Housing Complex

Bloomingdale Residents Furious Over Tunnel Construction Plans

After Bloomingdale got walloped by flooding from storms last year, DC Water came up with a medium-term fix that involves digging a Metro-sized tunnel under First Street NW between now and 2016 to store stormwater. Now, residents of one block in the neighborhood are finding that the solution's as bad as the problem.

Flagler Place NW is only one of several streets that'll bear the brunt of the tunnel's construction—Adams, V, First, and Thomas streets will share the pain—but the residents of its 2200 block are particularly incensed over the sacrifices they're being asked to make in the name of flooding mitigation. The block is set to be closed off to traffic for two to three years, with barriers lining the street, a drop shaft opening a deep hole in the ground, and old trees removed to aid in the construction (they'll be replaced later by younger trees). Residents are concerned about safety, noise, the ability to receive emergency and service vehicles, and lost parking.

"It's really horrid," says 2200 block resident Brandon Skall, who recently wrote a letter outlining the neighbors' concerns about "DC Water’s plan to destroy my street" to the office of Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. "Everybody around here has mobilized and we're starting a group to get this ended."

Skall is as concerned with the process as with the outcomes. He feels that "because of all the press that the flooding got last year, they’ve railroaded it through super fast," without coordinating with the community. He says the block only found out about it when a friend alerted one neighbor to a short write-up she'd seen and the neighbor started investigating. Skall is concerned that DC Water declined to do the heavy construction on nearby Bryant Street instead—on the north side of which there are no houses—because it could interfere with development on the adjacent McMillan site.

But DC Water spokesman John Lisle says the project is for Bloomingdale residents' benefit, even if it's inconvenient in the short term. "There are some very sound engineering and technical reasons for why we need to do that where it’s being done," Lisle says of the work on Flagler Place. "There certainly is going to be an impact to this project. It is a major construction project. We have to get access to the existing sewers and put in a huge new tunnel underneath First Street that’s going to be able to hold the stormwater. It’s a significant construction project, and there’s no way to do it without having some impact on the community."

Still, some community members aren't satisfied. On Tuesday night, DC Water held a meeting with residents of the 2200 block of Flagler to address their concerns. According to a Bloomingdale resident who was present, one neighbor went "ballistic" because DC Water entered his front yard without notice; another suggested that DC Water actually buy out their houses; and several expressed concerns that they'd have to park several blocks away and lug their babies and groceries and such to their houses. (DC Water is providing parking in a secure lot on W Street and offering security services from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to help people get home.)

At an earlier meeting with DC Water, one resident approached DC Water General Manager George Hawkins and suggested that the construction on Flagler could bring up legal issues and trigger a lawsuit. According to Skall, "[Hawkins'] response was, 'If you’ve got legal issues, bring them on. I’ve got a whole team of lawyers.'"

Lisle puts a slightly different spin on the interaction. "George's response to her was that we could go that route, if that’s what they wanted to do, but we would prefer to go down a different road, which would be to work with them and address their concerns and amicably reach a solution," he says. "We don’t want to litigate. If they want to litigate this, then certainly we can go down that route, but we’d prefer not to."

Lisle says that DC Water also plans to meet with residents of the other streets that will be affected by the First Street tunnel construction.

Update: Here's DC Water's presentation to Flagler Street residents on Tuesday night:

Photo of flooding after Hurricane Sandy by Darrow Montgomery

  • Barrie Daneker

    The problem is that the city is going to spend $150 million dollars on a project for a few houses in Bloomingdale that are prone to flooding for years. In stead of dealing with it a while back DC Water dismissed the need. Now they are about to spend $150 Million on an interim project that the final solution of the COS system of tunnels due to complete in 2025. So the final permanent solution is 13 years away and is slated to be done buy using a single TBM (Tunnel Boring Machine). On top of it, McMillan will now become a ^ million gallon Storage tank of RAW SEWAGE... not storm-water as the city is telling residents. Which means there will be the need for flood insurance for those around McMillan in case the tank bursts. Which could send 6 millions gallons of sewage running down hill at a rate of min mph, knocking houses for blocks south off of foundations, leaving N. Capitol street underpasses full of sewage. Check out what 2.3 million gallons of mollasses can do. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Molasses_Disaster. On top of the pains that residents where no flooding has occurred.

    Instead a better decision would be to buy another TBM and move the completeion date up. Can't two machines be deployed to reduce the timeline for the final solution and actually achieve better long term results?

