September 17, 2019
Dear Chair Talento and members of the School Board:
These comments are a follow up to those sent to you on 9-5-19 (below). Please review and add them to the public record for the meeting on September 19, 2019. Thank you.
Arlington’s stormwater management system was designed for another era, when impervious surfaces didn’t cover 45%+ of the county’s land surfaces. The limitations of this system were made clear by July 8th’s catastrophic flood, which was particularly acute in the commercial area next to Reed School. This event should have been a wake-up call to all concerned, a warning that business as usual cannot continue.
On July 8, we were lucky that no one died. Since then I’ve learned very close calls: one person nearly drowned in a basement, another was knocked down and trapped under a floating/moving section of asphalt. Next time, we may very well see fatalities.
Even if it were technically feasible, Arlington simply cannot afford to expand the stormwater system to meet ongoing increases in runoff. We all must do our part to prevent additional runoff from being generated, including APS. Unfortunately APS has a long history of cutting hundreds of trees in recent years on multiple APS sites.
I continue to hear specious claims that “replacement” trees are somehow equivalent to the loss of 70- to 100-year old trees (one is on private property) — a direct result of the excessive land disturbance featured in the landscaping proposal and layout of outdoor site elements.
According to the National Tree Benefits Calculator, a 45-inch* silver maple will intercept 15,730 gallons of stormwater runoff this year.
*[Note: 45 inches was the largest diameter size that can be input into this calculator; a 54-inch tree would intercept exponentially more runoff.]
A 42-inch red maple will intercept 17,128 gallons of stormwater runoff this year. That’s a total of over 33,000 gallons of added stormwater runoff potential just from two trees.
To put these numbers in context, the average in-ground, backyard swimming pool holds between 18,000 and 20,000 gallons of water: https://www.reference.com/home-garden/many-gallons-pool-f705582183cb0362.
Below are USDA/Forest Service figures showing the annual rainfall interception (in gallons) of a red maple, as it grows, in 5-year increments for 40 years:
|Year/Age||Gallons of Rainfall Intercepted|
|5||185 gallons per year|
|10||793 gallons per year|
|15||1,784 gallons per year|
|20||3,067 gallons per year|
|25||4,854 gallons per year|
|30||6,788 gallons per year|
|35||9,177 gallons per year|
|40||11,577 gallons per year|
|Source: USDA, Forest Service — Piedmont Community Tree Guide: Benefits, Costs, and Strategic planting https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr200/psw_gtr200.pdf|
Even if they all were to survive, it would be impossible for APS to plant enough saplings (or even 4-inch caliper trees) on this site to to provide an equivalent stormwater offset to the gigantic trees that will be lost.
The simple fact is that APS doesn’t have adequate resources in its maintenance budget to properly maintain young, newly planted trees. Below is a quote from an 11-14-18 email from APS Maintenance Director Jim Miekle:
The new “landscaping” (not exclusive to trees) funds were placed in Maintenance Operational budget the last two years under object code 43565 “Consultancy Services” at a value of $150,000. In practice the fund is used much more for actual landscaping maintenance and improvement work as opposed to
Following the Wakefield experience much more robust warranties and initial 1-2 year tree watering plans are being included as all new buildings come on line. Next summer APS’ is also introducing a systematic watering plan for all new/young trees on existing sites.
In the past we have had many PTA landscaping projects which have been wonderful initially but deteriorated badly when key parental participants move on. We are therefore trying to simplify plantings wherever possible for the sake of more manageable ongoing long term maintenance. The volume of old
trees on our property and our weather pattern (especially this year) has taken large bites from our budget just keeping things safe….
Our budgets always have multiple competing interests and the year ahead looks particularly challenging in that respect. We will continue to try to maximize whatever funds/resources we can acquire for this subject area.
The notion that watering newly planted trees for one to two years will suffice is laughably naive — to put the best possible spin on it. Even mature trees must be watered during periods of high heat and/or drought, which frequently occur in urbanized areas like ours: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/fnr/fnr-483-w.pdf
I and others have photos of dead and dying “replacement” (as well as more mature trees) at Ashlawn, McKinley, Abingdon, Key, and Wakefield, among others. Let me know if people should send them to you. The row of trees on Patrick Henry Drive at Swanson has been replaced so many times in the past 20 years that I’ve lost count.
So despite all the expensive man-made infrastructure (which we saw fail miserably on the Ashlawn Elementary School site) to remedy the damage, more runoff will flow from the Reed School site and exacerbate Westover’s existing stormwater problem: https://hpok.org/2019/08/24/four-civic-associations-joint-letter-on-flooding-and-storm-water/.
