Work to design the Va. 28 bypass in Manassas is plowing ahead, but whether the project will receive a key U.S. Army Corps of Engineer permit to pave through wetlands and streams remains an open question.
The proposed $300 million bypass would extend Godwin Drive to create a new, four-lane road between the West Gate and Loch Lomond residential subdivisions that will run parallel to Flat Branch Stream and cross Bull Run Creek before it reconnects with Va. 28 beyond the Fairfax County line.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues permits for all work in wetlands and other national waters that are regulated by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
Although a supporter of the bypass, Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler has said, “There’s always a chance [the permits] could get rejected.”
“We don’t want to go down this path, get turned down by the Army Corps of Engineers and then don’t have anything ready,” said Wheeler, D-At Large. “That’s why we’re initiating the comp plan amendment, to have a backup plan.”
After endorsing the bypass, the county board voted unanimously Sept. 8 to add a proposed widening of the existing Va. 28 to the county’s long-term planning blueprint known as the “comprehensive plan.” At an estimated $400 million, widening Va. 28 would cost about $100 million more than the bypass. It would add two lanes to the existing road between Liberia Avenue and the Fairfax County line.
Wheeler has called widening Va. 28 a “plan B” in case the bypass is rejected.
Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, shared similar concerns about whether the bypass would receive its federal permits. Boddye said in an email the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting process “is not without risk.”
“We must have an alternative in mind if the Army Corps denies the permit application. Increased costs with complying with a conditional approval are also a possibility,” Boddye said.
Boddye added that the Va. 28 widening “needs to stay on the table.”
County transportation director 'confident' about the permit
Prince William County Transportation Director Ric Canizales said he is “confident” the bypass will receive the permits, however.
Canizales said that the county has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the project to learn how to properly mitigate the environmental impacts of the bypass.
“We’ve been working on this project for three years, probably about a year and a half of it with the [U.S] Army Corps of Engineers,” Canizales said. “They have been very helpful in telling us how we can mitigate our impacts and how we can do things in order to get this road built. So, I feel very confident that we’ll get our permits.”
Canizales said environmental mitigation in the area may include restoring Flat Branch stream to fix chronic flooding, or by purchasing “wetland mitigation credits.” The credits preserve wetlands in another location as a way of mitigating damage the new bypass would cause to Flat Branch stream. Canizales added that regardless of what type of mitigation occurs, the bypass will improve the flooding in the area.
“For the environment, at the end of the day, for the homes that are still out there in that floodplain, it’s going to better their situation,” Canizales said.
A new acronym: LEDPA
Anna Lawston of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Warrenton Field Office said she couldn’t provide specific information about the county’s Va. 28 bypass project. However, Lawston said that for road projects like the bypass, the U.S. Army Corps typically works with the applicant to try to get them to find the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative, also known as “LEDPA.”
If the county’s 404 permit application cannot convince the Corps the bypass is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative to achieve the project's purpose, the permit can be denied, Lawston said.
Still, Lawston said there are some projects where environmental impacts can’t be avoided entirely.
“Sometimes there are projects where it’s just not avoidable. They’re going to have some. What impacts that they can’t avoid or minimize, they’ll compensate for. They’ll provide mitigation for,” Lawston said.
Many of the residents who live near Flat Branch stream in Manassas are opposed to the bypass over concerns it would exacerbate the area’s flooding issues. Carol Frye, whose property backs up to the stream, said any time there’s a heavy rain she gets up to 4 feet of water -- “chest deep” -- rushing through her backyard.
“I’ve had canoes wash down from the road up above. I’ve had campers wash down. Dog houses,” Frye said. “We keep sandbags on hand. You always have to be prepared.”
Frye said she is worried the bypass would only make the flooding problem worse. She said that while the flooding hasn’t caused any damage to her home, many of her neighbors haven’t been as lucky.
“We’re concerned about them making it worse. Where is all that water going to go coming off that road?” Frye said.
Some county environmental groups have also come out against the bypass. Kim Hosen, executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, said the organization is opposed to the bypass because of its potential environmental impacts, including the existing flooding problems along Flat Branch.
“There are significant flooding problems down there. I think the county would be wise to evaluate the existing conditions there, what is causing the flooding problems,” Hosen said. “I think that’s been needed to be done for years.”
Hosen, a former Prince William County Planning commissioner, said the federal permits are still “a big question mark.”
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