The seemingly interminable planning process for a new boathouse facility in Rosslyn already has outlasted one of its champions in Congress, and while U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) is not planning on departing any time soon, one wonders if it might outlast him, too.
Not if Beyer has anything to say about it.
“It’s moving very slowly, but it will be done,” Beyer vowed, speaking about a project that has been years in the making.
Like his predecessor Jim Moran (who retired in 2014), Beyer is a backer of the effort being led – in in fits and starts – by the National Park Service to place a boathouse and ramp facility on the Potomac River. “I very much support it,” he said in response to a question during a candidate forum sponsored by the Arlington County Civic Federation.
At the event, Beyer pushed back on the suggestion that the boathouse facility would be better located downriver at Gravelly Point. He said the Rosslyn site was the better alternative.
Google “Potomac River boathouse” and “Arlington County Civic Federation,” and you are likely to find an article from last year this time, when County Board members were promising a robust planning process for the design of the boathouse facility.
A planning process will take place “at a time when we feel like it’s appropriate to commence,” then-County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey said in response to a question at the Arlington County Civic Federation’s 2019 candidate forum.
Dorsey and fellow board Democrat Katie Cristol were being challenged last year by independents Arron O’Dell and Audrey Clement.
“There will be a master-planning process,” Cristol said at the 2019 debate, but like Dorsey was iffy on a timetable.
Like so many projects, such a master-planning effort has fallen victim, at least temporarily, to the COVID crisis. There seems to have been little movement since 2019, when the National Park Service completed an environmental assessment and concluded the Rosslyn site was the better alternative.
Also last year, County Board members voted 5-0 to sign a “programmatic agreement” with the federal government related to the project, an action some critics decried as premature as it came without significant public input. Shortly thereafter, the Civic Federation voted 33-1 to push for a much broader planning process for the site, adjacent to Lee Highway, rather than simply having the county government rubber-stamp the National Park Service proposal.
Local high schools for decades have sought a convenient space for their crew programs, rather than having to travel either across the Potomac to Georgetown or down the river to Alexandria (or beyond) for training. And recreational non-motorized boaters and kayakers also are eager for better river access.
Funding is likely to come from a mix of federal, local and private dollars.
The dance between Arlington officials and the National Park Service on the matter is the result of an agreement reached more than 80 years ago between the local and federal governments. Construction of the George Washington Memorial Parkway beginning in the 1930s cut the majority of Arlington off from the Potomac shoreline; when the shore came under control of the National Park Service, federal legislation guaranteed Arlington’s access to the water for non-motorized boating.
Supporters say a facility for non-motorized boats could be incorporated into the Rosslyn shoreline without adverse impact. But the Arlington-Alexandria stretch of the waterway has a number of disadvantages, including excessive wind on the Potomac as well as noise from jets at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
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