(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) A group of McLean residents opposed to the extension of the I-495 toll lanes past their neighborhoods have turned to the courts in a bid to halt the project, now in its second year of construction.
The Northern Virginia (NOVA) Citizens Association filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Thursday (March 16) alleging that major revisions to the project design violated federal law, resulting in “significant on-going environmental harms” to residents.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), private toll lanes operator Transurban, and Transurban subsidiary Capital Beltway Express LLC are named as defendants.
“As a result of Defendants’ actions, NOVA and its members are experiencing significant adverse environmental impacts caused by the Project,” the complaint says, arguing that the road construction and loss of trees will contribute to noise, light, air pollution, water quality, erosion and health issues.
In the works since 2018, the I-495 Northern Extension project (495 NEXT) is adding 2.5 miles of express lanes from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons past the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean, reconfiguring many of the bridges and interchanges within that span.
The GW Parkway interchange has been a particular point of concern for the NOVA Citizens Association, whose members fear that their neighborhood along Live Oak Drive will be destroyed to accommodate planned ramps and stormwater management ponds.
According to the complaint, VDOT unveiled significant changes to the project design in September 2021 and June 2022 — months after the FHWA approved its environmental assessment, an evaluation of the project’s potential impact required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The changes — including a consolidation of stormwater facilities, a narrowing of Live Oak Drive to 22 feet wide, and the relocation of an I-495 Express Lanes exit ramp to the GW Parkway — were substantial enough that additional environmental review should’ve been conducted, the association contends.
“The major changes to the stormwater control plan, the expansion of impermeable surfaces, and the greatly expanded deforestation will result in a significant increase in the release of stormwater which is contaminated with pollutants onto the properties of members of the association,” the complaint says.
The complaint also raises concerns about the safety of narrowing Live Oak Drive, especially for kids traveling to Cooper Middle School and the nearby Langley Swim & Tennis Club, and a reported plan to place a 5G cell tower on one resident’s property.
In a Feb. 24 declaration supporting the complaint, Live Oak Drive residents Pritesh and Marisha Patel wrote that the noise and pollution from the 495 NEXT construction has caused “irreparable harm” to their family, particularly their 11-year-old son, who has asthma. Read More
A stormwater retention project in Vienna that officials say will help contain runoff and slow down traffic is set to get another infusion of Fairfax County funds.
The county’s Board of Supervisors authorized staff last week to provide an additional $54,000 for the Town of Vienna’s Tapawingo and Kingsley road urban bioretention project. The vote took place without discussion at the board’s Feb. 21 meeting.
The money will come in addition to $200,000 that the county already allocated to the project under a funding agreement originally signed in October 2018.
“The increased Project cost is attributable to rising construction costs and larger bioretention cells needed to maximize water quality benefits,” county staff said in a memo explaining their recommendation that the agreement be amended.
The project will add two bioretention areas — or rain gardens — along Meadow Lane SW: one at the Tapawingo Road intersection and another further south at the Kingsley Road intersection.
To accommodate the cells, the existing corner pavement will be demolished and replaced with extended curbs, according to Vienna plans. The cells will be covered with a combination of perennial plants, such as switchgrass and bee balm, as well as grass sod.
According to county staff, the cells will treat stormwater runoff as it goes into Hunter’s Branch of the Accotink Creek watershed, providing “nutrient reduction and improved water quality.”
“Green stormwater controls are not only an aesthetic benefit provided by integrating nature into the urban built environment, but also planted cells are effective at removing nitrogen, phosphorous and in remediating metals that pose health impacts to aquatic life,” staff said. “For this reason, alternatives such as underground storage basins that offer limited infiltration and water quality improvement were not preferred.”
In addition to the stormwater benefits, town officials anticipate the curb extensions will help calm traffic on Meadow Lane, a 30-foot-wide street in a residential neighborhood, county staff said.
The road’s travel lanes at the Tapawingo and Kingsley intersections will be restricted to 20 feet wide, according to Vienna project manager Alan Chen.
