ALEXANDRIA, VA –
To the Editor: This letter was addressed to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
My name is Amarantha Flachs-Hernandez. I am an eighth-grade student at George Washington Middle School, in Alexandria, Virginia. Last year, you granted the City of Alexandria 2.2 million dollars for its contribution in the interstate compact to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and to restore the Taylor Run stream located in Chinquapin and Forest Park. However, I and countless other citizens do not believe the City is using this money responsibly.
The City’s plan follows the idea of the natural channel design. This is a big problem because this technique is mainly used on wide rivers and not on small, headwater streams like Taylor Run. In theory, this technique is supposed to slow down the stormwater and allow the water to overflow the banks, depositing any pollutants on the banks and also prevent erosion. However, there is no evidence this will work on a narrow stream like Taylor Run. Hundreds of trees will be cut to recontour 1,900 feet of the stream. (A recent change by the City staff may save a few trees.) The cutting of these trees will result in the death of many animals, either by being buried under the fill used in the stream, or crushed by heavy construction equipment. The small wetlands throughout the forest will also be severely damaged or destroyed, including a rare acidic seepage wetland that contains 25 rare plant species. The entire ecosystem here and its rare plant species will be decimated.
The three pollutants that are the focus of this cleanup are phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment. The City of Alexandria refuses to test the water or streambank but continues to say it has excessive amounts of these pollutants. The only tests performed to date were by City Natural Resource Manager, Rod Simmons, who found minimal amounts of phosphorus. Nobody has tested for nitrogen or even measured the amount of sediment. Considerable aquatic life including snails, salamanders, eastern blacknose dace, and minnow was found in the stream by the science teachers and students at the local highschool TC Williams, who also noted the water was clear. This all indicates good water quality. However, according to computer models, there are excessive amounts of these pollutants in the water. The City of Alexandria cannot depend on a computer to tell it whether the water in a stream is polluted. It needs to test the stream to prove it is polluted, or listen to the ecologists, biologists, and naturalists advising it to stop this project.
Also, the City has continuously stated that Taylor Run is too eroded and releases too much soil. However, it is common knowledge trees are the best way to prevent erosion. The City has said it will be planting thousands of new trees and shrubs, but even so, it will take decades to restore the forest. Studies have shown that the removal of trees increases the amount of pollutants in the water-including nitrogen. If the City of Alexandria really wants to limit erosion, it should instead control the amount of stormwater from impervious surfaces upstream of the park. However, this will require the City to rethink how it wants to contribute to the Chesapeake Bay clean up.
The City of Alexandria, when answering questions about the restoration project, said “animals do not stay in an environment where they will be disturbed. We have observed in other construction sites that animals will move out of the area once activity begins.” This answer covers up the fact that tons of fill and heavy equipment will kill everything within the 50 foot swath of construction. Taylor Run is one of the last remaining forested areas in the City. We need to save it, not destroy it.
As an eighth-grader, I am taking my first civics class this year, and we are learning the five principles of a democratic government. One of those five is representative government, where the public officeholders make decisions and laws on behalf of the people. The City and DEQ should respect the opinions of the citizens who care about Taylor Run, and make decisions based on evidence.
I ask that the DEQ withdraw this grant. This is not the first time something like this has happened. The DEQ approved a project to build the Potomac Yard metro station in a forested wetland. This resulted in a loss of several acres of irreplaceable forested wetlands. It is hypocritical of the City to label Alexandria “eco-friendly”, while it destroys our forests and wetlands one by one. The DEQ grant and 2.2 million dollars of City tax dollars will be misused if the City goes through with the Taylor Run restoration project.
Destroying our forest will not help protect the Chesapeake Bay.