Email signup
Beech leaf disease (BLD) has been detected in Fairfax County (courtesy DPWES)

A new tree disease has been detected in Fairfax County, threatening one of the region’s most common trees.

County officials have confirmed, in the fall, they found that a number of American beech trees in three parks in Fairfax County were infected with beech leaf disease (BLD). The parks include Burke Lake Park, Hemlock Overlook Park near Clifton, and Fairfax Station’s Fountainhead Park.

The disease causes the leaves of beech tree saplings to develop dark green stripes in the veins as well as potentially puckered, cupped, or distorted leaves. In more mature trees, it can result in reduced foliage.

It can be fatal to the trees, causing them to possibly die within six to 10 years.

BLD is somewhat mysterious, in that officials and researchers at the county’s Urban Forest Management Division (UFMD) are still trying to figure out exactly how it spreads. There is also no cure.

“Good tree care, including proper mulching and watering during droughts, may be helpful,” the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) said in a press release. “There is ongoing research underway to learn more about BLD and how to effectively treat it.”

The disease doesn’t affect humans, animals, other tree species, or yard plants. It hasn’t been detected anywhere else in the county at the moment besides the three noted parks, DPWES spokesperson Sharon North confirmed to FFXnow.

The county is asking any residents who spot a tree they believe might be infected to report it to pestmail@fairfaxcounty.gov with photos of the tree or by calling 703-324-1770 TTY 711.

“Reporting potential infestations will allow UFMD to quickly begin monitoring BLD and providing treatment once it is developed.”

BLD was first detected in Ohio about a decade ago, and Virginia’s first case was found in Prince William County in August 2021. What has officials so concerned is how poorly the disease is understood and the impact it could have on already-dwindling regional forests.

It remains unclear how BLD spreads. Experts are looking into several possibilities, including possible transmission through bacteria, fungi, mites, or even microscopic parasitic worms.

Additionally, the American beech tree makes up about 10% of the county’s forests. Any mass loss of the trees could permanently change the region’s landscape.

“Given the American beech tree comprises a large portion of our eastern trees, the disease can potentially alter the composition of the eastern forest,” DPWES said. “It is one of the most common local giant trees.”

0 Comments
Fallen leaves on the ground (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

With winter on the horizon, Fairfax County is still racing to suck up the last leafy vestiges of autumn.

Specifically, the county’s crews have yet to pick up leaves in McLean and Idylwood, as a combination of staffing shortages, equipment issues and an early leaf fall have delayed collections, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services acknowledged yesterday.

The county will deploy multiple trucks and has hired an additional contractor to collect leaves in both areas on Monday (Dec. 19), a deviation from its typical approach of serving each of its nine collection areas separately.

“By dividing resources, it will take additional time to complete each area,” DPWES said. “Service in both remaining areas will begin concurrently. Vacuum collection staff have been working 10-hour shifts and most Saturdays and will continue to do so.”

About 25,000 residents receive leaf collection services from the county, all of them concentrated on the east side, especially the Mason District. Pickups have been completed in areas three through nine.

Public works services nationwide have been affected by a depletion of truck drivers and other essential employees. Fairfax County had to make some tweaks to its yard waste collections last fall due to a shortage of haulers, and trash pickups continue to be a struggle.

DPWES says it doesn’t have “a mechanism in place” allowing residents to get their leaf collection taxes refunded, but they can opt out of county services by petitioning the Board of Supervisors to “de-create” their vacuum leaf district.

According to the county website, the petition process to create or expand sanitary districts reopened on Dec. 1, but with DPWES apparently at full staff and equipment capacity, the department plans to use private contractors for any additional service areas.

0 Comments
Fairfax County’s I-66 Transfer Station (via Google Maps)

Residents served by Haulin’ Trash, the now-bankrupt private trash collector, will be allowed to use Fairfax County’s waste disposal facilities at no charge for the next month.

The Board of Supervisors moved yesterday to suspend charges for affected individuals who drop off their household trash and recycling at the county’s I-66 Transfer Station (4618 West Ox Road) and I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road).

“I think everyone was caught off guard completely by this, and it has been difficult for many of the people affected to get a new contract in place,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said when introducing the board matter at yesterday’s meeting.

