Your Views: A real Eco City would save the Pin Oak

Your Views: A real Eco City would save the Pin Oak
A 150-year-old oak tree on the property of T.C. Williams High School. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

To the editor:

Below is a letter the Environmental Council of Alexandria sent to Mayor Justin Wilson, the Alexandria City Council, ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings and the Alexandria School Board:

On behalf of the Environmental Council of Alexandria, I am writing to object to any construction at Parker Gray Stadium which would harm the large Pin Oak dubbed the “Witness Tree.” The stadium’s neighbors have coined the Witness Tree moniker because the tree has witnessed the displacement and fragmentation of an African American community as a result of constructing the high school and football stadium at the current site.

The Pin Oak is approximately 85 feet tall and has a circumference of between 12 and 13 feet. This converts to a diameter of at least 45 inches. Using a growth factor between 3 and 3.5, the age of the tree is estimated to be between 135 and 150 years old. This age estimate is based on a standard equation used by arborists and a growth factor for this species in this region.

The Witness Tree stands alone on a treeless portion of the school grounds and therefore has developed a huge canopy.

Using the National Tree Benefit Calculator which is limited to a maximum diameter of 45 inches, the Witness Tree will intercept 23,095 gallons of stormwater runoff in one year and it will conserve 424 kilowatt hours of electricity needed for cooling.

The Witness Tree will also modify the climate by providing shade, cooling the air by converting liquid water to water vapor and by absorbing solar energy which would otherwise generate heat. This single tree will reduce atmospheric carbon by 1,346 pounds per year. That is the amount of carbon generated by a flight from New York to Los Angeles.

The School Board has advised that the only place to locate a new concession stand and bathrooms is within the drip line of the Witness Tree. It is difficult to understand how the stadium designers and planners could not figure out another location to save the tree; the first option I propose is to redesign those facilities to put the concession stand under the bleachers.

Further, the city and School Board cannot escape responsibility for destroying valuable mature tree canopy by planting additional small trees. It might take a thousand small trees to perform the cooling and carbon sequestration of this Witness Tree.

I also note that in July 2019 the city adopted an “Environmental Action Plan 2040” which states:

“The City of Alexandria is committed to protecting and promoting public open space with a healthy tree canopy.”

“The EAP 2040 actions align with the Open Space Master Plan (2003, updated 2017) and the Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities Strategic Plan to increase the tree canopy to 40 percent by 2035.”

The EAP also includes a short-term goal (Tree Canopy – Section 4.1.1) “support increased tree preservation, expansion, maintenance, native species use, and a revised tree canopy coverage goal.” Within the “introduction” to the EAP, under the caption “urgency,” the EAP states “The city target is to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 (base year 2005) and to approach net zero or carbon neutral, an 80-100 percent reduction.”

Saving the Witness Tree would implement the short-term goal of tree preservation, and it would also demonstrate a commitment to taking the necessary “urgent” action to reduce carbon emissions.

As with the Potomac Yard Metro Station, which destroyed dozens of mature trees in a wetland despite the availability of alternative sites, the city cannot continue to tell citizens that they are too late to preserve tree canopy and open space.

The city should be preserving our tree canopy without requiring citizens to review architect’s drawings before learning of destruction of trees and open space. How is the city to be taken seriously about its claim to be an “Eco City” when it continually elevates construction convenience over trees and open space?

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

-Jeremy Flachs for Andrew Macdonald, Hal Hardaway, Katy Cannady, Erin Winograd, Stan Protigal, Vineeta Anand, Environmental Council of Alexandria