Local Focus on River Tunnel Project

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Work on the Potomac River Tunnel Project near the Kennedy Center last year. Courtesy DC Water.

It’s beginning to look a lot like NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

Everyone agrees that, given the District’s growing population, the old sewage and water outflow system needs to be rebuilt to ensure there is no overflow in times of hard rain. The construction of a large-diameter deep sewer tunnel, diversion facilities, drop shafts and support structures is being proposed. The new infrastructure would capture combined sewer overflows along the Potomac River and transport them to the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plan.

For the most part, Potomac River Tunnel construction would take place on National Park Service land within Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Rock Creek Park and the National Mall and Memorial Parks. But some of the work would occur in and around K/Water Street NW and Georgetown Waterfront Park.

The project would involve a lot of tearing up of city streets and parts of the District’s cherished parks. In Georgetown, there is resistance. Neither residents along K/Water Street nor the Friends of Georgetown Waterfront Park — and the park’s many other users — want the potential multiyear disruption. And some are calling for a green structure, with permeable sidewalks and collection areas.

Water and park officials recently completed an environmental assessment — a legal requirement before DC Water can finalize plans for the tunnel infrastructure — but a detailed environmental impact statement has been requested.

A public Q&A session was held on Nov. 14 and the public commentary period has been extended until Dec. 4. Comments regarding the Clean Rivers Project may be submitted online at dcwater.com. In addition, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E may consider a resolution at its Dec. 3 meeting. The affected area lies mainly in Commissioner Lisa Palmer’s district.

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