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County board signals support for preserving smaller Lake Accotink

Paddle boats at the dock on Lake Accotink (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors hopes to preserve a smaller version of Lake Accotink, but a number of questions still need to be answered before it commits to a specific action plan.

At Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw’s request, the board directed staff yesterday (Tuesday) to begin a series of studies to flesh out a task force’s determination that it would be feasible for the county to save 20 to 40 acres of the Springfield lake as opposed to fully dredging it or allowing it to disappear.

“This has been closely coordinated with staff, so they’re aware of all of this,” Walkinshaw said prior to the unanimous board vote. “I believe we should proceed with the smaller lake option unless the feasibility study identifies unforeseen hurdles.”

In addition to a feasibility study that will look at the process, costs, implementation timeline and other factors of the potential project, the county will conduct a sedimentation rate study to get updated calculations of how much sediment is flowing into and out of Lake Accotink. A separate analysis will assess whether the man-made dam that created the lake meets Virginia’s current regulatory standards and the cost of any needed improvements.

To support the studies, the board told staff to develop a community engagement plan and assign a Department of Public Works and Environmental Services employee to coordinate the work, either by creating a new position or repurposing an existing one.

The county has already committed $60.5 million to Lake Accotink in its capital improvement program (CIP), according to Walkinshaw’s board matter. Approved in 2019 and 2021 to help dredge and maintain the lake, the funds will be continued in the next CIP, which is slated to be unveiled on Feb. 20 with the proposed fiscal year 2025 budget.

“I think we’re in a much better spot now than we were just a few weeks ago,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said. “I am very interested in the feasibility study not just looking at the initial costs of preserving Lake Accotink as a smaller lake, but also the ongoing maintenance costs and future capital costs.”

Lake Accotink Park (7500 Accotink Park Road) is one of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s most popular facilities, in part because of the boat rentals offered by its marina. However, the once-110-acre lake has shrunk to 49 acres due to sentiment transported by Accotink Creek, according to the Lake Accotink Task Force report released in December.

After previously planning to dredge the lake, a process undertaken in 1985 and 2008, county staff recommended last February that the lake instead be turned into a wetland, stating that the projected cost and neighborhood and environmental impacts no longer made dredging viable.

As community members urged the county to save Lake Accotink, the Board of Supervisors convened a task force led by former board chair Sharon Bulova to study if a smaller lake could be feasibly maintained with an initial, partial dredge, followed by regular maintenance dredges.

The task force studied the possibility of a 22-acre, 33-acre or 41-acre lake and found all of them could work, preserving the lake for recreation “while minimizing maintenance costs and impacts on surrounding communities,” Walkinshaw said in his board matter.

The smaller lake could be supplemented by trails, a managed wetland and other new amenities, the task force suggested. After the new feasibility study is completed, the park authority will restart a master planning process that was put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Depending on the exact size of the lake, the task force estimated that it could cost $24 to $34 million for an initial dredge that would restore a depth of 4-8 feet, but future maintenance costs are expected to be far lower than the $395 million that the county says it would take to preserve the full lake for the next 25 years, Walkinshaw noted.

Lingering questions include how to transport and dispose of the dredged sediment. A task force member suggested the Robinson Terminal Warehouse (7201 Wimsatt Road) as a processing site, but the property owners have made it “pretty clear they weren’t interested” when approached by county staff, according to Walkinshaw.

“Obviously, as this moves forward, all the potential processing sites will have to be reevaluated. For the time being, that’s been affirmed no,” he said.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay called the vote to initiate the feasibility study “a big step” in a discussion that’s been ongoing since 2016.

“Making sure the community knows where we’re heading is really critical here,” McKay said. “We still have some t’s to cross and i’s to dot here. This is a milestone moment, but not the end by any stretch of the imagination, and I know this will continue to be an issue of countywide importance until it’s resolved.”

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