The design, which was developed by Urban Ltd., also proposes 10-foot-wide crosswalks on all four sides of the Tapawingo intersection and on the north and east sides of the Kingsley intersection. The final design was presented at a community meeting on Nov. 3, 2021.
Under the 2018 agreement, Fairfax County agreed to cover the design and construction cost of the stormwater facilities. The additional funds authorized last week will cover the increased construction costs for the bioretention areas — but not for the curb extensions, Chen said.
The curb extensions and other remaining costs are Vienna’s responsibility, Chen told FFXnow. The town council will vote on whether to approve $84,564 for the project and the amended funding agreement on April 10.
In all, the project will cost just under $338,565. Assuming the town council approves Vienna’s portion and the new agreement, the town anticipates construction will begin in May.
Photo via Fairfax County
Fairfax County staff is now recommending that Lake Accotink in Springfield not be dredged, but instead allowed to naturally develop into a wetland.
New findings released by the county late last week concluded that dredging the 55-acre man-made lake is no longer the best option “due to…significant community and environmental impacts and excessive costs.”
The hope was to restore the lake to its original condition, but there’s 43% more sediment in the lake than estimated in 2018. That sediment would require more frequent dredging, increasing costs and the number of truck trips to haul it away.
The price tag was estimated at $95 million to dredge the lake, plus an additional $300 million over the next 20 years for maintenance, per the analysis. That would have brought the total to nearly $400 million.
Instead, the staff is recommending restarting the Lake Accotink Park Master Planning process this spring or summer, with the expectation that the “changing conditions of the lake” will eventually turn it into a “maintained wetland and/or floodplain forest complex.” That could happen in the next few years.
A virtual public meeting will be held tonight at 7 p.m., with an in-person public meeting set for tomorrow (Thursday) at Kings Glen Elementary School to allow residents to weigh in on this new plan.
This conclusion may come as a surprise to some, considering it was just in 2019 when a plan to dredge Lake Accotink was endorsed by the Board of Supervisors.
But in just a few years, the lake and surrounding circumstances have changed enough to no longer make that feasible, according to the report.
The lake now has 500,000 cubic feet of sediment, compared to 350,000 previously. At that rate of build-up, it’s estimated that dredging would have to happen every five years. Transporting and disposing of the sediment would require 15,000 truck trips each time on area roads and through neighborhoods.
The place initially discussed as a drop-off point — Wakefield Park Maintenance Facility near the powerline easements — is no longer available due to infrastructure now there.
Additionally, all the work and maintenance needed would have greatly impacted the surrounding 482-acre park, making it far less accessible, useable, and easily enjoyed by the public.
The report argues that dredging Lake Accotink is ultimately a much less preferable option than simply letting it eventually become a maintained wetland.
Lake Accotink was first built in 1940 by the U.S. Army as a freshwater reservoir for what was then called Camp Humphries, now Fort Belvoir. But “intense development” around the lake and in its watershed led to its shrinking and continued issues today. Read More
The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) wants Fairfax County to reconsider its embrace of synthetic turf for athletic fields, as a decision nears on whether to replace the grass baseball diamond at Linway Terrace Park (6246 Linway Terrace).
The organization, which represents residents of the greater McLean area, has called for a review of the county’s practices regarding synthetic turf, particularly the potential health and environmental risks posed by crumb rubber — bits of recycled tire commonly used for artificial fields.
Approved by the MCA board of directors at a meeting last Wednesday (Feb. 1), the resolution builds off a February 2018 request that the county test field drainage for possible water contamination and create a citizen task force to explore the issue.
“Looking at the issue anew this year, we learned that concerns about the environmental and health effects related to synthetic turf fields continue to be significant and in some ways have grown,” Barbara Ryan, who chairs MCA’s environmental committee, said.
The Fairfax County Park Authority announced in December that McLean Little League had offered to help fund a conversion of Linway Terrace Park’s baseball field.
