(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Parks officials have signed off on some big changes at Theodore Roosevelt Island, including the rehabilitation of a troublesome section of the Mt. Vernon Trail and the addition of several new landing spots for small boats and kayaks.
The National Park Service announced yesterday (Monday) that it will move ahead with a variety of construction projects on the island, located off the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Rosslyn, after settling on some final designs and certifying they’ll have minimal environmental impacts on the island.
Some of the changes will be relatively small, like the addition of some new signs and markers detailing Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy — the island is home to the lone memorial to the nation’s 26th president in D.C. Others will be more substantial, such as the total overhaul and realignment of a boardwalk-style bridge on the Mt. Vernon Trail, which runs from underneath the Roosevelt Bridge to just south of the island’s parking lot.
The park service’s plans call for a “replacement of the bridge deck and railing to provide a smoother riding surface.” That will likely come as good news to area cyclists, who have nicknamed it “the Trollheim Bridge” for its treacherous surface — TheWashCycle blog described it as a the “notoriously slippery part of the Mt. Vernon trail that has caused literally thousands of crashes” in a post last year.
The main, 1,400-foot-section of the bridge also meets an additional 90-foot section toward its north end, creating an awkward “T” intersection for cyclists. The realignment work will eliminate that intersection, creating a new left turn lane as well.
Other walking trails on the island will see some improvements under the plans as well. The NPS is hoping to improve connections between the pedestrian bridge and the island’s Memorial Plaza and create “universal access to the entire Swamp Trail, including access to the comfort station.” That small rest stop is also set to see a refresh under these plans.
The NPS is also hoping to add a total of four landings for canoes, kayaks and row boats on the island. Each one will be about 12 feet wide, and provide “access for approximately 4-5 kayaks/canoes,” according to the park service’s documents. The plans also call for the construction of a roughly 100-foot-long “floating dock” for larger craft, to be located at the island’s northeast corner, once the home of a ferry landing.
The park service noted in an environmental analysis of these proposed changes that, currently, “boaters and kayakers anchor or beach their non-motorized watercraft on unmarked areas along the shoreline.” Officials fear that the “practice impacts natural and archeological resources and has the potential to expose boaters and kayakers to underwater hazards in shoreline areas,” reasoning that the new landings should alleviate that issue. The area could also be in line to see increased boating activity, should the NPS’ plans to build the long-anticipated Rosslyn boathouse continue to advance.
Additionally, the park service wants to add some more vegetation and trees to the largely wooded island. Some new shrubs will be designed to cover up existing “social” bike trails on the island’s north shore line; other tree plantings will replace the roughly 200 ash trees the NPS had to remove last summer due to an “emerald ash borer infestation.”
The NPS says it’s still searching for funding for the entire range of projects on the island, but some will move ahead in the near term. The Mt. Vernon Trail bridge improvements, for instance, are currently out for bid by federal officials and could be completed by sometime in 2020.
APS Tells Staff to Stop Paying Sales Tax — As a public institution Arlington Public Schools is exempt from paying sales tax, but the school system’s internal auditor has found that some staff members have been placing orders for APS via Amazon without sales tax exempted. APS has since requested sales tax refunds for those orders. [InsideNova]
Arlington Resident Cited for Boating Incident — An Arlington man has been cited for operating a vessel while impaired after his 28-foot boat ran aground off the eastern shore of Maryland, south of Ocean City. [WMDT]
Notable Rivercrest Property Sold — A home and an adjacent vacant lot have been sold near the intersection of Military Road and N. Glebe Road in the Rivercrest neighborhood. The lot was the site of a “national debate over property rights and conformity,” when in 1969 an architect started to build a custom home on the lot but was ultimately stopped after a legal challenge by neighbors, who thought the home was ugly and would not “retain the very pleasant, beautiful nature of Rivercrest.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Flipper: Selling Home to the County Was a Pain — A real estate investor has penned a piece for the Post in which he recounts the sale of one of his properties to Arlington County. The sale, of a house near Fire Station 8, was “neither lucrative nor convenient” and was more trouble than it was worth, he writes. However, the owner of a run-down property next to his received a much better price by holding out, the piece suggests. [Washington Post]
Mouthwash on Clarendon Bus Stop — Updating the saga of the stick of deodorant atop a Clarendon bus stop, the deodorant has now been joined by an errant bottle of Listerine mouthwash. [ARLnow]
There’s a renewed push for action on the decades-old plan to build a boathouse in the Rosslyn area.
County and federal officials want the public to know that although the project has stopped and restarted several times, it definitely hasn’t been scrapped.
Arlington County has been working on various forms of the boathouse project since the 1990s. It has collaborated with the National Park Service because the county’s shoreline along the Potomac River technically is NPS property.
