Nancy Meyer of Hyattsville noticed something slightly out of the ordinary during her bike ride around the Anacostia River on May 25.
On the northeast branch of the river, large amounts of fish were trapped, Meyer said, in various areas of the CSX transportation construction site in Hyattsville.
“I was shocked to see that,” Meyer said. “When I got down there and saw people from the Anacostia Watershed Society and bicyclists helping, I just had to jump in and try to save the fish.”
The incident has environmental officials and residents concerned about the impact of the construction on the river’s wildlife. About 700 fish died in the incident, said Jorge Bogantes, natural resources specialist for the Anacostia Watershed Society, a nonprofit environmental group.
Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for CSX Corp., said some fish became trapped after the excessive water receded in cofferdams, underwater tubes used for pumping out water to create a dry work space.
In cooperation with the Maryland Transportation Authority, CSX began adding track near the intersection of Decatur Street and Baltimore Avenue in Hyattsville in August, Doolittle said. The project is expected to be completed by early 2015 with about 2.75 miles of new track.
Doolittle said CSX has implemented a solution for its contractor, Shirley Contracting Company, to follow in the event of another storm.
“To prevent a similar situation, they are to remove any fish that might be caught up in the cofferdams within 24 hours and use nets to ensure the safety of the fish,” Doolittle said.
Protecting the Anacostia’s wildlife is a priority for CSX, Doolittle said.
“Our objective is to minimize our impact on the environment when we are doing this kind of work,” he said. “We are committed to complying with all the regulations and protecting the environment.”
Mary Abe, director of stewardship programs for the Anacostia Watershed Society, said preparing the site before rainstorms occur is important.
“What we have issue with is that we didn’t feel there was anything in place [beforehand], and the result was hundreds of fish left dead,” Abe said. “The site was destined to flood and it’s destined to flood again.”
Protection of the food chain and the ecosystem is an important reason the fish need to be accounted for during construction, Bogantes said.
“There are some species that use the Anacostia to migrate through from the Atlantic and the Chesapeake,” Bogantes said. “These fish also serve for recreational purposes and are food for other fish. Accidents do happen, but we should be sure to avoid these things.”
Bogantes said the solution proposed by CSX should suffice.
“For this site, I think that’s a good solution,” Bogantes said, “but it would be better for the long-term to have guidelines to handle these situations ahead of time.”