Two Chevy Chase residents and the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail filed a federal lawsuit this week seeking to stop the Purple Line because they claim the light rail would do much environmental harm.
The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail (FCCT), John Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua say the federal government hasn’t adequately accounted for two species of amphipods — the small, shrimp-like creatures they say live in seeps along Rock Creek and Coquelin Run that would be degraded or destroyed by the Purple Line.
The lawsuit follows a notice of intent to sue in June that was more specifically aimed at protecting the amphipod species under the Endangered Species Act.
Meagan Racey, spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the federal agencies involved and the Maryland Transit Administration met with environmentalists and some Chevy Chase residents on Aug. 11.
The Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed its findings from last year in light of the new information from the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, which hired American University biologist Dr. David Culver to survey for amphipods this spring near the proposed Purple Line route.
But Racey said officials found no need to revaluate protections for the amphipods because there is no evidence that amphipods exist in the seeps near the Purple Line route.
“We also found from [Dr. Culver] that under nearly ideal conditions he didn’t find these species at all,” Racey said.
In a letter to the Federal Transit Administration (see PDF below) the Fish and Wildlife Service said “there are no known or suspected sites for the Hay’s Spring amphipod within the immediate vicinity of the Purple Line project.”
The Kenk’s amphipod, which is a candidate for federal listing as an endangered species, is known to live in one site about a quarter-mile south of the Purple Line route in the Coquelin Run Spring. But the Fish and Wildlife Service said the site is on a hillside about 40 feet above any groundwater that would be polluted as a result of the light rail.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the major environmental group that was a part of the notice of intent letter in June, is not listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed this week.
Center for Biological Diversity senior counsel Bill Snape said the group fully supports the lawsuit, but didn’t join “because our concerns and objections to the Purple Line are, at this point, relatively narrow, focusing exclusively on the endangered species habitat conservation issues. We are still hopeful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will wake up and do the right thing.”
The lawsuit also covers complaints about how the Purple Line would affect the aesthetic and recreational value of the Georgetown Branch Trail and a habitat of herons in Coquelin Run.
“The plaintiffs want the Federal Transit Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Secretaries of Interior and Transportation to find alternatives to the Purple Line route between Bethesda and Silver Spring, in order to protect the Rock Creek watershed that harbors the Hay’s Spring amphipod and the Kenk’s amphipod, tiny freshwater invertebrates found nowhere else in the United States. The lawsuit says these animals’ habitat could be degraded or destroyed by construction of the railway and associated development,” according to a press release provided by Real de Azua.
The Federal Transit Administration is expected to pitch in about $900 million for the $2.37 billion system. The MTA hopes to select a private concessionaire early next year to design, build and operate the light rail and start construction late next year.
In its complaint, the group says Culver’s recent survey “found several seeps along the Purple Line route where the endangered amphipods may currently be or might be restored as part of a recovery plan. A survey of those areas is planned for the late fall when the crustaceans emerge from within their underground habitat. Several agency reports describe stormwater run off and deforestation as major threats to the survival of the endangered amphipods.”
PDF: Capital Crescent Complaint Against Purple Line
PDF: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Response To Amphipod Claims
Photo via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity