Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland gathered concerned parties Wednesday morning to discuss the fate of horse-boarding at the Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area, in wake of an environmental assessment recently released.
The supervisor hosted Congressman Jim Moran (D-8th), as well as the state director of the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the 800-acre property, and community leaders and representatives of the horse-boarding operation at his office.
"It's not really BLM's call on a lot of these things," said Moran. "There are liabilities. The government has to be extremely careful, particularly in a construction zone. There's not likely going to be another opportunity to repair the stables, so they want to do it right."
BLM released the Environmental Assessment of the 36-year-old barn two weeks ago. There is no timeline for development in the 42-page document, and it outlines three options.
The bureau's proposed, or preferred, action would renovate the Meadowood barn within the existing footprint. According to the assessment, the existing framing and "structural components" would be used in the renovation. The parking lot area could also be renovated.
"I'm thinking that we may have very limited space to use (inside and outside the barn to house horses) during construction," said John Lyons, BLM's director of the Eastern States office, at the meeting. "Option 1a—it is a good model. I don't know if we will rely on it completely."
What happens if the horses are moved to another location outside Meadowood?
"My certified woman-owned business with six employees goes under," said Barn Manager Allison Mills. "These 29 horses will not find relocation in Fairfax County. They'll have to go elsewhere. The underscoring feeling is that if boarded horses are taken out they'll never go back in."
Mills recently renewed her contract. The facility has 46 stalls, 29 of which are currently occupied by 29 boarded, therapeutic and lesson-riding horses. It costs $700 a month to board a horse at Meadowood.
The second option outlined in the environmental assessment would be the immediate closure and demolition of the barn. Under this plan, the barn would not be rebuilt and the horse program would come to an end.
The third alternative would result in "No Action" (no maintenance at all) performed on the barn or the surrounding area. "The barn structure would eventually be closed to public access and activities that currently occur there would cease," according to the assessment. "In this event, use of the outdoor arena and pastures could continue."
Moran is a member of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, and is worried that the $800,000 in deferred maintenance funds from the Department of Interior for the project will be reallocated.
"I'm very concerned this could blow up," he said. "Interior's budget is more exposed than the Department of Defense. … Any place where cash isn't being spent is raided."
BLM's Lyons said that the funds were secure. "My analysis indicates that the money is safe," he said. "I have been looking at the money."
Hyland, the Mount Vernon District supervisor, wants the boarders to stay at the barn. "It's been a frustrating process, to be honest," he told members of the Mason Neck Citizens Association on Tuesday night. "The process for the last three years has been very difficult for me to understand, because it's not a difficult issue."
What Do the Boarders Think?
The fate of the barn means a lot to boarder Anna Gibson. "We need to know what's going to happen," Gibson told Lyons at the meeting Wednesday morning. "Allison has a business to run. I have life decisions I have to make about where I'm going to live. If Meadowood closes, I'll probably have to move to Loudoun County or Maryland" to board her horse elsewhere, she said.
BLM's Lyons said that he was only at the meeting to listen and declined to talk to Patch about the situation. "I cannot legally answer questions like that," he said.
Boarder Lynn Taylor described the Meadowood issue as an ongoing fight. "It never ends," she said. "We just fight on and on knowing that keeping the horses at the barn would be a win-win for the community and the users."
The deadline for public comment on the Bureau of Land Management's Environmental Assessment of the barn at Meadowood is July 3. Click here to comment on BLM's Environmental Assessment, or email comments to: BLM_ES_Meadowood_Comments@blm.gov. You may read the entire environmental assessment report here (pdf download).