In October, the county requested that the Commonwealth of Virginia quitclaim any interest it has in the street that fronts the property at 1101 Lee Highway. The county had purchased the Lee Highway land parcel in 2014 for $2.4 million with the listed intent of using the land for possible boathouse-related purposes.
The county requested the quitclaim because it’s unclear exactly who owns and maintains this small portion of the land along the former Lee Highway right of way. VDOT now has to approve the quitclaim — which has no fiscal impact to either party — and the county believes that should happen by or shortly after the new year.
The county points out that this section of land also is the only service vehicle access point if a boathouse is built. Public parking and drop-offs would be located in a safer area further away from the busy intersection with N. Lynn Street and the I-66 off-ramp.
Any progress on the boathouse plan is theoretical until NPS completes an environmental study — as required by law — showing how such a project would impact the area’s natural and cultural resources.
NPS launched an environmental impact statement (EIS) in 2012, with funding secured by former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). The study involved getting community feedback on locations for a potential boathouse.
But the EIS was put on hold and NPS is investigating whether it can instead do an environmental assessment, which is a similar but less intensive study that takes less time to produce. The EA would incorporate the information already gathered during the now-stalled EIS.
NPS launched a transportation study last year to determine what impact a boathouse would have on the area’s existing transportation network. The agency has been collaborating with Arlington County and VDOT for that study and in compiling a final report on the transportation impacts.
Although 1101 Lee Highway was intended to be a location for a boathouse facility, that’s actually not set in stone. That parcel of land is called an “upper site” and cannot effectively host a boathouse on its own without a nearby “lower site” near Theodore Roosevelt Island where boats could be stored and launched. If NPS deems another site better suited for a boathouse, Arlington County could use the Lee Highway land for something else.
“In addition, or as an alternative use, the county may put other passive or recreational uses on the parcel,” said Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter. “We need to wait until a final determination is made by the National Park Service on the parcel, so other uses aren’t actively being pursued.”
A study for another hot project — the Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola — in relatively the same area was released last month, but Baxter says it’s far too early to consider that an option for the land parcel. In fact, she said it’s premature to even comment on the feasibility of a possible gondola project because the study hasn’t even been reviewed or vetted by county staff.
As far as the next steps for moving forward with the boathouse, NPS hopes to announce a decision about the environmental study and its possible transition to an environmental assessment by early 2017.
If the agency announces it is able to go forward with an EA instead of an EIS, it could potentially reveal a preferred boathouse site at that time as well, although the location decision is not required until the final environmental study results are released.
Rip Sullivan Running for Delegate — Richard “Rip” Sullivan is the first candidate to announce his candidacy to replace the retiring Del. Bob Brink. Sullivan, a Democrat and a Fairfax County resident, said he’s running “to fight the Tea Party Republicans trying to roll back social and economic progress in Virginia.” [Rip Sullivan for Delegate]
Metro Fare Increase Takes Effect — Metrorail fares have been raised an average of 10 cents as of Sunday. Other changes include hikes to Metrobus fares, MetroAccess fares and Metro parking rates. [WMATA]
Arlington-Based Agency Works to Foil Hackers — Reporters were recently given a tour of the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, a Department of Homeland Security-run hub for the U.S. government’s coordinated response to cyber attacks. The highly secure and classified office is located in a “non-descript” office building in Ballston, above a chain restaurant. [Bloomberg, InformationWeek]
‘Airbnb for Boats’ in D.C. — A service called Boatbound has launched in the D.C. area. It allows boat owners to rent out their boats to non-boat owners. The going rate for most boats on Boatbound is $200-500 per day. [Washington City Paper]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
A boat fell off its trailer on Lee Highway in Cherrydale Saturday evening, requiring a 40-ton crane and several hours to remove it from the roadway.
The boat belongs to Tom McNulty, a Yorktown resident who took his 16-foot Bayliner power boat out on the Potomac to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather on Saturday. Driving back on Lee Highway, McNulty said he hit a big bump in front of the Dunkin Donuts at 3520 Lee Highway.
“We weren’t going fast, maybe 27 or 30 mph,” McNulty told ARLnow.com today. “We hit the bump and the trailer doesn’t have any suspension. We felt it slide, slowed down, and that’s when it drifted into the right lane and hit a street light.”
McNulty said multiple safety chains and other securing mechanisms snapped, allowing the boat to come completely off the trailer. Once it hit the pavement, it slid down the road “about 100 feet,” McNulty said, leaving fiberglass residue all over the pavement.
The incident happened around 4:45 p.m. McNulty said it took about three hours for the crane — which was called in after a flatbed tow truck operator took one look at the boat and realized he could not tow it — to finally lift it and take it to a yard, where it now sits awaiting an insurance claims adjuster.
“My brother was the one who called it in, and the 911 dispatcher thought we said a bird in a road,” McNulty said. “I’m sure dispatch thought some idiot called in a bird in the road, so when they sent a squad car they realized what was actually happening.”