The facilities open at 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, though there are scheduled closures on Jan. 1 for New Year’s Day.

While most recyclable materials are accepted for free, they have fees for trash based on the type of material, volume, weight and number of bags used.

The fee waivers went into effect today and will continue until Jan. 1. A past bill from Haulin’ Trash must be presented for verification by on-site staff to get the discount.

Started in 2017 and based in Leesburg, Haulin’ Trash announced last week that it would permanently close on Dec. 1 after financial and staffing challenges reportedly resulted in lagging and missed collections.

Shared just hours following an earlier email that suggested the company was still trying to find a solution to its service issues, the news forced approximately 3,000 county residents to find a new hauler with essentially no warning.

The fee suspension is intended to hold over residents as they search for a new provider. Many community members had reported overflowing trash cans after Haulin’ Trash missed multiple pickups, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services said.

A list of haulers licensed to operate in Fairfax County can be found on the DPWES website. Questions and complaints can be submitted to the county’s Consumer Affairs Branch by phone at 703-222-8435 or online.

“We are encouraging customers affected by this to sign up as quickly as possible with an alternate carrier in the area,” McKay said.

With trash collection issues proving to be an ongoing headache, county officials have started considering alternative approaches to providing services, which is handled by private companies for 90% of residents.

The Board of Supervisors adopted a legislative program for the General Assembly’s 2023 session calling for the state to give localities “additional authority to manage solid waste collection” and remove “onerous requirements” that limit the county’s ability to develop a different model.

Photo via Google Maps

0 Comments
A man walks by trash bins next to the curb (via Trinity Nguyen on Unsplash)

(Updated at 1:25 p.m.) The service and staffing challenges plaguing trash collectors throughout Fairfax County have prompted one company to call it quits, leaving thousands of residents in limbo with little notice.

Haulin’ Trash LLC has permanently shuttered, informing customers by email Wednesday (Nov. 30) that it will cease operations effective yesterday.

“We have faced many challenges over the past several weeks that we simply cannot overcome. This decision has not only affected our customers but it has affected dozens of employees and their families,” owner Bobby Frazier said in the message, apologizing for the resulting inconvenience.

Frazier said that the “keys to the business” will transferred to a court-appointed trustee “over the next couple of weeks,” who will be in charge of giving out credits or refunds.

Started in 2017, the Leesburg-based company served around 3,000 customers in the county, including homeowners’ associations and 1,800 single-household customers, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) says.

The county has over a dozen private, licensed haulers that serve about 90% of residents and businesses. The rest get waste collection services from the county government.

DPWES says its Solid Waste Management Program contacted Haulin’ Trash on Tuesday (Nov. 29) after receiving “a surge in resident complaints about missed collections.” The company told staff that it was “experiencing operational and financial difficulties,” but said it was looking at options to address the reported concerns, according to the county.

A day later, though, Haulin’ Trash notified the county that it had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and would close on Dec. 1. An email sent to customers on Nov. 30 said plans to “catch up” on missed collections proved impossible because it had only four trucks — half its fleet – available.

Shared with FFXnow today, the email has a timestamp of 4:29 p.m. The announcement that Haulin’ was permanently closing went out at 9:39 p.m. that same day. The company didn’t return a request for comment.

While sudden, the closure doesn’t appear to be a total surprise to Haulin’ customers. One told FFXnow that the company’s service “had degraded to almost nothing this month,” while an Oakton resident said it missed three consecutive pickups in their neighborhood in November.

“The delayed/missed pickups have caused trash/recycle bin(s) and yard waste bag(s) sit on the curbside/street for weeks,” the resident wrote in an anonymous tip. “As a result, the neighbor looks disorganized with unpleasant smell, trashes littering on street, in storm drainage, on lawn(s).” Read More

0 Comments
A kid runs past Vienna Town Hall (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

With the national shortage of commercial drivers continuing to strain services from trash collection to school buses, the Town of Vienna plans to increase salaries and offer bonuses to bolster its maintenance workforce.