    Or lets say $150 Million dollars could buy at lease 150 homes in Bloomingdale. Let the city buy them hold them til the tunnel is completed and resell them at a profit in 2025.

    Or lets spend money on pervious concrete surfaces on all sidewalks and alleys up hill from Bloomingdale and require WHC complex to repave all parking lots with the pervious surfaces of the next 3 years. The flooding problem will go away naturally by moving the water back into ground as occurred many years ago on it's own. the problem is the water isn't being absorbed into the ground and be diverted into the COS system causing the backup.

    So lets go back to the drawing board on this solution. Otherwise all you Channing, Bryant, Adams St, and further down stream residents best get flood insurance to cover in the event the McMillan Sewage tank fails!

  • BDale Res

    Building a 20-25 foot wide hole that drops 100 feet down on a 28 foot wide street in a residential area is ridiculous. This is unprecedented in the US. DC Water has other options but their responses to date have been "it's too difficult." There are areas on DC Water's property that would provide the same band-aid. Other areas along the sewer line that would have less community impact.

    DC Water is rushing to a solution without engaging major stakeholders, the community. Half of these guys are unseasoned professionals in how they handle community affairs and are not on the same page themselves when it comes to describing the plans. It is scary to find PM's, engineers, PR reps contradicting one another. There are alternatives, but DC Water does not want to be bothered by it.

  • Stronghold Resident

    This seemed like a pretty dumb idea when I first heard it (after they had a surprise announcement at the McMillan site to announce that they were converting this "historic" site into a sewage storage tank), but it seemed like everyone else thought it was just fine (especially construction firm that won the NO BID CONTRACT to do the work), they looked like the cat that ate the canary. This article doesn't even mention the around-the-clock dump truck parade that will go on for many months NON-STOP to remove the tons upon tons of dirt from the site. And we all know that these projects always come in on time and under budget...

    At the meetings the people who run the Bloomingdale Civic Association seemed in full support or the project. You can find more information on the meetings that took place here:


    So, have fun with that.

  • Jason

    Wow! Thank God I went further east to buy my house. I cannot imagine what a disaster it would have been to buy a home in Bloomingdale. My heart goes out to the people who live there and own property there. It appears there's no easy solution.

  • Joe

    Every District resident and tax payer should be concerned with this project. Long term planning for the DC Clean Rivers Project began in 1998. The original Anacostia Rivers Projects Environmental Assessment (ARP EA - NPS, 2010) did not include any project designs for the Flagler Place trunk sewer. Similar urban CSO projects with drop shafts included years of planning, community meetings, and environmental studies (Narraganset Bay Commission 8 years of planning, Portland Oregon 4 years of planning, Atlanta 8 years of planning). DC Water has spent 4 months on project design and planning of the Flagler Place drop shaft (see page 14 of the presentation above), with no alternative plans other than "no action" for the entire project. This is a $13M hole in the ground that they are rushing to build. Why has DC Water spent so little time planning this project? Failure to plan is a plan for failure.

  • Emily

    I've lived on Flagler for three years, and I have had to personally deal with destruction to my property caused by flooding. I also am an advocate for the Anacostia River and feel that it is government and utility agencies' responsibility to take action to reduce stormwater runoff and prevent sewage from overflowing into the river. I care deeply about both of these issues, which is why I want to see the best resolution implemented. The Flagler Tunnel is not it.

    How could any plan that prevents an ambulance or fire truck from accessing residents' homes be the right one? Who thinks it's a good idea to have an unattended parking lot that is publicly known to be full of cars whose owners all live blocks away? How can you justify shutting down a residential street that several senior citizens and young children live on for 2 to 3 years?

    DC Water is rushing this plan because of political pressure due to the impact of recent flooding on Bloomingdale residents. Flooding destroyed residents' property, produced health hazards, and costs residents' thousands of dollars. DC Water's proposed solution will destroy residents' property, produce health hazards, and cost residents' millions of dollars. Time to go back to the drawing board....and this time residents should be invited to the table before contractors are.

  • JustMe

    ""He feels that "because of all the press that the flooding got last year, they’ve railroaded it through super fast," without coordinating with the community.""

    This guy reminds me of a fair number of graduate school thesis committee members who don't really care about the issue, per se, but are more concerned about whether they were consulted in the properly deferential manner and have their "input" acknowledged and used. Not for any good reason, but to make them feel better.

    I live in Bloomingdale, and while it isn't pleasant to wake up to jackhammering in the morning, I realize that it is work that needs to be done.

  • for $150 mil….