McNulty said there’s only superficial damage to the boat, but said this isn’t the first time he’s had problems keeping his boat out of harm’s way.
“A tree fell on my first boat,” he said. “During the derecho storm last year. This massive tree just came right down on it. I’m getting my pilot’s license next year so I hope I have better luck with planes.”
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Boathouse Comment Period Extended — Updated at 12:30 p.m. — The National Park Service is now accepting public comments about preliminary alternatives for a Potomac River boathouse in Arlington County through Sept. 30. Of the four possible locations identified for the boathouse, two are just south of the Key Bridge, one is near Gravelly Point, and one is on Daingerfield Island. “The boathouse facility and its amenities would enhance public waterfront access in the vicinity of Arlington County for non-motorized recreational activities,” NPS says. [National Park Service]
Photo courtesy Andrew Clegg
Boathouse Meeting Today — A public meeting regarding a proposed boathouse along Arlington’s Potomac River shoreline is being held tonight. The National Park Service is holding the meeting at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Senor Pan Closes — After just 6 months in business, Columbia Pike-area cafe/bakery Senor Pan has apparently closed, according to the Pike Wire Twitter feed. Senor Pan was located at 922 S. Walter Reed Drive.
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Flickr pool photo by Damiec
Because all of Arlington’s land along the Potomac River is actually NPS property, the EIS is mandatory by law. It formally began earlier this year, and assesses the impact a boathouse for non-motorized crafts would have on the natural and cultural resources in the area.
During the public comment portion, which began this week, residents are asked to examine the options in the proposal and voice suggestions or concerns.
There are four possible sites included in the proposal. Two options involve building the boathouse near the Key Bridge in Rosslyn, and another looks at a space near Gravelly Point. One alternative examines Daingerfield Island, which is in Alexandria. The final option is to take no action, meaning no boathouse would be constructed.
The proposal includes a facility with indoor space for storing equipment, training areas and floating docks. The plan has been in the works for years to ease the burden on boathouses in Alexandria and Washington, D.C., all of which are said to be operating at capacity.
A public scoping meeting will take place on Tuesday, July 24, at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street). From 6:30-8:30 p.m., NPS employees will be present to answer questions and to accept written comments.
The various proposals can be viewed online and feedback can be submitted there as well. The public comment period ends on Friday, August 31. If all goes according to plan, the EIS will continue through winter of 2013.
The decades-long mission to build a boathouse for non-motorized vehicles on Arlington’s side of the Potomac River has moved one step closer to reality. After several failed attempts, an environmental impact study is now underway.
Arlington cannot proceed with building a boathouse without approval from the National Park Service, because the waterfront land along this side of the Potomac River actually belongs to NPS. By law, NPS is required to perform a study about how such a venture would impact the cultural and natural resources in the area.
Estimated to take from two to three years, an environmental impact study is the longer and more thorough of two main studies that can be performed. The other is an environmental assessment, which is done on less controversial matters and typically takes one to two years. Environmental assessments had previously been initiated for an Arlington boathouse, but due to various limiting factors including staffing and lack of resources, they were scrapped. This time, all involved parties are dedicated to seeing the EIS through.
“The real emphasis is to make sure it’s really done thoroughly,” said National Park Service Environmental Protection Specialist Thomas Sheffer. “Because with a couple of false starts, we want to make sure this comes to a conclusion.”
The process was re-initiated in late summer, and Arlington was approved as a cooperating agency in the fall. A federal register notice has been submitted, but the process cannot move forward until the notice is officially approved and posted publicly.
Three main sites are being examined for the boathouse. The first is called “Lower Rosslyn” and consists of the area directly along the river near the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt Island. The second is called “Upper Rosslyn,” close to where Lee Highway, I-66 and the Key Bridge converge. A multi-level hybrid of the two Rosslyn locations could be a possibility. Another site is Gravelly Point, which allows for a more spacious facility but has less ideal conditions for rowers because of wind and motorized boats. Daingerfield Island, though not in Arlington County, is also being considered.
After the EIS concludes and a site is chosen, it will be some time before Arlington residents actually get to use a finished boathouse. Public meetings would ensue, followed by final approval of a plan, and a competitive process to find a company to construct the boathouse. Considering the EIS portion isn’t even expected to be finished before the winter of 2013, a completed structure is likely years away. Additionally, the entire idea could be abandoned if no sites are deemed acceptable. However, Arlington is hopeful the boathouse will eventually reach fruition.
“The County is excited to be at this point in the process and excited about the opportunity presented by the Park Service to be an operating agency in the EIS,” Arlington County Federal Liaison Brian Stout said. “It appears they’re taking a very thoughtful approach to this.”
