Category: Parks

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

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.

Arlington “Bicycle Element” Calls for Widened Bike Trails

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, April 23, 2019.

Several organizations have recommended widening bike trails in County parks to handle a growing population of bikers. This is the same mantra used to widen highways in Northern Virginia with the same result–more congestion, unsafe conditions, loss of wildlife habitat and excessive runoff.

Dr. Bernard Berne, a long time community leader and avid cyclist, reports that he is “not aware of any studies that have demonstrated that widening existing trails in urban areas increase[s] their safety or decrease[s] speeding. In the absence of such demonstrations, the Bicycle Element should not ‘consider widening to accommodate heavy use’ (Policy 10.b, p. 25).”

Dr. Berne has forwarded to you a set of proposed amendments to the draft Bicycle Element that would proscribe or limit road widening in urban parks.

He also recommends that you add the following sections to Policy 5 (p. 19) consistent with the 2012 AASHTO Guide for Development of Bicycle Facilities:

i.   To protect natural areas near trails, limit the maximum widths of paved trails to 10 feet.

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

Please add a sentence to Appendix C. Design Guidance (p. 46):  

The AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities is used by Arlington County staff primarily for the design of multi-use trails. ASHTO guidance includes limitations on the widths of heavily used trails that are constrained by natural areas and Resource Protection Areas (RPAs).

Please remove from Appendix D projects to widen both the Four Mile Run (2-02) and Mount Vernon Trails (2-09), as both transect Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) along the Potomac River and/or a major tributary thereof.

Finally remove the 8th Road N./Bluemont Park Connector (2-30) and the Bluemont and Upton Hill woodland trail linkage (2-29), neither of which are needed and both of which would adversely impact an RPA.

Tree Canopy Estimate Questioned

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting On June 16, 2018.

At the April 21, 2018 County Board meeting, civic activist Suzanne Sundburg blasted the County for misrepresenting the health of Arlington’s tree canopy. She said:

“Arlington’s claim of a 1 percent tree canopy increase between 2011 and 2017 is not statistically valid”—due to the wide 6 percent margin of error in the reported statistic.

Christian Dorsey dismissed Sundburg’s criticism of the County’s 2017 tree canopy study that reported this number. He said: “Getting into a misunderstanding about data points of a percentage point or two are not really useful for our public policy.”

Yet the District of Columbia Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) is embroiled in a controversy right now with Forest Service (USFS) researchers over a similar difference in reported statistics. (more…)

Stop Paving Over Parkland

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on December 16, 2017.

While I generally support the Framework Plan for Benjamin Banneker Park, I oppose the widening of the multi-use trails from 8 feet to 12 feet with a ten foot minimum.

First, most of the park lies within a resource protection area (RPA) defined by the watershed created by Four Mile Run. Four Mile Run Trail runs close to the stream throughout the park—as close as three feet from the stream bank in some areas. (more…)

Reconsider Approval of Design for Lubber Run Community Center

These remarks, delivered at July 18 Arlington County Board Meeting, are excerpted from a message sent to County officials on July 17 by long-time civic leader and environmentalist Suzanne Sundburg.

I request that you defer taking action on item 52 (Lubber Run Community Center – Endorsement of the Conceptual Design) for the following reasons: 1) flawed process, 2) environmental impact and 3) cost.
(more…)

Approval of Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Map Premature

Remarks given on behalf of long-time civic leader and environmentalist Suzanne Sundburg at Arlington County Board Meeting on July 15, 2017.

Please defer a vote on this agenda Item 50 (Updated Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Map). A vote today is premature because agenda Item 52 (endorsement of the design and contract award for Lubber Run Community Center) — which will not be heard until the Board’s July 18 recess meeting – includes a geotechnical engineering report indicating the presence of a significant amount of water on the LRCC site. (more…)

S3-A Zoning Districts: An example of County Board Overreach

Comments at December 10, 2016 Arlington County Board Meeting on lifting restrictions on S-3A zoning districts, which County Board voted unanimously to adopt.

I want to associate myself with a recommendation sent to County Board on November 1 by longtime CivFed leader Suzanne Sundburg. In asking County Board to defer action on County staff’s request to rezone S-3A zoning districts, i.e. schools and parks, Sundburg said: (more…)