|The dam at Lake Accotink.|
Those are some of the key questions raised by residents at a meeting Feb. 13 hosted by Fairfax County supervisors John Cook (Braddock) and Jeff McKay (Lee).
Options on the table
Cook outlined the five options identified in a Park Authority study:
A – Do nothing and let the lake disappear on its own, which would happen by 2025. That would cost virtually nothing, other than $13,000 annually on dam maintenance.
B – Dredge the lake every time it needs to be done. The last dredging was done in 2010 at a cost of $9 million. The next one will cost $21 million because the quarry that had been used to hold the sediment is no longer available. The period between dredging operations would continue to shrink. According to Cook, this would be a “temporary fix,” with the cost making it no longer feasible.
C – Create a forebay upstream to catch the sediment before it reaches the lake and dredge it annually. This would result in a deeper lake that would last 30 to 35 years. The initial cost to dredge the lake would be $45 million. Dredging the forebay would cost about $700,000 to $750,000 a year.
D - Install a series of “beaver dams” upstream to capture sediment. The lake would still fill up in five years, so this wouldn’t be a permanent solution.
E – Remove the dam, which would transform the lake into a stream. That would cost $11 million plus $26,000 annually to maintain the park.
F – Turn the lake into a single channel and create a new, smaller lake next to but separated from it by a berm. The new lake would be a little less than half the size of the current lake and could still be used for boating. It wouldn’t fill up with sediment because Accotink Creek wouldn’t flow into it. This option would cost $13 million.
A haven for wildlife
Community member Shane Schroeder formed a group, Save Lake Accotink, to advocate for option C. “Lake Accotink is an invaluable resource,” the group states in a flyer. It provides opportunities for boating, fishing, and kayaking; supports wildlife, including nesting bald eagles; and prevents sediment from washing downstream and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay.
A petition on the Save Lake Accotink website already collected at least 1,400 signatures.
The Park Authority doesn’t have the funds to pay for a dredging operation to preserve the lake, Cook told the approximately 200 people at the community meeting. So if that is the course of action approved by the BoS, funding would most likely have to come from a bond referendum presented to voters in 2019.
“Before we make that decision, we want to hear from the community,” Cook said.
“I’m emotionally attached to the lake,” McKay said. But retaining the lake in its current form would be a major expenditure, so “we have to understand how the community feels.”
“This is a Fairfax County gem,” he said. “I don’t care where this lake is. If we decide to save this lake, I will kill myself to get the money. We need a groundswell of support for whatever solution we come up with. Money is an important part of this, but it’s not the driver for me.”
Quality of life
While many of the residents said they want to preserve Lake Accotink, they expressed concern about the impact of a major dredging operation on their neighborhood.
Dredging would require as many as 12,000 truckloads of dirt moved from the lake bottom to another location outside Fairfax County. That would be noisy and disruptive and would damage neighborhood streets.
Residents of the Ravensworth community proposed modifying option C to move the forebay farther upstream and closer to Wakefield Park, so the trucks removing sediment could use Braddock Road. Cook said that idea is worth looking at.
If the lake goes away, the park would remain and there would still be opportunities for recreation, possibly including more trails. If the lake fills in naturally, the area would become a wetland. If the dam is removed, the park would consist of forest, meadow, and stream valley.
Once the future of the lake is determined, the Park Authority would revise the master plan for the park.
The downside of development
Several people asked if the lake could be saved by mitigating the sedimentation upstream.
That would be cost-prohibitive, Cook said. There is no specific source. The sediment in the lake comes from all the development – from a home addition to the beltway express lanes – that resulted in impervious surfaces, causing rainwater to wash dirt downstream.
The sediment choking the lake is from “50 years of development,” he said. “It’s our dirt from our backyard. We can’t tear things down to restore a natural watershed.”
A decision needs to be made this calendar year. Cook said. If dredging is to be done, a bond referendum would have to be on the 2019 ballot. By 2021 it would be too late.