To the editor:
Mayor Justin Wilson recently defended the proposed Taylor Run stream reconstruction project in the Facebook group “Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria,” saying that the project is “an attempt to efficiently meet new environmental mandates” – the federally required Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction requirements under the Clean Water Act.
The section of Taylor Run that the city proposes reconstructing is a fragile ecosystem that deserves protection. It contains the largest concentration of rare plant species native to Alexandria, a mature forest and a globally rare type of wetlands.
The project would fell 270 trees and shrubs, including an Alexandria Champion red maple, and do irreparable damage to the wetlands, creating a huge gash right through the heart of the forest. This destruction will open up the area to invasive plants, vines, trees and shrubs, notwithstanding any proposed replanting.
The scientist who originated the “Natural Channel Design” model that the city plans to use in Taylor Run now says – after observing the effects of such projects over the last two decades – that this design is not effective for small, upper headwater stream channels.
Although this design is widely used by an industry built up around it, scientists are now questioning its application and merits. Like so many other projects, the Taylor Run proposed design does not address increased urbanization and impervious surfaces, the root cause of increased water flow and sediments, and so it does not solve the erosion process problem.
Is all this worth it?
Before bulldozing this fragile ecosystem, city officials need to prove that the project will actually reduce the pollutants as they claim, show that they have examined cost efficient alternatives and considered the impact of the loss of trees in reducing pollution and water flow.
The onus is on city officials to show that they have done this. The city needs to carefully review the failure of local “natural channel design” projects such as Turkeycock Run in Fairfax and others – and consider that five projects in Maryland increased stream pollutant levels after the removal of trees.
There is no need to rush into this project. In response to public concern, staff of the city’s Stormwater Management Division have postponed the project until fall 2021, and the state of Virginia, which is co-funding the project, has given the city until mid-2022 to actually start it. Alexandria now has ample time to deliberate and address the issues and questions raised and, most importantly, to consider alternative designs which do not harm the environment.
Any plan the city decides on needs to protect the wetlands, trees, and rare native plants now for us and for future generations.
So the mayor’s enthusiastic support for the project at this point and as currently designed is very discouraging. What happened to Alexandria as an Eco City? Does his reaction suggest that the reported efforts of city staff to thoroughly and thoughtfully examine the merits of the project are a sham?
-Jane Seward, Lynn Gas, Alexandria