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Purple Line may face lawsuit over rare species

CHEVY CHASE — Federal officials have determined construction of the light-rail Purple Line in Maryland would not harm an endangered species living nearby, but environmental activists in Chevy Chase are preparing a lawsuit to have the project’s impact reconsidered.

The Washington Post reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the Purple Line would not harm two types of tiny, rare shrimplike crustaceans. But that finding could spark a lawsuit. Activists said the federal government has not done enough to protect the endangered Hay’s Spring amphipod and the Kenk’s amphipod.

Environmental lawyer John Fitzgerald said the government didn’t consider the impact of new development that would follow a new rail line. Adding new residents to the area would increase the likelihood of sewer overflows, and cutting down trees would send more rainwater into streams where the amphipod lives, he said.

“You have to look at the overall impacts,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to plan, not just hope, for the recovery of these species.”

The animals are significant, Fitzgerald said, because they live only in particularly clean, cool water, showing the quality of the groundwater springs feeding Rock Creek.

Some advocates of the Purple Line said the benefits of the transit line in curbing traffic growth and focusing development around rail stations would outweigh the impacts of construction.

The Fish and Wildlife Service found that the closest Hay’s Spring amphipod habitat is in Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia, about 4½ miles downstream of the Purple Line’s trains. The Kenk’s amphipod is found within a quarter-mile in a spring near Chevy Chase, the agency said.

State officials hope to begin building the $2.2 billion transit line in 2015 and open it in 2020 to provide east-west transit connecting Bethesda and New Carrollton.