Category: Environment

Northern Virginia Stream Bank Restoration Projects Do More Harm Than Good

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, May 16, 2020

A letter to the editor in this week’s Mount Vernon Gazette entitled “Wrong Approach for Stream Restoration” (pp. 6-7), deplores misguided stream “restoration” projects in our region.  

According to author Rod Simmons, a Fairfax County environmental consultant, the LTE, “identically applies to . . . the currently planned upper Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch projects in Arlington County, as well as virtually all other upper headwater stream projects in our region.”

He says: “The biggest problem with the so-called natural channel design approach to stream “restoration” for us in the greater Washington, D.C. region is that it is planned and implemented in completely the wrong places: small order, interior forested, upper headwater streams and wetlands. Natural channel design (i.e. the Rosgen method) is mainly applicable to large order streams and rivers, especially the kind one finds in the American west. Applying it to small order, upper headwater stream channels of the deeply dissected Fall Zone of our area is a misuse of the methodology, a misunderstanding of eastern Fall Zone hydrology and stream geomorphology, a sure recipe for failure, a mismanagement of public funds by inappropriately targeting sediment-control projects in places with low levels of the very nutrients for which funding is based, and an unacceptable loss of irreplaceable native forest, wildlife, and landscape memory.

“The controversial Hollin Hills stream construction projects in the Little Hunting Creek watershed of Fairfax County, Virginia embody the worst elements of these misguided land use projects at virtually every level, from land giveaway to project planning to backing by elected officials.”

According to Suzanne Sundburg, “the science is clear. Privatizing stream ‘restoration’ has perverted its original intent. No matter how well intentioned, the process — as currently practiced in Arlington and elsewhere — it is incredibly destructive to holistic stream and riparian ecology.

“Corrective measures made solely to the receiving streambed will never correct the root cause: steadily increasing inputs of runoff volume and speed, fueled by increasing impervious surfaces and the loss of mature tree canopy throughout the watershed.”

More Trees To Be Removed From Flood Prone County Park

Excerpts from Suzanne Sundburg’s letter to Arlington County Board dated September 23, 2019.

Benjamin Banneker Park contains a formally documented FEMA floodplain, a floodway and a county-identified resource protection area (RPA). Yet even after the July 8 flash flood, the County plans to remove a large number of mature trees and significantly increase impervious surfaces.

I wish that I could tell you how many trees will be removed. However, no tree survey appears to be publicly available. It’s not contained in the staff report for 12-16-17, when the County Board reviewed the framework [for the park]. And the current staff report actively avoids providing this information, even as an attachment.

A reference is made to E2C2’s inquiry about the lack of information on tree removal, among other things, but there is no indication that E2C2’s questions were ever actually addressed. The environmental assessment (EA) referenced in the current staff report isn’t posted to the project web page, nor is the environmental assessmen (EA) posted to E2C2’s web page.

Nowhere do I see a calculation of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that will be re-emitted into the atmosphere when the trees at Benjamin Banneker are removed, even though there are electronic models that would enable staff to calculate the stored carbon.

In its January 28, 2019 presentation to E2C2, staff briefly mentioned the removal of the existing homes on the parcels acquired in order to “increase [the] park[‘s] infiltration ability.” So far, so good.

But staff has yet to explain how removing mature trees, enlarging and paving the current semi-pervious gravel parking lot, and widening paved trails will improve infiltration and won’t exacerbate existing stormwater runoff and flooding problems. 

When will staff and the board begin to discuss the elephant in the room? How much more flood damage will it take? Must we wait for documented drowning fatalities before the board takes action?

This quote seems appropriate: 

“I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.” —Greta Thunberg

PRESS RELEASE: School Board Votes to Remove More Trees

On September 19 Arlington School Board voted to remove dozens of trees from the construction site of the new Reed School in Westover, including most of a grove of majestic hardwoods that have provided shade and quiet enjoyment for generations of students and local residents.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) claims that the destruction is necessary to install geothermal infrastructure, a play ground, and a walkway around the school. At a tour of the site on September 16 that attracted dozens of angry Westover residents, school officials expressed frustration that neighbors waited so long to voice their concerns.

