After Bloomingdale got walloped by flooding from storms last year, DC Water came up with a medium-term fix that involves digging a Metro-sized tunnel under First Street NW between now and 2016 to store stormwater. Now, residents of one block in the neighborhood are finding that the solution’s as bad as the problem.
Flagler Place NW is only one of several streets that’ll bear the brunt of the tunnel’s construction—-Adams, V, First, and Thomas streets will share the pain—-but the residents of its 2200 block are particularly incensed over the sacrifices they’re being asked to make in the name of flooding mitigation. The block is set to be closed off to traffic for two to three years, with barriers lining the street, a drop shaft opening a deep hole in the ground, and old trees removed to aid in the construction (they’ll be replaced later by younger trees). Residents are concerned about safety, noise, the ability to receive emergency and service vehicles, and lost parking.
“It’s really horrid,” says 2200 block resident Brandon Skall, who recently wrote a letter outlining the neighbors’ concerns about “DC Water’s plan to destroy my street” to the office of Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. “Everybody around here has mobilized and we’re starting a group to get this ended.”
Skall is as concerned with the process as with the outcomes. He feels that “because of all the press that the flooding got last year, they’ve railroaded it through super fast,” without coordinating with the community. He says the block only found out about it when a friend alerted one neighbor to a short write-up she’d seen and the neighbor started investigating. Skall is concerned that DC Water declined to do the heavy construction on nearby Bryant Street instead—-on the north side of which there are no houses—-because it could interfere with development on the adjacent McMillan site.
But DC Water spokesman John Lisle says the project is for Bloomingdale residents’ benefit, even if it’s inconvenient in the short term. “There are some very sound engineering and technical reasons for why we need to do that where it’s being done,” Lisle says of the work on Flagler Place. “There certainly is going to be an impact to this project. It is a major construction project. We have to get access to the existing sewers and put in a huge new tunnel underneath First Street that’s going to be able to hold the stormwater. It’s a significant construction project, and there’s no way to do it without having some impact on the community.”
Still, some community members aren’t satisfied. On Tuesday night, DC Water held a meeting with residents of the 2200 block of Flagler to address their concerns. According to a Bloomingdale resident who was present, one neighbor went “ballistic” because DC Water entered his front yard without notice; another suggested that DC Water actually buy out their houses; and several expressed concerns that they’d have to park several blocks away and lug their babies and groceries and such to their houses. (DC Water is providing parking in a secure lot on W Street and offering security services from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to help people get home.)
At an earlier meeting with DC Water, one resident approached DC Water General Manager George Hawkins and suggested that the construction on Flagler could bring up legal issues and trigger a lawsuit. According to Skall, “[Hawkins’] response was, ‘If you’ve got legal issues, bring them on. I’ve got a whole team of lawyers.'”
Lisle puts a slightly different spin on the interaction. “George’s response to her was that we could go that route, if that’s what they wanted to do, but we would prefer to go down a different road, which would be to work with them and address their concerns and amicably reach a solution,” he says. “We don’t want to litigate. If they want to litigate this, then certainly we can go down that route, but we’d prefer not to.”
Lisle says that DC Water also plans to meet with residents of the other streets that will be affected by the First Street tunnel construction.
Update: Here’s DC Water’s presentation to Flagler Street residents on Tuesday night:
Photo of flooding after Hurricane Sandy by Darrow Montgomery