Taking aim at Tysons green space — again
Ajust-released annual report card gave the Chesapeake Bay a C grade, noting that the bay’s “overall health remained steady despite many pressures . . . across its watershed.” This tenuous condition is threatened by President Trump’s proposal to eliminate federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. But that’s only part of the problem when it comes to protecting this national treasure, and sometimes local officials don’t seem to be doing their part.
Several years ago, when Fairfax County Transportation Department staff started planning the street grids for the transformation of Tysons Corner into a modern urban center (repeatedly promised by officials to be a “green” city of the future), it drew in a new ramp from Route 267 and an extension of Boone Boulevard that would plow right through a Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area.
Resource Protection Areas are buffers ideally kept pristine from auto pollution and other runoff that could enter the bay. They are a key part of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act enacted by the Virginia General Assembly and established to create a cooperative relationship between the commonwealth and local governments in reducing and preventing “non-point source” pollution. Shockingly, however, it seems that local governments can easily claim exemptions for building roads through protected areas under current law.
With the Boone Boulevard plan, a coalition of area communities decided to appeal to logic. After a long, hard-fought battle by the Save Tysons Last Forest movement, of which I was a part, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (and other politicians) appeared to have an epiphany. In early 2013, it voted against the RPA-encroachment plan. We thought we had won.
But that didn’t deter transportation officials. The road warriors are now planning to drive four-plus lanes of Boone Boulevard alongside a stream valley east of the original RPA, then plow them right through the other side of the forest, over the stream and through loopholes in Virginia law. All of this is being proposed without any serious environmental study.
This year, my neighborhood, the Greater Tysons Green Civic Association, reached out to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ officials responded: “First and foremost, neither the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act or the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management Regulations require that decisions regarding RPA encroachments, exceptions or exemptions made by a local government be approved by DEQ, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) or EPA.”
It seems that Fairfax County can do whatever it pleases in a Resource Protection Area — and it is.
Because all this made little sense, our civic association filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the county to find out more about the Boone Boulevard decisions. The document dump we received included an email from a branch chief in the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services saying that the proposed Boone alignment “results in a significant impact to the Old Courthouse RPA and stream channel, would conflict with the restoration plans underway and would likely require that the stream be relocated when the road is built at a cost in current dollars of $1,300 per linear foot of stream impacted.”
A Fairfax County senior transportation planner forwarded that email to colleagues, writing that “it doesn’t seem we can get the blessing . . . from storm water perspective given the fact that [the current plan] does cross the wetlands and stream. We can propose some mitigation measures in this feasibility study but we will not commit to any of them.”
That’s just a small example of the dismissiveness the documents revealed. And while our community has repeatedly tried to bring this to Fairfax County leaders’ attention again, the same supervisors who were so environmentally concerned just a few years ago approved the first piece of the Boone Boulevard extension, which takes new aim at a Resource Protection Area.
It is clear that for the long-term health of our environment, we need to eliminate or revise exemptions for public roads that cut through protected areas. And, even if exemptions rules aren’t changed, developers and local officials should do the right thing. Our politicians need to reconnect with their consciences. We in the public must hold them accountable.