Residents countered that they had raised objections during the planning process, but their objections had been ignored. This sounds like a familiar refrain. The County routinely justifies unpopular decisions by insisting that it sought public input and casting those who object as NIMBYs. Yet even without local opposition, the notion that tearing up a wooded lot is needed to install renewable energy is downright perverse.

It is also self defeating. The National Tree Benefit Calculator indicates that the loss of the 42-inch red maple and the 54-inch silver maple on the site, alone, will generate over 33,000 gallons of additional unintercepted storm water. The end result will be higher peak flood levels, such as the July 8 flash flood that inundated Westover Market across the street from Reed School.

The notion that the saplings APS will install at Reed School can replace mature trees is also not supported by the facts. A USDA Forest Service publication calculates that a 40-year-old red maple absorbs 11,577 gallons of water–almost 4 times the capacity of a 20-year-old red maple (Table A1, p. 64).

National statistics clearly correlate tree removal with runoff volume and flooding. How can County Board allow an educational institution dedicated to STEM curricula to disregard the very science that it is teaching?

If elected, I will insist on mature tree preservation as the first line of defense against future flood events. I will also:

  • Say NO to more tax rate increases and a recently authorized County Board pay grab.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers

As a 15-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist and current member of the Transportation Commission, I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

PRESS RELEASE: Infill Development a Factor in July 8 Flood

In the wake of the catastrophic July 8, 2019 flood that inundated neighborhoods throughout Arlington, County government responded proactively. The County:

  • declared an emergency;
  • cleaned up debris;
  • posted information for affected residents and businesses on its website; and
  • pledged to re-prioritize needed investments in storm water infrastructure.

These measures were welcome and necessary. Yet my Arlington County Board opponents refuse to acknowledge that massive infill development contributed to the flood by destroying mature tree canopy and increasing runoff-inducing impervious surface.

In fact they actively dispute the loss of tree canopy throughout the County and attribute increased impervious surface to by right developments that they can’t stop.

Westover Park Area Ravaged by Runoff Induced Flood

What my opponents don’t tell you is that they won’t conduct a public hearing on a 2016 citizen petition to preserve the remaining Westover garden apartments as historic. Their refusal to do so has resulted in the demolition of dozens of apartments and surrounding trees in Westover.

Anyone who believes that tree removal and exposed surface at these construction sites did not contribute to the flood should look at this submerged vehicle adjacent to Westover Park downhill from the denuded development site on July 8.

Also neither County Board nor the School Board acknowledge that their own construction activities contributed to massive flooding on July 8. Community activist Suzanne Sundburg has documented that in just 9 development projects on public land between 2014 and 2018, the County lost over 900 mature trees. Clear cutting has occurred at virtually all school construction sites, Lubber Run and Donaldson Run. More is on the way, as the County pushes for infill development and overbuilt parks.

If elected to County Board, I will lobby to stop clear cutting County and privately owned land by insisting on strict adherence to the Arlington Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, which bars runoff-inducing developments near Potomac River tributaries.

In addition, if elected, I pledge to:

  • Say NO to more tax rate increases and a recently authorized County Board pay grab.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 15-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist and current member of the Transportation Commission–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

County Board Dismisses Safety Concerns of 5G

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 7/16/19

Here are some concerns raised by civic activist Suzanne Sundburg on deployment of 5G on Small Wireless Facilities (SWF), which Arlington County Board approved on July 16.

“Whereas the county’s background resources and permit information are interesting, they don’t begin to address the public safety aspect. The FCC’s radiation limits have not been updated since 1996. These limits and most prior research are based on the thermal effects of radiation, which isn’t necessarily applicable to nonionizing radiation like millimeter-wave and submillimeter-wave radiation. Simply because millimeter wave radiation cannot displace electrons from atoms or molecules does not make people’s exposure to it safe.

“An understanding of the risks of physical harm resulting from millimeter wave radiation is just beginning to emerge. These 5G antenna arrays will utilize millimeter waves in roughly the 30 to 100 gigahertz frequency range. Higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths, which pose greater risks to human health. Scientists readily acknowledged that there is too little research on the 5G millimeter wave radiation and antennas to assure the public’s safety and are only just now starting to study the effects of it. To date, the results don’t look good.

“Unfortunately, we cannot rely on federal agencies to protect the public. The FCC, in particular, is essentially captive to the telecommunications industry.

