A petition opposing a new heliport that could potentially be located along the Anacostia River at 12th and Water Streets SE had amassed 575 signatures by Monday morning. The petition was put up by a group of residents under the name ‘Neighbors United to Protect the SE Riverfront’ a week earlier.
The plans were the subject of a meeting held by Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B on August 26. At that meeting, multiple parties, including Commissioners Kirsten Oldenburg (6B04), Kelly Waud (6B07) and Corey Holman (6B06) as well as Congressional Aviation CEO Geoff Rankin, who operates the facility, emphasized the lack of available information.
Commissioners said that they understood the District Office of the City Administrator (OCA) was trying to find a new location for the heliport as the lease for its current Buzzard Point location, at 1724 South Capitol Street SE, runs out in 2022. Congressional Aviation is a private company working in partnership with the privately-owned South Capitol Heliport. The company is the fixed-base operator (FBO), meaning they provide airport services such as fueling, storage for helicopters and aircraft maintenance.
Heliport for Police, Emergency
Rankin said that the site is important to the District because the company holds the only public-use license in the District, making their site the only facility for use by public agencies. “We’re the site for several different federal agencies, we’re a FEMA site,” he said, “and as you know the police department operates their support unit from our location, and all the hospitals also use our site for life-saving services.”
Rankin said that Congressional Aviation did not personally want to move, but with an end date built into his lease, it was better to begin the process as soon as possible. “We currently have a lease until 2022,” said Rankin. “If there’s a way that I can stay where I am, great.”
“At the same time, we have to build the site up, and you can see that this is a lengthy process –I’ve been in contact with the District for about two years, 18 months to be exact, and we’re just getting started.”
OCA representatives said the search was still in the very early stages, and referred questions on the subject to the Department of General Services (DGS).
A statement issued to media inquiring about the process on behalf of DGS Director Keith Anderson said that, “The current heliport site will no longer be available by 2022. The District is in initial discussions with Congressional Aviation to aide in the identification of potential sites to relocate the heliport. At this time there are no official recommendations. Any recommended locations will undergo substantial evaluation and public engagement.”
Helicopter flights are restricted in the District, which is in the no-fly zone. Rankin said that limits relocation possibilities to predetermined routes. In this case, the new site must be located along Helicopter Route 1, along the west side of the Anacostia River.
Rankin said that the company was exploring other locations, although he did not give specifics. “Right now, the focal point is the 11th Street Bridge,” he said.
The proposed site is located right next to the upcoming 11th Street Bridge Park, which has a targeted opening for 2023—the year the heliport would be relocated. 11th Street Bridge Park Project Director Steve Kratz has been working to transform the freeway bridge into a park since 2012.
“One of the main messages, not to speak for the ANC, is that we just want the community to be involved,” Kratz said at the community meeting. “I think all of us who are residents want to be involved in a big decision like this, and right now there’s not a lot of information to go on.”
Kratz said that it was Congressional Aviation, rather than the District, that alerted him to the potential use of the site earlier in the year. He said one of his concerns was that the potential heliport would be right next to a proposed amphitheater to be constructed as part of the park.
Concerns expressed in the petition and during the community meeting touched on a variety of issues. The petition notes that a heliport at the site would ‘adversely impact this important stretch of the Anacostia River.’ In addition to blocking development in the area, the petition states that it would ‘create constant noise for Capitol Hill neighbors, including nearby residents of Hopkins public housing project.’
Helicopter noise has been a huge concern for residents all over the DMV, to the point that DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton hosted a meeting to address the issue.
The community also raised concerns about the impact of a heliport on the riverfront and the river itself. The parcel of land in question is the former site of Washington Gas Light Company’s East Station Facility, which manufactured gas from coal and oil. The facility was demolished in the 1980s. In 2011, Washington Gas began environmental remediation of the site, including excavation of contaminated soil and groundwater treatment. Commissioners wanted to know if the District had considered the impact to the river of a heliport at the site.
“I have concerns about noise complaints,” said Commissioner Waud at the meeting, “but being a runner and user of the Anacostia Trail, I also have concerns about the effect on wildlife and the effect on the enjoyment of the river.”
Visions for Riverfront
Commissioner Corey Holman (6B06) is the commissioner for the area. He said that the proposal contradicts the new vision for the area presented in studies such as the 2006 Boathouse Row Planning Study and the 2015 Southeast Boulevard Planning Study.
“We knew these plans were long term and would take buy in from all levels of government,” wrote Holman in an email after the August meeting. “We were hopeful. We were patient.”
“And now the Mayor and City Administrator see this patience as an opportunity to dump a heliport onto newly cleaned and remediated [land]. It’s maddening. It’s frustrating,” he said.
There’s no question about it. Building a new helipad on the river near 11th St SE is a bad idea & would be a bad use of this riverfront land. I’ve already talked with the City Administrator & let him know I will oppose this site if it’s selected. https://t.co/yO1JQGBcaS
— Charles Allen (@charlesallen) August 26, 2019
On Twitter, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) opposed the idea unequivocally.
“There’s no question about it. Building a new helipad on the river near 11th St SE is a bad idea & would be a bad use of this riverfront land,” he wrote. “I’ve already talked with the City Administrator & let him know I will oppose this site if it’s selected.”
The matter will be discussed further at the September monthly meeting of ANC 6B. Congressional Aviation CEO Rankin will attend the meeting, and the ANC has also invited the City Administrator, Rashid Young, although as of Monday morning his attendance had not been confirmed.
Commissioners have submitted a list of questions for the Office of the City Administrator, and are hoping to share answers at their September monthly meeting. The September meeting of ANC 6B will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE). All are welcome. You can view the Change.org petition opposing the selection of the 11th Street site for the heliport here.