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Major environmental group backs Purple Line opponents

By Aaron Kraut

Thursday - 6/26/2014, 1:05pm  ET

Photos via 
Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

A major environmental group’s backing of Purple Line opponents has some transit advocates scratching their heads.

On Wednesday, a group including the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to sue federal government agencies involved in environmental assessments of the planned Purple Line light rail route.

Kenk's amphipod, Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological DiversityThe group claims the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Federal Transit Administration didn’t properly take into account an endangered species of shrimp-like critters that could exist in Rock Creek Park and Coquelin Run.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a major national organization that boasts 775,000 members with the mission to protect endangered species. Much of the group’s claims are based on a study from an American University biology professor who’s surveying for the critters with funding from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Kelly Blynn, from the Coaliton for Smarter Growth, voiced her surprise over Twitter that the Center for Biological Diversity would join the suit:

Jeff Cronin, director of communications at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tweeted that the group’s participation was a “shame:”

“We support mass transit and the Purple Line, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of endangered species habitat, our public parks or our precious wetlands,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “Instead of reaching out to one of the world’s experts on these species — who happens to work just five miles away from the project — the agencies did a cursory review, ignored the likely impacts to these species, and failed to consider ways to reduce those impacts.”

The expert referred to in the quote is David Culver, the American University professor who found the amphipod in question during his surveying of Rock Creek Park in D.C.

Culver and John Fitzgerald, a Town of Chevy Chase resident also named in the 60-day notice letter, say there are likely other types of amphipods in the streams.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the amphipods are important indicators of water quality — a trait the group worries will be lost if the transit system is built.

“Amphipods are tiny — less than half an inch in size — but their presence or absence offers an important measure of water quality,” Hartl said in the release. “Protecting these amphipods will have many benefits for people by helping protect Rock Creek Park and freshwater in the metro area.”

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity