A recent stream restoration project in Tysons is supposed to help fix erosion but a few residents and environmental advocates in the area worry that it will be detrimental to local wildlife and foliage.
The Old Courthouse Spring Branch at Gosnell Road Stream Stream Restoration Project runs loosely along Route 7 and is currently under construction to restore roughly half a mile of the natural stream channel, replace old sewage lines and decommission an old stormwater pond, according to Fairfax County’s website.
In the months leading up to this project, several nearby residents and visitors to “Tysons Last Forest” have protested the project — not because they want to stop it, but because they want the wildlife and nature to be protected.
The area, which consists of more than 40 acres of open space, is home to birds, deer, owls, small mammals, foxes, hundred-year-old trees and even a bobcat or two, according to Fairfax County.
Local resident Jack Russell, who is a long-time visitor to the park, said he isn’t aware of either an ecological or environmental impact report for the project, which he said concerns him.
Tysons Reporter reached out to Shannon Bell and Charles Smith from the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Department for comment but haven’t received a response yet.
Russell said he is already noticing the negative effects of the work done by crews, recounting how Fairfax County workers destroyed a fox’s den. “I watched the fox just walk around in shock,” he said.
Though the work on phase one began in November 2019, Russell and his wife retroactively organized a Facebook page and town hall in January to educate people on the project. The meeting attracted roughly 50 people from around the area, Russell said, noting that Fairfax County representatives attended the meeting, including a liaison from the office of the Hunter Mill District Supervisor.
During the January town hall, Russell was able to share his grievances with Bell and Smith.
“The people who are managing phase one and phase two of the Tysons Forest project couldn’t be nicer people and they’ve listened but they rolled in with bulldozers and backhoes and just clearcut 1,500 feet of old trees,” Russell said.
Fairfax County documentation already notes that ecosystems in the area are fragile. “The natural areas of the district are extremely fragmented, with significant portions of edge habitat and few large tracts remaining,” the report, which was published in 2011, said.
Ultimately, Russell said he and other local advocates have a few key demands.
Though they understand that stream restoration is important for the health of the area, he said they want to:
- minimize the loss of trees and habitat in the area
- delay work on the second phase until damage from the first phase is re-planted and healed
- create “animal-friendly zones” including native plant species and hollow logs for dens
- be a “shining” example nationally for how animal habitats can be enhanced
According to Fairfax County, the project will be completed in 2021.
Russell said he hopes the issue will receive more attention and that Fairfax County will reevaluate the environmental impact of its ongoing projects.
Photo courtesy Jack Russell
A young Vienna resident is the recipient of a national honor recognizing upcoming leaders in the scientific community.
Siona Prasad recently won the Davidson Fellow Scholarship for her work in environmental science and climate change, which included $25,000 in college tuition assistance at Harvard University, where she began studies this fall.
Leading up to this moment, Prasad said she applied for this award several times in the past and was thrilled when she finally became a recipient.
“My family was very proud and we were all excited about the scholarship,” she said. “It means the world to be recognized for my work.”
She added that being included in the network of other fellows and alumni network is also an honor. Prasad will attend a ceremonial dinner for the award on Sept. 27 in D.C.
The Davidson Scholarship awards young adults age 18 or younger with scholarship money who demonstrate outstanding achievements in the scientific community. Applicants must be either the lead student scientist on a project or conduct it independently, according to the scholarship website.
Throughout her high school career at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, she worked with researchers and professors at the University of Maryland to develop low-cost CO2 sensors that were easy to scale and implement in cities.
These sensors can detect where greenhouse gasses are emitted from within city limits and allow the government and environmental research agencies to ultimately combat the effects of climate change, according to a Davidson Institute press release.
“We have less than a decade to solve the biggest environmental crisis we have ever faced,” she said.
Across D.C., Prasad said she was able to install nine sensors on places like telephone polls and collect data that is now in the hands of University of Maryland professors.
Before the project, Prasad said she was always interested in the environment and was particularly motivated when former President Barack Obama’s asked if this generation is doing all they can to prepare a better future in his 2016 State of the Union address. Prasad said she wanted to answer his query with an honest “yes.”
Prasad said she plans to study computer science and environmental science at Harvard, adding that she’s also interested in entrepreneurship and startup companies.
“Technology is one of the most powerful weapons we have against climate change,” Prasad said.
