2014 | News

Chevy Chase Residents, Environmental Groups Threaten Lawsuit Over Purple Line

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A 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 Manas