Activists dispute claim that Purple Line won’t harm creek creatures; prepare to sue -- Gazette.Net







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John Fitzgerald is still hoping the federal government will do what he calls “the right thing,” but if it doesn’t, he and others are ready to file a lawsuit.

Fitzgerald, an environmental lawyer and activist who lives in Chevy Chase, said the Federal Transit Administration failed in its obligation to conduct a biological assessment of the effect the Purple Line will have on two small shrimp-like creatures, called amphipods, in the area.

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.

If a new environmental impact study is not done, and the “Record of Decision” is filed, Fitzgerald, along with the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Economy and some Chevy Chase residents, plan to sue.

The “Record of Decision” is the final approval of the environmental impact statement. Issued by the Federal Transit Administration, the public document will summarize any mitigation measures that will be incorporated into the project. After it is filed, permits and right-of-way can be acquired.

That could happen any day now, Fitzgerald said.

Two small creatures are at the heart of the potential lawsuit: the Hay’s Spring amphipod, which is listed as a federally protected endangered species, and the Kenk’s amphipod, which is listed in Maryland as an endangered species already and is a candidate for federal listing.

John Bickerman, a council member of the town of Chevy Chase, had said that these tiny creatures might be the Davids that stop the Goliath of the Purple Line in its tracks.

Any increase in runoff would threaten the vulnerable creatures, Fitzgerald said, and construction of the Purple Line is going to mean a lot more runoff.

“They’re going to be clear-cutting about 48 acres of trees, which is the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to control runoff,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald disputes the claims of a Jan. 7 letter the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent to the Federal Transit Administration, stating that the light-rail project would not hurt the amphipods.

In the letter, Genevieve LaRouche, a supervisor with the Chespeake Bay field office, wrote that “no Federally proposed or listed endangered or threatened species are known to exist within the impact area of the proposed Purple Line Project.”

It went on to state that the Kenk’s amphipod lived “within a quarter mile of the Purple Line project,” but construction would have no effect on it.

“They completely ignore the effects on Coquelin Run — all along the run,” he said.

Coquelin Run is a stream that flows into Rock Creek and the Potomac River and runs directly beneath where planners want to build the Purple Line.

Developments such as the Purple Line and the Chevy Chase Lake project are precisely the types of threats that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned about, Fitzgerald said.

An assessment conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this past spring described the amphipod’s small habitat as shrinking — it can be found only in parts of Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County.

“Kenk’s amphipod is vulnerable to threats because of its limited geographic distribution and the infringement of urban development both outside and within Rock Creek Park,” according to the report.

All Fitzgerald and his allies can do now is wait, he said, and work on a letter stating their intent to sue.

“We are getting our ducks in a row,” he said. “Making sure the letter’s just right. We have our expert opinions ready to go.”