Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007

Snyder wants to build wall near canal

Residents up in arms about potential impact on federally protected land

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Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who cut down more than 100 trees on his River Road estate several years ago, is once again stirring concerns that he will cause damage to the C&O Canal Park, this time by repairing a collapsed retaining wall.

Snyder is footing the bill for the National Park Service to conduct an assessment of the environmental impacts of repairing the retaining wall, a portion of which collapsed in 2005 near his home.

Snyder’s Potomac property falls within a federally protected scenic easement within the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, and the retaining wall falls within 200 feet of the canal, an area in which construction is prohibited.

Residents, who were invited by the National Park Service to comment at a public scoping meeting on the issue on Nov. 7, are concerned about the proposed construction’s impact on the park.

‘‘This will have a tremendous negative impact on this historic resource, both from a visual and an environmental perspective,” said Wayne Goldstein, president of Montgomery Preservation, a historic preservation group, and the Montgomery County Civic Federation.

Snyder paid a $37,000 settlement to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for cutting down 130 trees within the federally protected scenic easement in 2004, a violation of the county’s forest conservation laws.

Part of the settlement required a reforestation of the cleared area.

Calls to Snyder’s spokespersons for comments were not returned.

The retaining wall, which was built in the 1970s, is situated near the top of land that slopes down toward the canal, and pressure from eroding soil caused the collapse, according to Kevin Brandt, superintendent of the park.

Remaining portions of the wall are unstable, and further reforestation of the cleared area is on hold because of concerns that the retaining wall will collapse onto new trees.

‘‘It’s my understanding that more vegetation will be planted once any solution derived is implemented,” Brandt said, to the dismay of several residents.

‘‘I have a real problem with deferring the replanting of trees after the destruction of all that forest in deference to this wall situation,” said Ginny Barnes, president of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, at last week’s meeting. ‘‘For someone who walks along the canal, it’s almost a painful experience to see the wall, the loss of trees, the eroding slope – it’s all unforgivable to me.”

Barnes said the deforesting of the slope contributed to soil erosion by removing a natural barrier for moving earth. ‘‘Is it any wonder this happened?” Barnes said.

The National Park Service denied Snyder’s initial request to rebuild the wall, Brandt said. Snyder then inquired about an appeals process, and the park agreed to undertake an extensive federal environmental assessment process to determine the proposed projects’ impact. Snyder agreed to fund the assessment, Brandt said. Calls to the National Park service for details on the anticipated cost of the project were not returned.

Federal agencies are required by the National Environmental Protection Act to study the environmental impact of new projects and to consider several alternatives. In accordance with NEPA, the park is accepting public comment on the project throughout November, and will incorporate the comments into a draft environmental assessment that will be released in the spring.

Following another public scoping period, a final decision will be released later next year, according to Anna Lundin, an environmental engineer at Mangi Environmental Group, a third party contractor who is conducting the assessment for the Park Service.

Snyder has submitted a proposed construction plan for the new wall. Other alternatives to the proposed plan will be developed later in the process and will depend on public input, Lundin said.

Though the National Park Service will consider several alternatives, including leaving the wall as it is, the current state of the wall leaves the canal susceptible to debris and sediment in the event of another collapse, Brandt said.

Residents are concerned that allowing construction within the federally protected property will set a dangerous precedent in light of the more than 200 scenic easements along the canal. ‘‘Slippery slope is the perfect analogy in this case,” Goldstein said.