As part of a new incentive program, the Department of Public Works recommends that the town increase its entry-level salary for maintenance workers to $55,000 and offer a $2,000 hiring bonus to new employees with a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Maintenance workers — who handle tasks from paving and plowing roads to maintaining sewers and parks facilities — currently get a minimum annual salary of $40,354 or $44,490, depending on the exact position, according to Vienna’s pay plan for fiscal year 2022-2023.

The incentive program would adjust the salaries of existing employees with CDLs accordingly “to address compression and years of service,” town staff wrote in a request for $80,000 to fund the plan in the FY 2022-2023 budget.

The program would also give an annual $2,500 bonus to employees who maintain a Class A CDL and $2,000 bonuses to employees who maintain a Class B license.

Per the staff memo, the proposed hiring bonuses are in line with what Fairfax County, the Town of Herndon, and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions are offering. However, they fall short of what workers can get from the private sector, where incentives range from $4,000 to $10,000.

Vienna’s public works department is seeking $80,000 for the program in a $1.28 million set of adjustments to the FY 2022-2023 budget, known as carry forwards.

“Carry forward money is available because the Town had a surplus in FY 2021-22 of approximately $720,000,” town staff said. “The surplus is due to a combination of several General Fund revenues exceeding budget plus salary savings due to position vacancies during the year.”

Intended to address needs identified after the budget was adopted in May, the package includes $100,000 for building maintenance, $15,000 for landscaping at the Bowman House, and $30,000 to switch 60 town cell phones from T-Mobile to AT&T, among other items.

Stricter regulations for massage salons that the town council approved on Aug. 29 will require a new temporary employee to help enforce the new rules, according to staff. The town estimates that the position will cost $40,000.

“During the 2024 budget cycle staff will recommend whether or not this requires a permanent full or half-time position,” the memo says.

The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed carry forward plan during its regular meeting at 8 p.m. tonight (Monday).

0 Comments
Emptied trash and recycling bins by the street (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Trash troubles keep piling up with the county out of trash cans for at least another two months.

Fairfax County has “exhausted” its inventory of trash cans and won’t be able to provide new ones to residents until later this fall,  Dept. of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) spokesperson Sharon North told FFXnow.

“A new order already has been placed and should be in-house by early November,” she said via email.

In the meantime, North suggested that residents who are waiting on a new trash can to put their trash in a box or another container and leave it curbside on their pick-up day.

“It will be picked up, even if it’s in a box,” she said.

The missing trash can issue was brought to FFXnow’s attention by a Dranesville District resident.

About 90% of county residents and businesses have their trash picked up by private haulers, but about 10% have theirs picked up by the county. That’s about 43,000 residential units.

It’s those 43,000 that are potentially impacted by the shortage, though it only applies to those who are requesting a new trash can due to theirs being broken, moving into a new house, or are otherwise in need.

The problem started earlier this summer, North shared, when the county gained about 1,100 new customers. This created a bit of a “domino effect.” While the county’s Solid Waste Management Program put in order for more trash cans in May, those were all gone by July.

Rising costs and shortages of the worldwide supply of resin also have contributed to the lack of trash cans available to county residents, North said. The hope remains that a fresh stock of gleaming new trash cans will be available come November for new residents and those with broken ones alike.

This isn’t the county’s only recent trash trouble.

Last month, county officials addressed the “multiple complaints” they’ve been getting from residents about the performance of some contracted trash collectors in the county. Reports were coming from across the county about haulers missing pick-ups and not communicating delays all the while potentially increasing rates.

Complaints were coming in most often about American Disposal, a pattern that dated back to 2019. The company blamed a driver shortage, but Board Chair Jeff McKay told FFXnow in August that alone shouldn’t result in missed pick-ups and increasing rates.

“[A driver shortage] should not result in some of the significant problems our residents face as our haulers do not lack for resources to remedy staffing and related issues,” he said.

A number of solutions were proposed including “franchising” the county’s trash collecting and issuing fines to haulers not fulfilling their trash pick-up duties.

At a Tuesday meeting, the board approved a board matter by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw to further examine problems with American Disposal  Services and possible solutions.