“In fact in February 2019, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal took the FCC and FDA to task for expediting the 5G network’s rollout without having any research to document its safety.

“Likewise, the State of Virginia appears to have punted, providing no additional safety measures/standards or monitoring assistance.

“The telecommunications industry itself has consistently attempted to downplay the radiation health risks of existing technology — risks that are documented by legitimate scientific research.

“Given that:

  • these millimeter-wave 5G arrays will emit radiation 24×7;
  • there is no way for us to protect ourselves from it, and
  • vulnerable populations will be at higher risk

“I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to ask the County how it intends to mitigate that risk. How does it intend to monitor the radiation being emitted in this uncontrolled scientific experiment using us as unwitting human test subjects.”

Dawn Redwood Report Greenwashes Development in Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 6/15/19

Last week Arlington County issued a long awaited report on how it approved the demolition of a 75 year old Dawn Redwood to make way for the redevelopment of a property on North Ohio Street located in a Resource Protection Area (RPA) in North Arlington.

The County’s Chesapeake Bay Ordinance expressly prohibits redevelopments that increase the amount of runoff inducing impervious surface in RPAs. The report claims that “there was no increase in impervious cover.” So the redevelopment was “allowable”.

Anyone familiar with the North Ohio Street site knows that the McMansion built on it dwarfs the original home that was demolished along with the Dawn Redwood in 2018. How could this oversized structure NOT generate more runoff?

Maps contained in the report, show that the developer, Richmond Homes, subdivided the lot, placing the old property on a parcel inside the RPA perimeter and the new property on an adjacent parcel just outside the RPA. He then demolished the old home along with the redwood, eliminating all impervious surface on that parcel. By this sleight of hand, the new oversized home actually occupies less of the RPA buffer than the original.

A neat trick, one that not only enriches Richmond Homes, but also establishes a precedent for demolishing homes and trees on properties throughout the County that were previously off limits to redevelopment.

If you live adjacent to an RPA and want to make a killing on the sale of your home, rest assured. The County is open for business. If you are the neighbor of such a homeowner, you might also want to sell when the additional runoff impacts your property. As for the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance itself? Well that’s a dead letter.

Boathouse Facility Will Add More Congestion To Rosslyn

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 5/21/2019

I came down with Potomac Fever when I acquired a brand new Folbot folding kayak in 1997, and I’ve been paddling on the Potomac ever since. While there is no cure for Potomac Fever, paddling alleviates the symptoms. So I was enthusiastic about National Park Service (NPS) plans to construct a boathouse in Arlington.

Nevertheless I’m concerned about the health of the Potomac, specifically the impact of dredging the channel between the proposed dock and Teddy Roosevelt Island and traffic congestion in the nearby. The Gravelly Point alternative has neither of these impacts. Yet NPS rejected it because of occasional strong river currents and lack of access to public transportation at that location.

An experienced rower recently advised me that the Rosslyn location is unsuitable for rowing teams, because the channel between the Rosslyn site and Teddy Roosevelt Island is too narrow to maneuver large boats. Also, while river currents are a factor for small craft at Gravelly Point, they have little impact on large sculls. Likewise since high school rowing teams would be transported to Gravelly Point by bus, the lack of immediate access to transit is immaterial, and ample parking already exists for anyone who drives.

The Rosslyn alternative will put an ancillary administrative facility on a wooded area at the intersection of Lee Highway and Lynn Street near Key Bridge. This facility, the need for which has never been demonstrated, will exacerbate both congestion and runoff in a resource protection area and turn Key Bridge into a traffic nightmare during rush hour.

Today’s vote to approve an agreement with NPS to construct the Rosslyn facility is strictly pro forma. The train has left the station, but only because Department of Parks and Recreation never saw a park it didn’t want to pave over, and County Board never saw a boondoggle it didn’t want to buy. Nevertheless I think that those who live and work in Rosslyn should know that there was a reasonable alternative to more traffic congestion at Key Bridge and further degradation of the Potomac River.

PRESS RELEASE: County Board Talks the Talk

In a recent article, ARLnow columnist Peter Rousselot castigated County Board for failing to address local flooding, even though it denounced Donald Trump for failing to deal with climate change. Rousselot said:

“Arlington talks the talk about global climate change, but fails to walk the walk locally.”

