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Proposed D.C. flooding fix a tricky task

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Photo - McMillan reservoir site (Examiner file photo)
McMillan reservoir site (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

An idea being floated to use a former water filtration site to temporarily help alleviate flooding problems in the District is a little more complicated than it sounds, an official with that site's redevelopment team has told The Washington Examiner.

DC Water officials have said they are looking at using the historic McMillan Sand Filtration Site near Howard University that's slated for redevelopment as a temporary water storage facility during flash rainstorms. The site sits north of Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park, two areas where homeowners have endured thousands of dollars in damages after the antiquated sewer serving the neighborhood caused backups four times this summer.

But accessing the site's underground sand filtration cells, which haven't been used since 1985, isn't as simple as rerouting excess runoff during rainstorms, said Anne Corbett, Envision McMillan's project director.

"It's not just water running downhill that we can corral up into a pond at McMillan," she said.

And any action taken at the site would require approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board.

"Deciding to use McMillan as an interim storm water retention function would still require significant development design and approval process because it's still a historic landmark," Corbett said, adding that could also delay the development process.

But Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh didn't think it would add delays.

"My own experience with these big developments is that it takes long enough that we could use that site to deal with the flooding and use it for development, so why not?" she said. "It's just sitting there, so let's use it."

But developers are open to using the site as a more permanent solution to the flooding and have talked with at-large Councilman Michael Brown, who chairs the economic development committee, and with Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie about using the site.

Such a solution would enlarge the development's water retention tanks ?-- but, Corbett said, the city would need to foot the bill for the added cost.

"We have said for a long time we have the capacity to be open to that certainly in partnership ... the construction needs to be paid for by DC Water or D.C. or whoever," she said.

The 25-acre McMillan site has been closed to the public since the 1940s and was purchased by the District from the federal government in 1987. Previous plans to redevelop the area have stalled, but Envision McMillan, a proposal that includes mixed-use office and apartment buildings with ground-floor retail, townhouses and a four-acre park in the center, is now being weighed by the historic preservation board.

DC Water presented its flooding mitigation ideas last week at a D.C. Council hearing on the chronic flooding in the Northwest neighborhoods.

Examiner Staff Writer Alan Blinder contributed to this report.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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