What's to be done about the Meadowood Barn facility in Lorton? On Tuesday night, hundreds attended a public scope meeting conducted by the Bureau of Land Management to voice their opinions and submit recommendations.
"My business is literally dying before your eyes," said Allison Mills, a government contractor who runs boarding operations at the barn. "Since the attrition clause came into play August 26, 2010, I've lost seven boarders and I've not been able to replace them. With each [boarded] horse going out the door, my business obviously suffers. I'm a woman-owned small-business and I employ seven people… I'll do whatever I can, but if I keep using boardered horses without the ability to replace them—we're going to close up shop and that is the reality."
The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the deteriorating structure, is considering these options: tear down and replace the barn and arena; refurbish the barn, or take no action, which would mean that the facility would be sold as-is to a third party. BLM currently has a requirement in place that limits the number of boarders at the facility through attrition until the project is complete.
E. Lynn Burkett was recently hired as the Meadowood site manager. "I can't comment on the past and what we've done," she said.
Mills responded: "I'm not talking about the past. I'm talking about tomorrow. I've a waiting list of 23 horses that can come into the barn tomorrow to help offset this. I'll be having to decide my future.... How do I plan a business budget for three months down the line?"
Burkett: "I'm committed to getting this done. I know you've been here before. I know you're frustrated. I am too," she told the audience. "We are looking at all the pieces, all comments, all uses—all of it."
Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland said that the attrition clause must be addressed. "This land was intended to be public recreation use. We in the community have an interest in it," he said. "As boarders leave they're not replaced. I don't know how a small businessperson can make that up in volume. [BLM should] look at that current contract and arrangement that you have - if we don't address it, then everything that we're trying to do here tonight is going to go for naught."
Barry Welton, an engineer who attended the meeting at the request of BLM, favors building a new structure. "That barn needs quite a bit of work done on it," he said. "It seems to me there's some advantage to building something new as opposed to keeping the existing structure."
If BLM decides to refurbish the 26,000 square-foot barn, horses will have to be moved from the facility. It would also mean constructing a larger arena. The barn, which was built in 1976, should be replaced, according to a BLM structural evaluation that was released in April.
"While the structure is not in immediate danger of collapse, the type and condition suggest that this facility is at the end of its useful design life, and major remediation is required to maintain it into the future," said the report. "Most existing shortcomings are due to water infiltration through the roof and walls. Any attempt to remediate the structural components for its present use without addressing the weather tightness of the building skin would be wasteful and result in a repeat of the current shortcomings. Upgrading the facility to exceed its intended use (Utility & Maintenance to Assembly or Business) is difficult and complex."
Boarder Anna Gibson started an online petition. "We have an online petition and several other petitions circulating that basically call for the barn to be repaired and to maintain its current mix of uses and to taking boarding back to the point that it was in 2008, which would accommodate all parties," she said.
Dr. Melinda Freckleton treats a vast majority of horses at Meadowood. "I think it's important that we not be wedded to an antiquated barn," she said. "The concerns about ventilation for your horse's health are very, very real. The concerns about safety are just beyond important. That is not an especially safe barn… I've attended barn fires…If I attend another one I'm going to need therapy."
There is already an interested party to buy the barn as-is, should BLM chooses to take no action on the facility. "I'm going to propose something that none of you all are going to like," said Chief Warrant Officer Steven Abernathy, platoon leader for the U.S. Army Third Caisson Platoon. "I can clearly see that everyone wants a repaired facility and to maintain the relationships that you all have there. And I hope that works out. I really do. I would like to submit, though, after your analysis is conducted and after everything is laid on the table, that if, in fact, it comes to a…decision where you have to find an outside agency to take it as-is, we submit that we are interested in it."
Comments and concerns can be submitted via email or to the Lower Potomac Field Station, Bureau of Land Management, 10406 Gunston Road, Lorton VA 22079.