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Lawsuit filed over Purple Line's environmental impact

Public TransportationEndangered SpeciesEnvironmental ScienceCourts and the Judiciary

A Washington-area trail users' group and a pair of environmental advocates have filed suit to block the Purple Line, contending the $2.4 billion light-rail project in the DC suburbs threatens to harm two species of endangered crustaceans that live in the creek the transit line would cross.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and John M. Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua of Chevy Chase asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Tuesday to overturn clearance given the project earlier this year by the Federal Transit Administration and require federal agencies to explore alternate routes for the rail line.

The plaintiffs say building the 16.2-mile light rail line between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George's County could degrade or destroy habitat in the Rock Creek watershed that harbors the Hay’s Spring amphipod and the Kenk’s amphipod, two tiny freshwater shrimp-like creatures that they say are found nowhere else in the United States.

Both creatures live mainly in small springs or seeps on the banks of Rock Creek, but the Kenk's amphipod also lives along Coquelin Run, east of Connecticut Avenue, the plaintiffs say. The project would clear 47 acres of forest, much of it habitat for the amphipods.

"We strongly support public transit," said Ajay Bhatt, president of the trail group, "but also want to preserve one of the national capital area's most popular and forested linear parks as well as the endangered species that are natural indicators of the health of our ecosystem in the DC metro area."

A spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration declined to comment on the lawsuit. In an environmental impact statement issued last year, the agency acknowledged the project would disrupt the Capital Crescent Trail.  But state officials said at the time that efforts would be made to mitigate impacts on the trail.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that federal officials reviewed the plaintiffs' concerns before the lawsuit was filed and concluded that the light-rail project would not harm either rare creature.

UPDATE2: Purple Line NOW, a coalition of business, labor, civic and environmental groups advocating for the light-rail line, dismissed as "specious" the lawsuit's claims that endangered amphipods are threatened by the project.  They say the crustaceans only exist in a few springs in the District of Columbia, and that a search last spring of the Montgomery stretch of Rock Creek found none.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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