Likewise, the EPA actively discourages excavating a hillside or steep slope due to the real risks of erosion, runoff and landslides: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/bbfs9slopes_0.pdf. Removing trees on or near the slope further increases the chance of the ground’s becoming unstable and hazardous.
As stakeholders suggested at last night’s public meeting, APS should, instead, always be looking for less expensive design alternatives that harness nature’s power, rather than destroying it and requiring expensive remedies or mitigation to replace what was lost.
Unfortunately, Arlington’s project review processes (both school and county) are always heavily biased in favor of the destruction of natural infrastructure. As was the case at last night’s meeting, even legitimate concerns and suggestions by residents with appropriate professional expertise or experience are swept aside.
The outcome of the Reed process looks almost identical to the process for the Ashlawn addition, just a few years ago. Given that APS is replicating the removal of trees and significantly excavating a slope near a stream (Torreyson Run now flows underneath the Reed site), as was the case at Ashlawn (Reeves and Four Mile Runs), it appears that APS is poised to engineer yet another environmental disaster.
In case you have forgotten the ongoing flooding and erosion problems on the Ashlawn Elementary School site, where nearly 100 trees were cut down and a hillside was excavated and graded, I have attached a pictorial chronology (2014–2017) of the runoff, erosion and flooding that has dogged this site. And the problem, though better, is still not fixed. See below a photo taken on 7-8-19 at Ashlawn:
If things have truly changed at APS, then you have an opportunity to prove it. (I’d love to be wrong.) Acknowledge that you have a responsibility to Westover and the larger community by modifying the plans for the landscaping and layout of the outdoor elements to significantly reduce the excavation of the slope next to the school, to reduce the impervious surfaces being added (a 6% increase is large amount in terms of square feet for a site that size) and to save as many of the mature trees on or near the hill/slope as possible.
Many people offered sound suggestions at last night’s meeting. And there is alternate space for the geothermal cells on the site that would be far less environmentally damaging than the site currently proposed.
Perhaps some may think that the increased flood risk — along with the risk of loss of human life and businesses in Westover — is an acceptable trade-off in exchange for a so-called “net zero” building under the current plan. I do not. And I hope that members of the School Board will agree that APS has a responsibility to the larger community to avoid compounding an already serious flood hazard.
Suzanne Smith Sundburg
[See asthma statistics/image below.]
So what’s the solution? Mature trees remove significantly more pollutants from the air than their younger, smaller counterparts and mitigate the urban heat island effect: https://dirt.asla.org/2014/01/24/older-trees-absorb-more-carbon
So what’s the solution? Again, large, mature trees provide exponentially greater value in stormwater management:
“Mature trees provide significant stormwater quantity and rate control benefits through soil storage, interception, and evapotranspiration. A tree with a 25-foot diameter canopy and associated soil can manage the 1-inch rainfall from 2,400 square feet of impervious surface. Interception and evapotranspiration also decrease runoff volume with larger trees providing exponentially more benefit than smaller trees.” https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-11/documents/final_stormwater_trees_technical_memo_508.pdf
This area — including the Reed School property — is the very last place where anyone should be cutting down a healthy 54-inch-diameter (4 and 1/2 feet) silver maple and 36 other mature shade trees — some located on or near a steep slope. It also is among the worst places to increase heat-trapping, water-shedding impervious surfaces by 6%.
I urge the School Board to eliminate the unnecessary additional sidewalk around the playground. The ADA doesn’t require playgrounds to be encircled with concrete in order for them to meet basic accessibility standards.
Also please remember that preserving the FREE stormwater-management capacity of the natural landscape also saves money:
Reducing imperviousness surfaces reduce maintenance and construction costs. In addition, reduced imperviousness reduces the size and cost of both the stormwater conveyance system and stormwater management practices. https://stormwater.pca.state.mn.us/index.php?title=MS4_fact_sheet_-_Reducing_Impervious_Surfaces
Preserving undisturbed vegetative cover during land development is a much more cost effective approach than destroying these features and having to construct new stormwater management practices to replace the functions they originally provided.” http://www.cwp.org/reducing-stormwater-runoff/
Saving mature trees, limiting land disturbance and reducing impervious surfaces aren’t just environmental or cost-saving measures, they are all keys to protecting children’s health and well being. I call on the School Board, the County Board and staff members to put children first.
Volume 7 Issue 4. Winter 1999.
Author: Nature Play at Home: Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children to the Natural World
Founder and Principal Designer: EarlySpace, LLC earth-friendly child-friendly landscapes
Virginia Certified SWaM (Small, Woman, and Minority) owned Micro-Business
Adjunct Faculty, Nature-Based Early Childhood Education, Antioch University New England
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