area consisting of less than five springs in Rock Creek Park.
The lawsuit lists the Federal Transit Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of the Interior and the federal transportation department as defendants. The Purple Line will be jointly funded by the federal, state and county government. Due to the project’s intended path along the Capital Crescent Trail connecting Bethesda to New Carrolton, a portion of it will pass through Rock Creek Park.
In the complaint, Real de Azua and Fitzgerald claim they will be harmed by the construction of the Purple Line because it may impact the amphipods in the region.
Real de Azua, an energy and environment consultant, “enjoys knowing that this trail supports the Kenk’s amphipod and the Hay’s Spring amphipod so close to her home. She has visited Rock Creek Park and the Coquelin Run to observe the areas hosting the seeps that these extremely rare creatures inhabit, including a visit with Dr. David Culver—the leading expert on these species,” according to the lawsuit.
Culver, an American University biology professor, was hired by Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail to search for the amphipods in April with $10,000 in funding from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is also opposes construction of the Purple Line.
Fitzgerald, a semi-retired public interest lawyer and consultant, learned about the amphipods while working on endangered species issues as a lawyer for Defenders of Wildlife, according to the complaint. “He derives personal enjoyment from and very much values the presence of these two rare amphipod species and their habitats along the Capital Crescent and Georgetown Branch trails because they represent—within walking distance of his home—a tangible effect of his passionate and dedicated work on endangered species,” it says.
The Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed the project’s impact on endangered species earlier this year and concluded it will have no effect on the Hay’s Spring amphipod or the Kenk’s amphipod. However, the lawsuit claims the federal agency prematurely jumped to this conclusion without following regulations in the Endangered Species Act.
The complaint does not indicate that Culver found any of the amphipods. But in a report quoted in the complaint he writes that he located nine seepage springs that provide likely habitat for the amphipods, including a cluster of seepage sites that could be “at high risk from activities that will accompany construction of the Purple Line.”
"Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail is launching this lawsuit to preserve the canopied trail for the biodiversity it supports and for its public environmental and health benefits," said Ajay Bhatt, president of Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, in a statement. "We strongly support public transit, but also want to preserve one of the national capital area's most popular and forested linear parks as well as the endangered species that are natural indicators of the health of our ecosystem in the DC metro area."
The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that works to protect endangered species, which previously signed on to a 60-day notice threatening a lawsuit, is not listed as a plaintiff in the complaint filed Tuesday. The nonprofit drew significant criticism from supporters of public transit for signing onto the notice.
In a statement, the plaintiffs said the lawsuit has the support of the group as well as the Center for Sustainable Economy.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated David Culver received $15,000 in funding from the Town of Chevy Chase to study the amphipods in Rock Creek. In fact, he received $10,000. The article has been corrected.