    This seems like way too much money for way too little payback. For $150 million, the city would be able to convert virtually all the now-impervious surfaces to pervious and build rain gardens galore.

  • eastof9

    All of Bloomingdale needs to wake up about this. The Flagler portion mentioned in the article is just one slice of this enormous and unprecedented project, which will soon be coming to First Street for the next 2-3 years, or longer. JustMe doesn't seem to appreciate the magnitude of building a Metro-sized tunnel under First Street. One drop shaft alone is a $13 million hole in the ground (take a look at the photos in the presentation). There will be several of these in our hood. It will require literally hundreds of dump trucks barreling through the neighborhood for years -- not just a little jackhammering.

  • saywhat14

    Look people you can't have it both ways,do you want the problem fixed or not? It is going to be some interruptions to your quality of life, it's that simple. Stop whining and think of some solutions that could save your darn property.

  • scottrobertsinbloomingdale

    Let me post this message from a Bloomingdale resident who lives on the impacted block -- the 2200 block of Flagler Place NW:

    From: Jeffrey Hayward
    Sent: Saturday, May 11, 2013 3:53 PM


    Our basement in Bloomingdale flooded 3 times last summer, so we share the community desire for a solution to a major problem. Yet, the First Street Tunnel project being pushed ahead at full-tilt is a flawed fix. Most Bloomingdale residents are just learning of the massive disruption and major impacts that will close large sections of Adams, Flagler, V and other streets when industrial scale tunneling operations rattle our windows and shake our walls.

    You may not have heard that this tunnel could shut down your block for 2+ years as 80-100’ drop shafts the width of our streets are dug from morning to night. And there`s very little time for you to have a voice and try to improve the plan by finding less impactful alternatives. What you can do is read the Environmental Assessment, talk to other concerned citizens, and write comments to DC Water.

    I strongly encourage neighbors to submit your comments to DC Water by the May 15th deadline.

    Here`s how to submit comments to DC Water on the Environmental Assessment:

    Email: You can email comments to Emanuel.Briggs @ dcwater.com . For added measure, please cc our ANC Rep Mark Mueller at anc5c04 @ gmail.com, and John Salatti of the Bloomingdale Civic Association at John.Salatti @ gmail.com . In the Subject Line, please write: ``First Street Tunnel EA - Comments``.

    Paper: Alternatively, here is the link to the PDF version (http://www.dcwater.com/workzones/bloomingdale/First_Street_Tunnel_Public_Meeting_Comment_Form.pdf) of the form. Please print it out, and write your comments. You can scan it in and email to the address on the form.

    Want to learn more about the First Street Tunnel?: DC Water has been actively updating its website. Please read more here (http://www.dcwater.com/bloomingdale) . (I attached the Environmental Assessment to this letter.)

    This is an engineering project of significant magnitude. 25’-wide holes will open up entire streets, cranes will loom over cavernous drop shafts, huge diversion chambers rigged, and heavy machinery will move earth from 7am to 7pm. For 2-3 years, several streets in Bloomingdale will be turned into construction sites: with no parking on street, cement barriers and chain-link fencing from sidewalk to sidewalk, mature shade trees cut down, and constant drilling noise.

    Serious impacts are understated and overlooked in the Environmental Assessment. Please read it and draw your own conclusions, but in talking to neighbors, our concerns about the project are that it will:

    -- Restrict access and effect safety (i.e., entrance for Fire, EMS, Police)
    -- Result in structural or other property damage to historic homes
    -- Impact air quality (especially for children, seniors, those with respiratory ailments)
    -- Destroy mature shade trees and impact aesthetics
    -- Severely impede mobility for elderly/disabled
    -- Effect all services (Utilities, Trash collection, Parking, Meals on wheels, MetroAccess)

    What`s really missing in the Environmental Assessment is serious consideration of alternatives that DC Water could take in siting more of the project at or within the managed public works facilities at their disposal off Bryant Street or at McMillan.

    All the best,

    Jeff Hayward
    Flagler Pl NW

  • scottrobertsinbloomingdale

    But wait, there's more! I see this new Twitter ID of @BloomingdaleCC -- "Bloomingdale Concerned Citizens (BCC) opposes the Flagler/Adams drop shaft that DC plans for the 1st St Tunnel. We demand alternatives." Looks like my neighbors are getting organized against the DC Water plans for the Flagler/Adams area.

  • Timothy

    I really would like to praise you for writing such a fabulous article Thanks for your great blog.Freelance Web Designers. Building products