The matter was jointly pushed forward by McKay and supervisors Kathy Smith and Dan Storck. It directs county staff to update the board on efforts to address complaints about missed and late pick-ups. The matter also includes language the could allow the county to move to a different system of solid waste collection, if changes are approved by the General Assembly. 

County staff from the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services have done amazing work to resolve residents’ individual issues with ADS — but a better solution would be for ADS to meet the requirements of the County ordinance and keep its commitment to its customers,” Walkinshaw wrote in a statement. 

0 Comments
Gas-powered leaf blower (via Wikimedia Commons/Cbaile19)

With fall just around the corner, Fairfax County has begun to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of battery-powered blowers.

Last week, the county announced that its Park Authority and Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) are “in the process of phasing out gas-powered blowers” in favor of “exclusively purchasing” battery-powered blowers.

“Having a gas-powered leaf blower operating in your vicinity is like inviting someone to blow a cloud of potentially dangerous chemicals, dust, and other pollutants in your direction,” the county website says. “A gas-powered leaf blower produces exhaust containing both hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides both of which are components of smog.”

The county is encouraging all contractors and residents to follow suit, saying battery-powered equipment is quieter, cleaner, and can be more cost-efficient to operate.

In November 2021, the Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly passed a board matter introduced by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw that called for a stop to the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

In a statement to FFXnow, Walkinshaw said the county is “making good on that promise.”

Last year, the Board approved my motion to phase-out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn equipment on County-owned property. Now, I am pleased to say that we are making good on that promise by replacing the existing County inventory with electric blowers and incentivizing the use of electric equipment by our landscaping contractors.

Gas-powered leaf blowers can emit 23 times the carbon dioxide of a Ford F-150 and operate at noise levels that can cause hearing damage. This is about Fairfax County being a good neighbor to those living near our facilities and helping to accelerate a shift to electric landscaping equipment. I’m hopeful that incentivizing the use of electric equipment through our procurement process will encourage more local landscaping contractors to make that shift, giving residential and commercial property owners more choices in the marketplace.

Supervisors had hoped the county’s adoption of the ordinance would encourage the Virginia General Assembly to do the same. While other nearby localities have also taken up this issue in recent years, a recent House bill failed to get out of committee.

Fairfax County’s conversion may unfold gradually. Although the process started in December, there is no concrete timeline yet for when all the gas-powered blowers will be phased out, acting FCPA Public Information Officer Roberta Korzen told FFXnow.

“The gas-powered blowers will be phased out and replaced with battery-powered blowers at the end of their life cycle,” Korzen wrote in an email. A gas-powered leaf blower can last up to 10 years with proper maintenance.

The park authority currently has only seven battery-powered blowers, compared to more than 100 gas-powered ones. That number doesn’t include contractors.

It’s unknown how many gas-powered blowers are used by county contractors, but Korzen said the county “encourages the use of battery-powered blowers by its contractors.”

FCPA estimates it will cost about $150,000 to phase out the equipment.

“As funding and supply is available we are purchasing battery-powered blowers. We have made a few purchases to date. We are hoping additional funding will be available in the near future,” Korzen said.

0 Comments
Trees at the corner of Jefferson Manor Park off Telegraph Road (photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Fairfax County is looking to grow a tree planting program that has resulted in 139 trees being planted along the Richmond Highway corridor since last year.

The “Residential Tree Planting Pilot Project” is a county-run program, in partnership with the D.C.-based nonprofit Casey Trees, providing free trees to residents in census tracts with low tree canopy coverage.

The three tracts targeted for the pilot program are all along the Richmond Highway corridor and within the Mount Vernon and Franconia Districts.

Since April 2021, residents living in those areas have planted 139 free trees on their properties. While a bit short of the 150-tree goal, the county has deemed the pilot program enough of a success to make it a “recurring program,” per an update to the Board of Supervisors last month.

The aim of the permanent program is to expand the tree canopy in other census tracts. A less expansive tree canopy often coincides with more “economically vulnerable neighborhoods,” Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson Sharon North wrote FFXnow in an email.

With that consideration, the program will be targeting census blocks in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County during its next planting cycle said North.

