Poplar Point lawsuit planned

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A coalition of environmentalists and community groups yesterday said they plan to sue the federal government and the District for polluting the area around Poplar Point in Southeast, possibly placing another hurdle in plans to build a soccer stadium or other development at the 110-acre site.

The groups say the federal government’s use of the site for much of the 20th century led to widespread contamination that must be remediated before any development of the site can move forward.

“It’s been neglected for years and years,” said Dottie Yunger, the Anacostia Riverkeeper. “Before it can be zoned or rezoned, it needs to be cleaned up. We have to determine the contamination levels.”

The letter of intent to sue was filed by the Anacostia Riverkeeper, National Park Service.

The environmentalists say the federal government polluted the site over the years when it built a dry cleaning facility, research laboratory and training center for the Navy. The groups said pesticides, asbestos and a host of other pollutive chemicals may have been left in the ground.

The government now has 90 days to address the complaints in the letter before groups sue. A lawsuit likely will stymie efforts to build on the site; the process of developing the area already has been slowed by the transfer of the land from the federal government to the District.

The District and the federal government reached an agreement on the land transfer in 2006. But there are several steps that must be completed before the transaction can be finalized. Those steps include the issuance of an environmental impact statement and land-use plan, and a report last month from the Government Accountability Office said it will be at least 18 to 24 months before such steps can be completed. The GAO said development of the site could not begin until 2011, at the earliest.

Officials from the National Park Service and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development held a public meeting to discuss the environmental impact statement last night.

Sean Madigan, a spokesman for the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, declined to respond directly to the threat of a lawsuit. But he said holding public meetings will help the city understand what level of environmental cleanup is required at Poplar Point.

“We need to open it up and get big groups of people together to shape how we’re going to proceed,” Madigan said. “The whole process informs us in a lot of ways, and this is just to know what’s in store for us. It’s not like the ship has sailed or anything.”

According to the complaint, Congress appropriated nearly $3.5 million to address cleaning up a portion of the Poplar Point site in 2001, but $2 million of that remains unspent.

The District in February selected D.C. United have been in talks about a financing plan for the facility.

“We don’t really have anything to say because we’re not a part of it right now,” said Victor MacFarlane. “We still believe a stadium would represent one of the highest and best uses for that site.”

Any plan involving a new soccer stadium must be approved by the Maryland if a deal with the District can not be completed.

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