This story was updated at 10:30 a.m., Jan. 14.
As the town of Chevy Chase postpones until February its decision on whether to spend $360,000 to hire lawyers for an 18-month contract to fight the Purple Line, others are exploring whether a local endangered species might halt the whole transit project anyway.
The town council did decide to continue paying Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a Washington, D.C., law firm, $20,000 for a second month of work, at a meeting on Jan. 8.
The council has looked at this firm, as well as Dickstein Shapiro, another law firm in Washington, for the 18-month, $360,000 contract, which it hopes will help the town fight aspects of the light-rail project. For example, planned light-rail tracks would run behind the homes, and even through a few backyards, of some Chevy Chase residents.
The Purple Line is a $2.2 billion, 16-mile light-rail project running from downtown Bethesda through Silver Spring to New Carrollton. The Maryland Transit Administration plans to begin construction in 2015.
Some residents wanted more time before making a decision about whether the town should hire a firm for the full contract, said Mayor Pat Burda.
Lawyers from Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney have been advising the town on what its options are, Burda said.
“We’re just exploring with them what are the best routes for making sure our concerns are addressed,” Burda said, adding that meant meeting with experts in environmental, transportation and government affairs.
Meanwhile there is the possibility that another endangered species might reside close enough to the proposed rail route to throw a wrench in the works, Burda said.
In November, environmental activists claimed a rare shrimp-like creature, called a Hay’s amphipod, could be found in Rock Creek Park.
Now there is talk of another a second endangered animal — a tiny shrimp-like freshwater crustacean called a Kenk’s amphipod — in Coquelin Run, a stream that flows into Rock Creek and the Potomac River.
The Kenk’s amphipod is listed as endangered under Maryland law and is scheduled to be listed federally in a few years, said John Fitzgerald, an environmentalist and lawyer who lives in Chevy Chase.
While both amphipods are in the Rock Creek watershed, the Kenk’s can be found in the area east of Connecticut Avenue and west of Rock Creek on the banks of Coquelin Run, he said.
Turning Elm Street Park into part of the Bethesda Purple Line Station would significantly diminish the likelihood of recovery of these species and, in fact, likely jeopardize their recovery, Fitzgerald said.
The question is whether this small creature exists there, said John Bickerman, a Chevy Chase council member. Because if it did, he said, “it could truly stop the Purple Line in its tracks.”