Money for the program will come out of the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund and will be managed by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The fund’s current balance is $208,000, North said. Any additional funding recommendations will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as part of its annual budget process.

Nearby localities like Arlington have similar programs to increase tree canopy in neighborhoods where it’s insufficient, which contributes to heat and temperature increases.

Back in 2021, Fairfax County staff identified 4,000 single-family and multi-family addresses within the three census tracts that would benefit from increased tree canopy.

Casey Trees devised a marketing campaign that sent out letters and greeting cards advertising the availability of free trees to those residents, who ultimately planted 139 trees.

That’s about a 3.5% success rate — higher than the industry average of 2%.

A majority of the trees planted were medium to large, including shingle oaks, river birches, hackberry trees, and honeylocust ‘shademasters.’

“Larger trees provide more shading, cooling, stormwater control, and related benefits over their smaller counterparts,” Casey Trees said in a report. “Not just to the property where the tree is planted but also to the neighborhood at large.”

The pilot program cost the county about $60,000, approximately $11,000 in marketing materials and close to $49,000 for the actual trees. It cost $350 per planted tree.

The report also provided a few recommendations to help grow the program.

Proposals included increasing the number of trees provided to one particular lot from three to five, noting that “residents often requested more,” as well as sending out arborists for site visits to increase education and displaying “free tree” yard signs in eligible neighborhoods.

0 Comments
The proposed routes for new sewer pipelines in Tysons West (via DPWES)

Tysons is going to need a bigger sewer system.

With the population expected to continue growing over the next few decades, Fairfax County is starting to prepare now for the anticipated influx of residents — and the additional wastewater they will inevitably produce.

Over the past two years, the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has been planning upgrades to the sewer pipelines and pump station that serve the Tysons West neighborhood along Route 7 between Westpark Drive and the Dulles Toll Road.

One of several projects in the works to boost northern Fairfax County’s wastewater capacity, the Tysons Wastewater System Enhancements will replace and relocate an existing pump station, while adding more than 7 miles of new sewer pipeline.

“This project will decrease the risk of wastewater overflows and back-ups during periods of high wastewater flows by diverting flow from existing infrastructure,” DPWES said on the project page.

The department will host a virtual public meeting to discuss its proposal at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday).

According to DPWES spokesperson Sharon North, the Tysons area doesn’t currently have any issues with wastewater overflows or backups, but with the Tysons Comprehensive Plan targeting 100,000 residents by 2050, the current facilities aren’t sufficient to handle that future growth.

DPWES conducted a study that determined wastewater from the northern part of the county should be rerouted to the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant in Lorton. Read More

0 Comments

White brine lines are a familiar sight on Fairfax County roads before snowstorms, such as the one that passed through the D.C. area last weekend.

Not too long ago, though, winter weather preparations involved scattering tons of dry salt and sand on streets, sidewalks, and other outdoor surfaces.

The adoption of brine to prevent snow and ice from sticking to pavement is part of a regional effort to limit the use of salt, which is effective — and cheap — as a de-icing material but pollutes the environment and corrodes infrastructure.

“What we’re trying to do is walk that fine line between protecting the natural resources, but at the same time, providing the need for public safety,” said Normand Goulet, a senior environmental planner for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC).

The Salt Management Strategy

NVRC is overseeing the implementation of a Virginia Salt Management Strategy (SaMS) that the state Department of Environmental Quality released last year as a guide to minimizing the dangers of salt.

In the works since 2018, the strategy was developed by a committee that included Fairfax County staff after a water quality report identified de-icing salt as a primary contributor to excessive levels of chloride in Accotink Creek, affecting wildlife in the 51 square-mile watershed.

According to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES), one teaspoon of salt can permanently pollute five gallons of water.

The department advises residents to shovel snow early and often, apply salt only where needed, and sweep up extra material for reuse. Viable alternatives to salt include sand, wood ash, and native bird seed.

“One 12oz coffee mug holds enough salt to treat a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares,” DPWES said by email.

Why Brine?

The SaMS toolkit encourages local and state government agencies to pay closer attention to the salt they use for anti-icing, which comes before snow to prevent accumulation, and de-icing, which removes snow and ice during or after a storm. Read More

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list