|Native plants mowed down along the beltway in Annandale..[FACC photo]|
Friends of Accotink Creek (FACC) sent a letter to state legislators, Fairfax County supervisors, and other officials Dec. 9 expressing outrage over the mowing. The FACC website includes several pictures documenting the “Beltway massacre” between the Gallows Road and Braddock Road exits in Annandale.
During the beltway expansion/express lanes project, FACC had documented extensive destruction of trees and damage to the Accotink watershed, says FACC member Kris Unger. At the time, FACC partnered with Potomac Riverkeeper in a lawsuit that resulted in improved enforcement by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
FACC also worked with other environmental groups, the Virginia Department of Forestry, the Fairfax County Park Authority, and other agencies to address the problem. That effort resulted in the Virginia General Assembly providing $98 million, mostly for sound walls, but also including some $5 million for restorative landscaping focusing on native species of trees, shrubs and grasses.
According to the letter, “this partnership resulted in restorative landscaping that was a significant improvement over traditional VDOT landscaping practices.” The new plantings also greatly reduced the need for mowing.
“FACC has watched the growth of thousands of oak seedlings, sumacs, sycamores, sweet gums, and other volunteer natives over the years,” the letter states. “So it was with great dismay and outrage that we saw that much of this area had been aggressively mowed.” Most of the newly planted trees were spared, but thousands of native plants were mown to the ground.
While many of the damaged plants will be able to re-establish themselves, “FACC is concerned at the indifference and/or disrespect shown by VDOT in allowing this to happen,” the letter continues. “Accidents like this confirm that VDOT is not sufficiently aware of the importance of protecting and restoring native ecosystems, despite their spending millions of tax dollars on these plantings.”
The Fairfax County Restoration Project (FCFP) wrote to Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane Dec. 10 to express disappointment in the mowing. When construction began, FCRP, a public/private partnership that coalesced around the beltway express lanes project, formed a stakeholder group, which VDOT joined, to address the deforestation caused by the project and urge the legislature to provide funding for landscaping.
“Unfortunately, all of this collaboration and a significant amount of public funds are now in jeopardy of being lost, due to the recent mowing and weed whacking by a VDOT contractor, states the FCRP letter, which was signed by several other environmental groups.
“This seemingly arbitrary and unilateral action has destroyed years of effort by VDOT and FCRP and undermines the intent of the environmental mitigation benefit initiated by the General Assembly,” FCRP states. “We are deeply disappointed by this unexpected turn of events. FCRP spent eight years building our partnership and making significant progress in our restoration efforts only to have all of the work undone in a matter of hours.”
VDOT has assured FCRP that the contractor will be held responsible for the destruction, but, FCPR states, “it is our position that this contractor be required to replace not only the plantings that VDOT had planted, but all of the voluntary native materials that were destroyed in the process.”