Do no harm

Do no harm
The first Consensus Building Group Meeting was held on Sept. 10 to discuss possibilities for Taylor and Strawberry Run. (Photo/Amanda Dolasinski)

To the editor:

Last week Mayor Justin Wilson quoted a stream resto- ration expert on why City Council voted not to do Straw- berry Run’s restoration: “… the stream has reached its hard clay bottom … the channel evolutionary phase is coming to an end.” This was the community’s recommendation last year, with one caveat: “Do nothing … except protect one home with wood” – which Council denied.

Three city engineering structures have failed to restrain Strawberry, which runs like an unbridled horse. Like a stallion, it shoots out a large culvert up to 22 feet per second, throwing askew more than 165 large boulders in its path. At the finish it gallops into a cement wall surrounding a too-small exit culvert. The vicious recoil forms a lake covering residents’ yards, destroying the Natural Channel Design which a city staffer described 10 years ago as “bad and downright ugly.”

But in the backstretch of Strawberry’s run, the steed charges right through a private property’s back yard – that’s why we asked Council to reclaim the person’s lost property.

Wilson asked, “What is the ‘public good’… [of] mak[ing] improvements on private properties that are adjacent to [Strawberry] run versus many other private properties that run off into similar streamways? I’ve got erosion problems in my back yard, so why would we spend city tax dollars for that?”

But no “improvements” were asked for any back yards covered by the lake which then erodes away. It was solely for the property now permanently occupied by a 12 foot- deep channel that replaced its missing back yard, and soon will test the mettle of the house itself.

Commensurate to the duty of public good is Council’s duty to correct – or avoid – public harm. It’s why Alexandria reimburses $2,000 to 3,000 when a public tree damages private property. And why the city tried to avoid public harm to this particular property by building a concrete dam to steer Strawberry away, even embedding its banks with concrete – which soon lay broken and scattered, letting Strawberry do permanent harm.

The Mayor’s comment – “So we are going to make improvements to people’s back yards and we are supposed to ask the city attorney how to make that legal?” – was not our question.

Rather, we knew the streambed is state-owned, but we also knew the city had felt a duty to avoid harm from the city’s stormwater that courses through Strawberry. Since the city’s cement engineering struc- ture then failed, the “ask” was which public entity is now legally responsi- ble for the negligence of Strawberry permanently removing and occupy-

ing the private back yard? Moreover, contrary to staff’s re-

plies to councilors, the property owner repeatedly stated access would be given, emailing the city she’d sign permission once provided “the design plan … protections and liabilities” – and awaits its response. No other access is required along the stream – except by her neighbor who, not speaking English, was kept informed through a son and agreed to provide an easement.

Finally, city staff’s professional judgment was that it’s best that an upstream plunge pool with log jams slow the stream’s velocity before reaching the property. There it would meet wood logs augered eight feet deep holding boulders inside them protecting the reclaimed back yard.

This is why Council should re- consider the second part of the com- munity’s recommendation.

-The Hon. Joe Sestak, Alexandria