Tuesday, December 8, 2015

High hopes for roadway mitigation

Shepherd Parkway has some interesting neighbors. To the west, the traffic of I-295 and Joint Base Anacostia Bolling. To the eat, the residential streets of Congress Heights and Bellevue. To the south, DC Village and two other parks, Oxon Cove and Oxon Run.

To the north is the former St. Elizabeths Hospital, a federal institution for the mentally ill established in 1855. The West Campus's 176 acres and 61 buildings are a National Historic Landmark. When construction is complete they will house offices for more than 14,000 employees of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2013 the U.S. Coast Guard became the first DHS agency to move in.

To prevent all those commuters from wrecking havoc on Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues, the General Services Administration (GSA) concluded that a new access road going through Shepherd Parkway from I-295 onto the campus was necessary. 

After years of wrangling between the National Park Service (which fought unsuccessfully to to preserve the park land) eight acres of Shepherd Parkway have been transferred to the GSA to make way for the road ans a parallel bike path. For more info, see the April 2015 post "Road and bike path construction to begin soon." Six months later, for reasons unknown, construction has yet to begin. We are not complaining.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "mitigation" must be undertaken to compensate for federal projects that have a significant impact on the environment. In this case, the mitigation involves GSA transferring funds to the Park Service. This is a tremendous opportunity to invest in the remaining 197 acres of Shepherd Parkway the resources they have been denied for too long. 

The process has been opaque, and our inquiries about the status of the funds went unanswered until today. According to National Capital Parks-East (NACE) Deputy Superintendent Ann Honious:

"The NPS did receive mitigation funds for the transfer of Shepherd Parkway acreage to the GSA.  These funds are currently in a reimbursable account and need to be obligated by the end of this fiscal year.  The funds will be used to improve Shepherd Parkway, not another national park, and we are working to develop the specific projects. We are evaluating the suggestion...to use some of the funds to rent large equipment to assist in cleaning up decades old dumping as well as other suggested projects. All proposed project ideas are being prioritized based on the ability to obligate the funds this year.  Obligating funds is contingent upon being able to complete planning, design and required compliance." 

In the category of "other suggested projects," the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway advocates:

-The development and execution of a comprehensive signage plan to identify Shepherd Parkway and its boundaries

-A series of free ranger-led programs in the park, including urban wildlife, Civil War history, National Night Out, and concerts

-Summer youth work crews to assist with trash and invasive species removal
-Replacement of the kiosk in the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues

-Initial research for a possible hiking trail

We still don't know the amount of the mitigation funds or how much time and effort NACE will put into the aforementioned planning, design and compliance necessary to move these projects, given limited staffing and demands of managing many other parks. 

The requirement that funds be "obligated" by the end of the current fiscal year (September 30) may present a problem, since the Park Service is notoriously low moving.
Stay tuned for updates on our ongoing discussions with NACE.

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