Photo via Davidson Institute
New rules could put community gardens on Tysons rooftops, but if you have a green thumb and can’t wait that long, there are two community gardens in the area where you can start planting.
One is in the back corner of Lewinsville Park (1659 Chain Bridge Road) in McLean and the other is at Nottoway Park (9537 Courthouse Road) in Vienna.
To rent a garden plot in Fairfax, you must be a resident of the county with a valid mailing address and email address. Residents can sign up for a waitlist for multiple parks, but only one plot is permitted per household.
The annual rental cost of most garden plots is $130, which includes access to a shared water supply.
Dick Black has been gardening at Lewinsville Park for around eight years after retiring.
“It’s a lot of work, but I consider it a workout,” said Black. “I’ll come out [and garden] instead of going for a run.”
Black grows tomatoes, arugula and other vegetables to give to neighbors or for his wife to take to work.
For those planning to get started, Black reiterated that growing a garden is a commitment. Locals should make sure it’s something they’re willing to put the sweat and time into. But if they decide that they are, Black said growing a garden is an extremely fulfilling experience.
“I still get joy after seven or eight years,” Black said. “[It’s about] going in with the right attitude.”
There is currently a waitlist for garden plots, though new regulations could soon open up more spaces throughout the county. The regulations adopted by the Board of Supervisors on June 25 allow community gardens in a wider variety of residential, commercial and industrial properties than previously allowed.
According to the Fairfax County website:
Previously, the county’s zoning rules limited community gardens to planned residential communities like Burke or Reston. These gardens now are allowed without restriction in open spaces as long as they are under two acres, and they aren’t the principal use on a property… Now, fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers and plants can be grown from the rooftops of office high-rises in Tysons to opens spaces at houses of worship to the common areas of suburban homeowners associations.
“While the trees are waking up from dormancy in the spring, the tiny emerald ash borer (EAB) beetles are beginning to emerge, primed to create a new generation of tree-killers,” the guide says. “Spring is the perfect time, right after the trees have leafed out, to protect any ash trees that are of value while the beetles are out and flying.”
EABs strike fear in the hearts of arborists nationwide, with sightings putting entire towns under emergency quarantines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the EAB is responsible for the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees across 30 states.
Signs of EAB infestation include winding “galleries” — maze-like patterns on the surface of the tree where the larvae burrow. An increased presence of woodpeckers at the tree can also be a warning sign.
The Fairfax County guide recommends pesticide use in yards with 30-50 percent of their canopy intact. Pesticides may need to be applied every year or every three years, depending on the brand.
The Virginia Department of Forestry adopted an EAB cost-share program that allows residents to apply for 50 percent assistance for pesticide costs.
Photo via Flickr/Chesapeake Bay Program
The Town of Vienna is making a push to get locals to “solarize,” converting their homes and businesses to relying on solar energy.
On Tuesday, April 9, the town will host a meeting in partnership with Solarize NOVA, an outreach program founded in 2014 that vets contractors and establishes pre-negotiated contract terms to make the process easier for those looking to solarize.
The meeting’s goal is to help get those curious about solar energy learn more about the costs involved and next steps in the process.
There’s a handful of ways installing solar energy can help residents save money. Those who install solar panels are eligible for a federal tax credit. Fairfax County also offers a real estate tax exemption for five years for those who install solar panels.
In Virginia, residents can also meter excess energy generated by solar systems, receiving a credit on their electric bill at full retail rate for the energy produced by their panels.
This is the fifth year that Vienna has participated in the Solarize NOVA program, voting unanimously in January continue working with the initiative.
According to the program’s website, since 2014, Solarize NOVA has facilitated installation of 263 solar energy systems, saving 1,969 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted and 1,954,180 pounds of coal from being burned.
The program also offers free site assessments for solar power and free inspections for energy use.
Photo via Facebook
Bamboo may be a favorite of pandas and homeowners looking for a screen around their property — but it’s also an invasive species that can quickly grow out of control, and Fairfax County is struggling to figure out what to do about it.
An effort led in part by Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth is examining what to do about bamboo in Fairfax County. According to Jack Weyant, director of the Department of Code Compliance, the county is putting together an educational flyer to let homeowners know about the risks of bamboo, but is also in the first stages of considering more stringent ordinances.
