To the editor:
The City of Alexandria wants to re-engineer 1,900 feet of the Taylor Run stream channel in Chinquapin Park between T.C. Williams High School and the First Baptist Church. The project, which is funded by a grant of more than $2 million from Virginia’s Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, is supposed to reduce pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorous and sediments that harm the Chesapeake Bay.
Residents are concerned, however, that the project will harm the native flora and fauna that can still be found here. Rod Simmons of the city’s Natural Resource Division has compiled an inventory of native flora in all our parks over many years. He has identified a unique wetland and more than 25 distinct native plant species that are now rare to Alexandria along this part of Taylor Run. Also threatened by the project are more than 250 trees, which also recycle nutrients.
The city’s consultants contend that the stream will flow more naturally after the channel is “restored,” and that the stream and the new vegetation that will be planted here will actually improve the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. But we know from other projects that these so-called stream restoration efforts often fail to deliver what they promise.
There are many reasons for this. First, these projects are not usually designed by fluvial geologists, who are better equipped scientifically to understand what happens when you try to stabilize a stream channel. Second, the plan does not address stormwater runoff, which is the primary reason that Taylor Run is eroding its banks and deepening its channel. Most of the Taylor Run watershed or sewer-shed has been paved over. So, when it rains in the part of the watershed that lies above T.C. Williams, most of the water flows into culverts that lead to Chinquapin Park.
Because fixing the problem of too much stormwater runoff may well cost more than armoring a stream channel, local jurisdictions like Alexandria often use such projects to meet regulatory clean water goals. That’s not to say that some stream channels can’t benefit from some restoration, but it has to be very well thought out. And it is still probably only part of the solution.
The city’s plan to restore Taylor Run will result in the destruction of a unique natural area, followed by an attempt to replace all the natural vegetation that has been damaged or removed. This is simply the wrong approach.
I find it incredibly sad that the colonial-era seaport town I grew up in has preserved so little of its extraordinary natural history. Small remnants of our natural heritage still exist. They are scattered along a few stream valleys that the city has not completely paved over or channelized. But that is all that remains, and these natural areas should be carefully protected and sensitively restored.
Eleven civic associations and the Environmental Council of Alexandra have urged the city to step back and consider other restoration alternatives that are more environmentally sound before we lose yet another local natural treasure. We are a true Eco City only if we work together as a community to protect places like Taylor Run.
Sign up for 30-minute tours of Taylor Run on Oct. 17 with local experts. See our ECA Facebook page for more details: https://www.facebook.com/ECA2018/
-Andrew Macdonald, former vice mayor; chair, ECA