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BLM Extends Comment Period on Meadowood Barn to July 24

Comments may be submitted online, via email or through the mail.

The Bureau of Land Management has extended the public comment period deadline for its Environmental Assessment of from July 3 to July 24.

Comments may be submitted:

BLM alerted the public of the extension Monday on it's website, which for weeks suffered a glitch that kept people from commenting. BLM did not indicate a reason for the new deadline in the announcement, but did confirm in earlier emails there were website problems. 

"I apologize for the issues with the comment link. I have notified our IT people to correct the problem," wrote BLM Eastern States Planning & Environmental Coordinator Kurt Wadzinski in an email last week. "Thank you for bringing it to our attention. In the meantime, feel free to reply to this email with your comments and I will ensure that they are added to the public record."

"People were not able to submit comments for weeks and weeks and weeks," said The Stables at Meadowood manager Allison Mills. "We want now to make sure people understand the pressure to submit their comments."

Development Options

BLM's 42-page environmental assessment report (pdf download) presents three options for the barn.

  1. Renovate the existing barn on its current footprint, while closing the facility to the horses and horse related businesses on the property during the renovation.
  2. Immediately close and demolish the structure.
  3. Leave the structure as is, but close the horse related businesses on the property.

Uncertainty 

Critics of BLM say these options provide only one scenario: Eliminate horse boarding, riding lessons, therapeutic riding and all other horse related businesses from the .

Virginia Congressmen Gerry Connolly (D-11th) and Jim Moran (D-8th) wrote a joint statement to BLM and asked them to keep horses in the barn during renovation and to scale back the scope of repairs in order to lessen the impact on the animals. 

According to their joint letter, which was sent to the State Director of the Eastern States Office: "These seem to be reasonable recommendations that decrease the disruption to horses and riders during this transition period. And by scaling back some of the design aspects, we can save taxpayer money, potentially using it for future maintenance needs extending the life of the barn post reconstruction."

Mills, whose annual contract was renewed last spring for one year, has 19 horses boarding at the facility - down from 30 due to a contractual clause that keeps her replacing horses during this period of impending renovation. Mills has a waiting list of 32 horses ready to make Meadowood their home. 

Simple Changes Therapeutic Riding Center and reportedly replaces horses as needed, in order to maintain their five horse herd for therapeutic riding at Meadowood.

Simple Changes contracts with Mills to provide barn services, including feeding and turn-out. It is unclear whether Simple Changes would be allowed to remain on the property during a renovation, or who would provide support services if Mills was forced to leave.

"We have been working earnestly with politicians at the local, state and federal level, who I now think have a firm understanding of the situation and want to keep bordered horses on the property," Mills said.

The online petition Keep Horses at Meadowood asks BLM to move forward with barn repairs while allowing horses to stay on the property.

"Since taking over the management of the barn in 2004, BLM has continually held meetings aimed at ending their original commitment to provide local citizens horse boarding, lessons and other equestrian activities at Meadowood," said Anna Gibson, who boards her horse at Meadowood. "Once the horses are off the property; once the current barn manager and lesson program director closes her businesses, BLM will have no reason to renovate the barn or reinstate equestrian facilities at Meadowood."

After reading the environmental assessment and talking with persons who use the stables and persons who live on Mason Neck, Patch emailed the following questions to BLM's state office. A response was requested by 10 a.m. Friday, June 29. Patch has received no response as of noon on Monday, July 2. Here are the questions:

On Barn Health 

  1. Why has the barn remained open (and with three businesses running inside of it) without being ADA compliant? How is it not in compliance?
  2. Would you allow horses to remain in the facility during its renovation to allow the boarding operation to stay in business? If so, how many horses? Is there any scenario where some horses would stay and others wouldn't, like Simple Changes remaining and the Boarders leaving, for instance? 
  3. What are the communicable diseases between horses, as mentioned in the introduction to the NEPA document? How many cases have been documented at Meadowood since BLM took ownership of the barn? 
  4. The NEPA documents says (3.2.9) that "several horses have fallen due to the existing narrow conditions of the arena." When did these incidents occur? What were the extent of the injuries to the horses involved? 

Socio-Economics

  1. If the option to not repair the barn passes, will BLM refund the $800,000 that was collected from Boarders for barn repairs? 

The Future

  1. If the barn is not repaired, what will be BLM's plans for the property? At it's June 28, 2011, public meeting, Fort Belvoir expressed interest in using the facility should boarding operations cease. How many times has BLM met with representatives of the US Army about the property, and when was the most recent meeting? 
  2. Under the proposed option, how long would the barn remain closed? At what point (during renovation or afterward) would BLM reissue requests for new barn management contracts? 
  3. How long has the link for comments on the NEPA document been broken, and will you extend the public comment period because of the glitch? 
  4. How would BLM support Simple Changes, the Boarding operation and the Lesson Riding operation businesses during the renovation if they are not allowed to stay at the facility?

"In the last ten years, Fairfax County has lost many, many horse boarding and lesson facilities," said Gibson. "Woodlawn Stables is also currently fighting for its life... I hope residents county-wide will not only submit comments to BLM, but also copy their comments to their representatives on the Board of Supervisors and in Congress."

(Full disclosure: Burke Patch editor Susan Larson contributed to this story. She boards her horse at The Stables at Meadowood.)

Anna Gibson July 04, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Great coverage, Patch! Thank you for the excellent reporting!
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