The plant was first introduced to the Mid-Atlantic region in 1882 as an ornamental decoration. Sprouts of the plant can grow 12 inches a day and roots can travel 20 feet away from the original clump, according to the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.
Patches of wild bamboo can be found throughout the county, including the Pimmit Run Trail in McLean.
The plants can dominate sites, creating a monoculture that can crowd out and ultimately displace native vegetation. The plant can cause extensive property damage to decks, pool liners or even building foundations.
Getting rid of bamboo is far more difficult than growing it. Justin Roberson with the Fairfax County Park Authority said the best way of eliminating bamboo is to cut down the shoots and treat the stumps with herbicide, a process that needs to be repeated over multiple growing seasons. Digging into the ground and breaking up the roots could make the problem worse and spread the plant even further.
In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation authorizing localities to regulate bamboo to existing ordinances regulating grass. The code specifies that the bamboo being regulated is any type characterized by “aggressive spreading behavior.”
Current Fairfax County code regulates grass height to not exceed 12 inches, but whether or not Fairfax County opts to regulate bamboo the same way is still up for consideration.
At an environmental committee meeting on Feb. 12, Weyant said locations around the country have a variety of approaches, from requiring property owners to maintain or contain bamboo to a full-on ban that requires owners of existing bamboo to get rid of it.
So far, Weyant said Fairfax has focused on education and has a flyer in the works explaining the hazards of the plant that will be ready for release sometime within a month. But the county is looking at how a hypothetical bamboo ordinance could be put into place.
“Any potential ordinance would be complaint-driven,” said Weyant. “We need to talk about whether or not to prohibit the planting of new bamboo and how to enforce that. We could allow it to remain but require the property owner to maintain it and we could issue violations to someone who we did get a complaint.”
Running enforcement for bamboo complaints could be complicated and costly, and according to staff documents, there are concerns the fines imposed as penalties to violators would not be significant enough to support the inspection and enforcement process. There are also risks that control of bamboo could lead to unintended damage to the nearby trees, which efforts to remove invasive plants are designed to protect in the first place.
“The last thing we want to make clear is that don’t want to get the county into taking measures to remove bamboo such as we do with a grass ordinance,” said Weyant.
Mason District Supervisor Penelope Gross, chair of the environmental committee, said the county would continue with education and move into regulations only if necessary.
“This is a thorny one to try and address,” said Gross. “Going to education is often the first and least onerous approach. Let’s do the education and see what happens.”
Photo via City of Fairfax
Dead Run Stream isn’t the only McLean waterway on the cusp of revitalization.
Bull Neck Run, a stream just north of Tysons, is nearing the end of project construction with completion scheduled for June.
Like the restoration finishing at Dead Run Stream, the Bull Neck Run restoration involves improving the ecological function of the stream and extracting nitrogen and phosphorous from the soil.
The idea is to make the stream valley more sustainable and safer for private property owners along the stream, local wildlife and the public using nearby trails.
The project will reduce flooding from the stream, and stabilize the stream banks. Part of the project involves creating new outlets for stormwater draining into the creek to reduce erosion and tree loss in the nearby forest.
The total cost of the project is $1.6 million, funded through the county’s stormwater service district.
While the project is scheduled to be completed in June, landscaping work at the site could continue through the fall. Visitors to the site are still encouraged to remain outside of active construction areas.
McLean Company’s $1 Billion Sustainability Plan — Candy maker Mars, Inc., based in McLean and the largest private company in Fairfax County, “has pledged to invest $1 billion over the next few years to support efforts involving renewable energy, food sourcing, cross-industry action groups and farmers.” [FCEDA]
Hunter Mill Candidates Skeptical of Development — “In the Hunter Mill District, home to both Reston and Vienna, current member Cathy Hudgins is retiring. The three declared candidates, thus far, all have platforms which argue the county has been too favorable to development.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Store Closing at Tysons Corner Center — Clothing retailer Charlotte Russe has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is reportedly closing nearly 100 stores, including its Tysons Corner Center location. [Fox 5]
Vienna Inn Anniversary — “The Vienna Inn sells over 10,000 of its famous chili dogs every month, so it wouldn’t be easy to tally all the chili dogs sales since its 1960 opening. What we do know is the Vienna Inn has been open for 59 years and will mark its anniversary in February.” [Patch]
Teen Charged for Menacing Video — “A video showing a masked figure pulling a gun out of the trunk of a car in front of Wakefield High School has led to an arrest and charges against a Falls Church teenager.” [ARLnow]
For a while, Dead Run Stream lived up to its gloomy name. But after six years of stream restoration work, the creek running through the heart of McLean should be healthy again this March.