Synthetic turf requires less upkeep than natural grass and can be used regardless of weather, McLean Little League board member Bryan Orme told FFXnow at the time, noting that the 10-acre park’s nearby soccer and lacrosse field has been converted.
The Fairfax County Park Authority uses a mix of sand and cryogenic crumb rubber for most of its synthetic turf fields in accordance with a countywide policy last reviewed in 2016, according to FCPA Public Information Officer Ben Boxer.
In response to community concerns about crumb rubber possibly contributing to cancer and other health issues, the county conducted “extensive review” of scientific studies in 2012 and 2015 and data from the Virginia Department of Health, then-county executive Edward Long Jr. said in a May 2016 memo.
The county determined it didn’t need to change the materials in its synthetic fields or reconvene a task force that had been created in 2012.
“No study exists that has shown an elevated health risk from playing on fields with crumb rubber,” Long wrote. “The general conclusion for all the studies reviewed is that health effects are unlikely from exposure to the levels of chemicals found in synthetic turf with crumb rubber infill and that these fields do not pose a serious public health concern.”
However, athletes and health advocates have argued that existing research is limited, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to launch a joint study in 2016.
While that study is still underway, some localities in the U.S., including Boston, D.C. and Montgomery County, have banned or limited the use of synthetic turf.
Beyond the much-debated possible health risks, MCA said it’s also concerned about the heat generated by synthetic turf fields, their limited lifespans of eight to 10 years, and the impact on the county’s waterways.
“Given the concerns cited above regarding synthetic turf fields, MCA recommends that the Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC) investigate how the county is reviewing the environmental and health risks associated with the county’s current practices related to synthetic turf fields to determine if the county should…revisit its…decision that crumb rubber is an acceptable infill material,” the resolution said.
MCA also urged the county to reconvene its Synthetic Turf Task Force, implement a system to track where and how fields are disposed of, and install enhanced stormwater management at Linway Terrace if the baseball diamond conversion is approved.
Boxer says the park authority’s turf fields are designed to “drain primarily downward and have extensive underground stormwater management practices,” per county code requirements.
As stated at a Jan. 12 community meeting, the FCPA will talk to the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services about potential enhancements, though the focus will be on meeting permitting requirements “and not directed at crumb rubber,” Boxer told FFXnow.
The FCPA is accepting public comments on the Linway Terrace proposal until Sunday (Feb. 12).
As for its overall use of synthetic fields, the county isn’t planning another reevaluation — at least not until that federal study is released.
“At such time as a new EPA or CDC study on crumb rubber use on synthetic turf fields is completed, then based on the results of such Federal level studies, the County as a whole may elect to revisit current synthetic turf practices,” Boxer said.
Reston Association is charging up to potentially take part in Fairfax County pilot to get more homeowners’ associations (HOAs) on board with improving access to electric vehicle chargers.
The pilot program, Charge Up Fairfax, would facilitate EV charging by residents in multi-family housing, especially HOAs and condominium associations, by circumventing technical and financial challenges linked to installing stations.
“This program aims to assist HOAs with the installation of publicly available shared charging stations,” said Cameron Adams, RA’s director of covenants administration, in a recent Reston Today video.
The program would also provide support to multi-family communities to install charging stations in common areas. The county would work with HOAs and other groups to install stations in publicly accessible locations that they own.
In the first phase of the program, the county will work with HOAs to identify possible locations and survey the community. This exploration phase will be followed by reviewing by data gathering and community engagement, after which a contractor and equipment will be selected.
Grants would be structured to reimburse communities up to $5,000 for the installation and upkeep of the charging stations. Some communities may be eligible for up to $10,000.
RA expects to hear back from the county on how it can apply to take part in the pilot in the spring, according to Adams. Installation could begin in July — a move that is entirely dependent on funding.
The county’s Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination is seeking $830,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to move forward with the project. The grant application was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a Jan. 24 meeting.