Peter Rousselot,

Rousselot called on County government to “[s]low the dramatic increase in impervious surfaces” that causes flooding in low lying areas.

Unfortunately that’s not likely to happen. Just last week County Board rubber stamped two major planning documents–the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) and the Bicycle Element of the Master Transportation Plan. Both of these documents call for widening bike trails in the Four Mile Run Valley to handle increasing bike traffic.

At an April 23 public hearing on the Bicycle Element, County Board ignored calls to remove projects to widen the W&OD and Mount Vernon trails, even though the result will be more flood inducing runoff.

County Ends Curbside Glass Recycling

Recycling is another issue that demonstrates the County’s commitment to lip service only on environmental issues. On April 25 the Board voted to authorize the County Manager to terminate curbside glass recycling as a cost cutting measure.

From now on residential glass waste will be trucked with other trash to Alexandria’s waste to energy (WTE) facility to be burned. The County Manager provided no information on the cost savings of burning glass versus recycling it, and the Board didn’t ask.

I Walk the Walk

Are you tired of the doublespeak you get from County Board on everything from recycling to runoff? Then you should consider an independent alternative.

If elected to County Board, you can be sure that I will lobby against paving over the County’s remaining natural areas and for alternatives to ending curbside recycling.

In addition, if elected, I pledge to:

  • Seek other tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 15-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist and current member of the Transportation Commission–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

Public Spaces Master Plan Calls for Widening Bike Trails

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/25/19

The same environmental considerations that govern the Bicycle Element should guide the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) especially for those areas that are located in Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) governed by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA). This includes the entire linear regional park along Four Mile Run and all of the local parks that abut it.

Dr. Bernard Berne has forwarded to you amendments to the draft PSMP to remove language to widen trails located in urban parks, on the grounds that:

“Wide paved trails within natural areas and Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) add impermeable surfaces that disturb natural areas, harm nearby trees, reduce the size of adjacent meadows and other natural features, and increase stormwater runoff.  Further, wide trails detract from the experiences that people visiting the areas for reasons other than transportation wish to enjoy.”

Dr. Bernard Berne

Dr. Berne cites the 2012 AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, which recommends designing trails for lower speeds in urban parks (p. 5-12).

He also recommends removing Section 2.3.4 (p. 90): as inconsistent with preservation of natural areas stipulated in Section 3.2 (p. 98):

2.3.4 Explore ways to safely separate modes, where space allows, on high traffic trail routes and where user conflicts commonly occur, while minimizing impact on natural resources and trees.

Separating bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the most heavily used routes will enhance the safety of all users.

And adding a second sentence to Section 6.1.4 (p. 128):

Mowed buffers adjacent to paved trails in natural areas should not exceed three feet in width, except where environmental conditions prevent this.

As authority, Dr. Berne cites the AASHTO Guide (p. 5-5), which recommends that:

. . . a graded shoulder area at least 3 to 5 ft (0.9 to 1.5 m) wide with a maximum cross-slope of 1V:6H, which should be recoverable in all weather conditions, should be maintained on each side of the pathway.

Finally Dr. Berne recommends an appendix that contains all existing County maintenance standards for parks and trails, so that the public can determine if the County is adhering to them.

No More Curbside Glass Recycling

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/25/19.

I oppose the County Manager’s recommendation to amend Chapter 10 of the County Code to enable it to ship residential waste glass to the waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerator in Alexandria on both economic and environmental grounds.

The County argues that it is compelled to stop recycling glass, because the cost of disposal has gone from $4.66 per ton to $16.31 per ton.

Yet according to civic activist Suzanne Sundburg, who cites the County’s own recycling website, that cost is dwarfed by the $43.16 per ton fee the County pays to haul its trash to the WTE facility in Alexandria.

So the move makes no economic sense. It also makes no environmental sense, since glass, which doesn’t burn, must ultimately be trucked to a landfill.

The move away from recycling glass isn’t necessary. Alexandria has established 4 waste-glass drop-off centers; this material will be sent from the drop-off centers to a Fairfax County processing facility to be recycled into gravel and sand that can be used locally.

If Alexandria, which co-owns the WTE plant, can find a way to recycle waste glass without inconveniencing its residents, Arlington can too.