In total, 2,300 linear feet of the stream will be re-greened. Project staff said the restoration could mean better conditions for wildlife in the area, birds in particular.
“Stream restoration is one of our best tools for managing stormwater to restore the local health of our streams,” Matt Meyers, branch chief for Watershed Projects Implementation, said in a video put together by Fairfax County. “Ultimately, our goal is to improve water quality of stream and biological health to make a better habitat for critters, bugs and fish that live in the stream.”
Six years ago, the stream was facing significant erosion. Meyers said the banks of the stream were vertical, over eight feet deep in some locations. The erosion was ultimately beginning to have a negative impact on the habitat of the stream and the quality of life.
The aim of the restoration is to create a vegetation canopy to close in around the stream and establish new roots to hold the banks in place and stall further erosion.
“Stream restoration stabilizes the land, makes the stream valley more accessible, and over time [we] should see more birds and different species with different plants and food sources,” said Meyers. “For us, it’s all about water quality and stream health, not just local streams, but the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.”
The project to restore the stream was broken into three phases. Phase III is located in McLean Central Park and started in 2016.
The total project cost is $2.3 funded through the county Stormwater Service District.
“Early on, there was a lot of concern expressed,” said Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust. “[There were concerns] about tree loss, people were afraid the project would impact their homes, loss of access to trails. It became obvious that there were enough issues and concerns that we needed to focus on it as a community.”
A killer is stalking Vienna’s streets, leaving at least 30 of the town’s Norway maples dead at an alarming rate.
“We’ve noticed a lot of dead and dying Norway maples,” said Town Arborist Gary Lawrence. “These deaths are not slow. They’re sudden and in groups.”
Leslie Herman, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the mysterious deaths of Norway maples comes on the heels of the emerald ash borer completely wiping out the town’s supply of ash trees.
Lawrence said the Norway maple deaths aren’t anywhere near the magnitude of the ash tree deaths — that became a nationwide epidemic that started in Detroit and has since spread nationwide, killing millions of ash trees. But Lawrence said the spate of ash tree deaths did initially obscure the impact on the local maples.
At first, Lawrence said he made the assumption that the clumps of dead foliage were ash trees. The two share some visual similarities. While most trees have alternating branches, like steps up the tree, ash trees and maple trees are among the few trees with opposite branches. But on closer look, Lawrence realized the trees were maples and didn’t have the telltale signs of ash borer infestation — holes where the bugs emerged from the trees and stripped bark from woodpeckers in a feeding frenzy.
After realizing the dead trees were maples, Lawrence said he began to see more of them around the town. So far, whatever is killing the trees has targeted only the Norway maples, leaving others — like the town’s red maples — untouched. There was a group of six Norway maples that were healthy and strong last year, but Lawrence said when he returned to them this year they were all dead.
“There’s still plenty of healthy Norway maples, but I’m concerned by how quickly [this is happening],” said Lawrence. “There’s a pattern here. It’s not random.”
One of the most confusing aspects is that the phenomena seems isolated to Vienna so far. Lawrence said he’s been keeping his ear to the ground for buzz about Norway maples being killed in other parts of the country, but hasn’t heard anything.
So far, Lawrence said his suspicions about what’s causing the deaths are still a hypothesis.
“I have no answer for the maples,” said Lawrence. “A wild guess is that it’s some kind of soil-borne disease. I’m guessing it’s soil-borne because it seems to affect the root system, because of the quickness of death. Usually insects, other than the ash borer, are a secondary problem.”
The topic came up during last night’s Vienna Town Council meeting during a request to increase funding for tree removal as a result of the ash tree epidemic. Lawrence said the ash trees were scattered in small batches throughout the town and native, rather than town-planted.
“It’s a substantial amount of trees,” said Lawrence. “It is a major impact to the budget. The trees die quickly, and because of the quickness of their death they become brittle and fall apart quickly.”
In addition to the beetles and mysterious maple killer, Lawrence said the record-high rainfall has also made it a difficult year for local trees.
Photo via Flickr/F.D. Richards