The Park Service has voiced a number of concerns about development on Arlington’s side of the Potomac. Some of those include harm to species along the river, negative impact on cultural sites such as Theodore Roosevelt Island and the area’s position along a flood plane. Arlington County thinks the concerns are valid, but can be worked around.
“We think they can be overcome, and there are answers,” said Stout. “We think there are a lot of ways for us to achieve all of the goals of increased access to the water while staying true to the Park Service goals as well.”
Stout points out that other boat clubs along the river have been stretched thin, both for high school rowing and community access to non-motorized boats. He believes allowing Arlington to build a boathouse would benefit the area in general by alleviating stress on some other facilities, such as the Potomac Boat Club and the Anacostia Community Boathouse.
Rep. Jim Moran is recognized by all parties for his push to get funding for an EIS. He continues to support building an Arlington boathouse.
“We would not be where we are without Congressman Moran. He’s got a close working relationship with the Park Service and the Department of the Interior,” Stout said. “He’s helped to keep them at the table and push them along with this. That’s been incredibly helpful.”
Although NPS foots the bill for performing an environmental impact study, the funding for the potential building and staffing of a boathouse has not yet been determined. Such details are not included in the EIS, but would be discussed once a site gets final approval and a formal plan is drawn up. However, Sheffer notes it would be unlikely the Park Service would supply monetary support.
Once the federal register notice is published, public meetings will take place to explain more details of the EIS and what comes next. Public input would be taken into consideration for drawing up various drafts of an environmental plan. In the meantime, the county and NPS will hold internal meetings to sort out preliminary details. They’re getting together today to look at preparations for public sessions and to address potential issues that may arise.
An email newsletter is being set up to keep the public informed of developments and upcoming meetings in the next few months. Anyone interested in being added to the newsletter list can send an email request to [email protected]
“We’re making sure that we get a lot of voices heard in the public scoping process,” Sheffer said. “That really sets the process off on the right foot.”
Michigan-based Gibbs Amphibians held the demonstration in the shadow of the Pentagon in hopes of convincing the military to place orders for their newest land/sea vehicle, dubbed the Phibian.
Company engineers say the Phibian is revolutionary for being able to travel at a high speed on land and on sea. The vehicle can reach up to 80 miles per hour on land, 45 miles per hour on the water, and can enter the water from land at a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour, we’re told. The 30-foot craft has a 7,000 lbs hauling capacity and can transport about a dozen people.
Phibian sports a carbon fiber hull, twin turbo 250 horsepower diesel engines, four wheel drive, and a patented, hydraulic suspension system that retracts the wheels above the water level when at sea (somewhat like landing gear on a plane). It’s the retractable wheels that allow better speed and maneuverability in the water, engineers said.
The Phibian will be produced in Michigan and will create 200 jobs, according to Gibbs. The company hopes to sell the Phibian to the military and to various federal and local government agencies for search and rescue and disaster relief operations.
Gibbs also manufacturers an amphibious sports car, which was on display today at the marina.
Thanks to shifting political winds and dogged determination, the decades-long quest to get a boathouse built on the Arlington side of the Potomac may finally result in action on the part of the federal government.
The National Park Service is expected to launch an extensive environmental and historical impact study for potential boathouse locations in the next several months, the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy but, at last, finite process.
The impact study would likely wrap up by the end of 2011. If it the boathouse then gets the go-ahead, and if funding can be secured for the project, the Park Service would seek bids for the planning, building and daily operation of the boathouse.
In other words, don’t hold your breath.
“We’re still a very, very long way away from the finish line, even if it is approved,” said Brian Stout, Arlington County’s federal government liaison. “There will be a lot of issues for them to study.”
The Park Service is a central player in the boathouse process because it controls most of the riverfront land in Arlington County. The Park Service would be responsible for building and running the boathouse, but county leaders hope the agency would allow “robust community and public access” to the facility. Among the local groups chomping at the bit for a new boathouse are Arlington’s three public high school rowing teams (Yorktown, Washington-Lee and Wakefield), which currently pay for access to crowded boating facilities in the District.
Stout says the county hopes the Park Service would choose to build the boathouse just north the the Roosevelt Island parking lot, near the pedestrian access from the Mount Vernon Trail to Key Bridge. That part of the river is uniquely suited for rowing facilities, he said.
In the end, a number of possible boathouse locations will be considered and studied for feasibility.
Stout credits Dottie Marshall, the new George Washington Memorial Parkway administrator under the Obama administration, for being “pragmatic” and open to the boathouse idea, despite the numerous challenges that will stand in the way of completing such a project.
“The Park Service has really for the first time decided to take a look at this,” Stout said. He also credits Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) for his behind-the-scenes support over the past couple of years.
The county has long sought a boathouse on its side of the Potomac River. Among the more recent efforts dates back to 1995, when the county created a boathouse task force.
Will it be worth the wait?
“We think it could be an important asset, not just to our community but to the region,” Stout said.
Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White