Fairfax County officials said yesterday they will abandon plans to build a four-lane road through Huntley Meadows Park, one of the region's largest park and wetland areas, resolving perhaps the longest-running and toughest environmental battle the county ever fought.
The announcement came after the Department of the Interior notified county officials in a letter delivered yesterday that it would not permit the road, known as the Lockheed-Van Dorn Connector, to cross the 1,261-acre park because of potential environmental damage.
The road was considered a critical direct link connecting Route 1 and the Springfield Mall area that would divert motorists from an inadequate network of neighborhood streets.
The park, which is just north of Fort Belvoir in southeastern Fairfax, has 800 acres of wetlands and is home to about 50 species of birds and other wildlife that have been listed as rare to Virginia.
Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee), chief sponsor of the two-mile road, said he will not challenge the decision.
Alexander said he will propose that the board shift about $13 million budgeted for the road to other projects that would relieve traffic congestion in southeastern Fairfax.
"I see no reason to contest the decision because . . . litigation would be futile," Alexander said. "There's no question that the environmental concerns are overriding here."
"This has been our objective for 15 years," said Norma Hoffman, president of the Coalition to Save Huntley Meadows, which was formed after the county began planning the road in 1975. "The national policy of no net loss of wetlands is a reality in this case, and the National Park Service is the hero. We feel that Fairfax County is the winner in this battle because they will be protecting the environment and an important natural resource."
The National Park Service, a division of the Department of the Interior, had authority to deny use of park land for the road because of the conditions under which the Park Service gave the land to the county in 1975.
Those conditions stipulated that the purpose of the land was to preserve open space for recreational use and to preserve and manage "the wildlife and environmental attributes of the site . . . in perpetuity."
"Huntley Meadows Park is presently demonstrating increased signs of stress from urban development, and the risk of irreversible damage to the wetlands from the construction of Lockheed Boulevard across their water source is too high to permit the project to go forward," Robert Stanton, regional director of the National Park Service, said in the letter to Fairfax County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert.
The decision does not resolve environmental questions about a smaller segment of the Lockheed-Van Dorn Connector north of the park -- between Kingstowne Boulevard and Telegraph Road -- that has been delayed because of its possible negative impact on wetlands. Alexander said he hoped the decision to abandon the Huntley Meadows portion would lead to a favorable decision from the federal government to permit construction of the other segment.
Alexander said money slated for the abandoned stretch of the connector could be used to widen Hayfield Road to four lanes between Manchester Lakes Boulevard and Telegraph Road, and to widen Beulah Street to four lanes between Franconia and Telegraph roads. Portions of the money, he said, could also be used to improve water runoff and detention up stream from the park.