Planned Beltsville Treasury facility raises environmental concerns

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An image from the Treasury Department's environmental impact report shows a conceptual layout for a proposed cash production facility planned to be built on the campus of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Powder Mill Road is to the bottom. Odell Road is to the North.

Concerns about polluted creeks, increased car traffic, and loss of wildlife habitat dominated a public hearing on a Treasury Department proposal to build a 1 million square-foot cash factory on the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. 

“This project is sited in the wrong place,” said Greenbelt City Councilor Rodney Roberts during the meeting. “It should not be on BARC at all.”

The virtual hearing was hosted Dec. 2, 2020, by representatives from the Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the government office in charge of the production of U.S. coins and cash. The public meeting is part off a mandatory environmental review process for new federal facilities. More specifically, the meeting sough comment on a draft environmental impact report prepared for the project. 

The Proposal

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing wants to build a 1 million square foot cash production facility at a 104-acre tract of land along Poultry Road between Odell Road to the north and Powder Mill Road to the south. Currently, that land houses 20 disused research labs and offices once used to study poultry.

The facility is designed to replace one of the Bureau’s existing cash production facilities in Washington D.C. In its search for a new facility, Treasury officials researched more than 80 sites in the region. 

Treasury officials said the D.C. printing facility, built in 1918, is “effectively obsolete” and is not up to the task of producing increasingly complex cash necessary to thwart more-sophisticated counterfeiters. 

If all goes to plan, the facility could see construction start by 2022, and completed by 2025. After that, it would take until 2029 to shift all of the D.C. facility’s operations to Beltsville. Once built and staffed up, the facility is expected to employ 1,600 workers, working in shifts. 

Environmental Concerns

During the call, many raised concerns about impacts to the local environment. According to the environmental impact report, the construction would result in the destruction of nearly 3 acres of wetlands. The report also noted the facility would generate a “significant increase in nighttime lighting levels” that could affect residents along Odell Road. 

Michel Cavigelli, a Beltsville Agricultural Research Center employee and chair of the facility’s volunteer ecology committee that tracks wildlife on the facility for federal reporting purposes, said the environmental impact report severely undercounted the biodiversity of the land. 

“From that project we know there are at least 238 species of birds found at the BARC site, which is basically a hotspot in P.G. County,” said Cavigelli during the meeting. “When I look at the footprint of this project it’s just amaing to see how the whole area is wiped out.”

What’s Next

The Treasury Department is taking comments on the draft environmental impact report through Dec. 21, 2020. Comments and concerns from the meeting, plus written comments received before then will be incorporated into the final environmental impact report, which is expected to be completed in Spring 2021. Once released that’s released, Treasury Department officials have 30 days to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the project or not. 

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