Lawsuit to Block Purple Line Rests at the Feet of the Amphipod

Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and two residents have filed a federal lawsuit to try to block the Purple Line from coming through an area they say is home to three rare shrimp-like creatures.

Kenk's amphipod PHOTO |U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Kenk’s amphipod
PHOTO |U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The plaintiffs want the Federal Transit Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Secretaries of Interior and Transportation to find alternatives to the Purple Line route between Bethesda and Silver Spring, in order to protect the Rock Creek watershed that harbors the Hay’s Spring amphipod and the Kenk’s amphipod, tiny freshwater invertebrates. The lawsuit says these animals’ habitat could be degraded or destroyed by construction of the railway and associated development, according to a press release on the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail website.

Biologist and American University Professor David Culver was hired by the group to find the amphipods. He told MyMCMedia he hasn’t seen them yet but has found habitat that suggests they are there.

“We found some habitat and we need to go back and there are reasons I think it’s worth looking again,” Culver said. That search he expects will resume in late October.

The amphipods habitats are tiny seeps or breachs of water that ooze from the ground, Culver said.  He said the importance of the amphipods are as an indicator of the health of the ecosystem.

“They don’t pollinate, or help in drug prevention or break down organic materials. But I think it should be taken into account if it is there what should be done about  it. I am not a chain-yourself-to-the-tree person but it wasn’t a good job of looking for them (by the Fish and Wildlife Services),” Culver said.

Jon Fitzgerald, a plaintiff in the suit and a Chevy Chase  attorney whose work has involved endangered species conservation since the early 1980′s, argues that the environmental impact plan for the Purple Line was not adequately done.

“The way things are going now I’d hate to be an amphipod depending on these agencies to protect me,” Fitzgerald said of the suit filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior and federal transportation agencies.

The plaintiffs are Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua of Chevy Chase.

Meagan Racey, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region, wrote in an email to MyMcMedia Tuesday,  that the agency found in January that the “purple line project would have no effect on endangered, threatened or candidate species, including the endangered Hay’s spring amphipod and the Kenk’s amphipod, a species that is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sustainable Economy and others provided more information in a ‘notice of intent’ to sue earlier this summer and in a meeting with us. We recently thoroughly re-evaluated our initial determination in light of that information, and we have reaffirmed our previous findings that, based on the best available science, the project will have no effect on these two amphipods.”

Racey wrote that the service does know that additional survey work is expected this fall and the agency “would consider the relevancy of any new information regarding the occurrence of the species.”

“We have worked closely for many years with the National Park Service, National Zoo and other partners to protected the endangered Hay’s spring amphipod and the Kenk’s amphipod. Trails and paved areas have been steered outside of the catchment area of the springs they depend upon, and deer management has helped maintained the forest understory, which in turn helps filter water flow into the springs. Since all known sites are on protected lands, we have already been able to implement these available measures to conserve the species. Nonetheless, we are committed to developing a recovery outline and plan to begin this effort in the near future,” Racey wrote.

She said the service is also funding additional surveys next spring to update information on known sites and to search for additional sites in suitable habitat, but that is not near the project.


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Krista Brick

About Krista Brick

Krista Brick is a multi-media journalist with Montgomery Community Media.


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