At a Nov. 9 meeting with the county last year, RA members provided feedback on their EV needs and discussed the program. RA’s participation in the program has been proposed since at least late September, when county staff discussed the pilot program with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
The program follows the passage of state legislation that establishes the right of electric vehicle owners to access charging stations. The bill, passed in 2020, bars home and condominium owners from prohibiting the installation of stations under certain conditions.
Still, many challenges remain, including the cost-inhibitive nature of installing and maintaining stations, as well as stringent local regulations on their installation and use.
RA was among the first HOAs in the country to establish design guidelines for electric vehicle charging stations, following a 10-month process in 2021, according to Adams.
The clock is ticking on Fairfax County’s goal of achieving net-zero new carbon emissions by 2050.
With local government and school operations accounting for just 5% of all emissions, the county is developing a plan to help residents and organizations take action to reduce their carbon footprint and combat climate change.
Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at an environmental committee meeting on Dec. 13, the proposal suggests starting to implement the Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) adopted in 2021 by partnering with businesses, nonprofits and others that will serve as “climate champions.”
“Every single person and organization can have negative or positive impacts for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in time to prevent serious harm to our children, nature and communities,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, chair of the environmental committee, said in a statement. “Each segment of our community…must have simple, easy, adoptable actions to get started and get done the changes we need.”
Expected to roll out early this year, the Climate Champions initiative will take a three-pronged approach, Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) staff told the board:
- A faith-based and nonprofit community pilot, led by the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (FACS)
- A business/industry pilot, focused initially on the hospitality sector and led by Visit Fairfax
- An outreach campaign aimed at getting individuals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions
Having pilot projects focused on specific sectors will help the county tailor its resources, policies and messaging to their needs, Storck said.
A hotel owner, for instance, could provide insight into how their building could be more sustainable — and what incentives would make those changes feasible. Homeowners’ associations could raise awareness of programs like Solarize Fairfax County, which aims to reduce the cost of solar panel installations.
“We can sit in this room all we want, but we need messengers out there in the community, taking ownership of elements in CECAP to make sure we’re successful,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said at the committee meeting.
Convincing churches and other places of worship to take action on climate change isn’t a challenge for FACS, a nonprofit with over 190 religious groups in Northern Virginia that has been a vocal advocate for CECAP and other environmental measures.
Many faith communities are already tackling climate projects, from solar sanctuaries that would turn them into refuges during power outages to staff at Reston’s St. John Neumann Catholic Church volunteering to clean up for events if they utilize reusable dishes and silverware to reduce waste.
The county’s pilot will help better coordinate those efforts and share ideas, while hopefully encouraging more congregations to get involved, FACS Executive Director Andrea McGimsey told FFXnow. Read More
A neurological disease that’s fatal to deer has been detected in Fairfax County for the first time ever.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was found in an adult male deer killed by a hunter in the Vienna area this past October, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) reported Friday (Jan. 13).
The department says it confirmed the diagnosis with a sample obtained shortly after the deer was taken to a taxidermist in late October
“At the time of harvest, no outward signs of disease were noted, and the deer appeared to be in good condition,” DWR said in a news release. “Because this is the first CWD-positive detection in Fairfax County, a county bordering Disease Management Area 2 (DMA2), the DWR conducted an extensive forensic investigation to confirm the harvest location of this deer.”
Disease Management Area 2 encompasses Loudoun, Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange, Page, Rappahannock counties, where four instances of the disease — including one in Loudoun County — were detected during the 2021-2022 deer-hunting season.
First detected in Virginia in 2009, CWD is caused by an infectious protein called a prion that get transmitted to deer through saliva, feces, and urine from infected deer as well as through contaminated soil, according to DWR.
It can take months or even over a year after being exposed for infected deer to show symptoms, which include “staggering, abnormal posture, lowered head, drooling, confusion, and marked weight loss,” the department says.
While the disease isn’t known to be infectious or dangerous to humans, pets or livestock, DWR advises all hunters with deer from CWD-positive areas to get them tested and avoid eating meat from animals that test positive.
The department also recommends against transporting deer carcasses or parts with brain or spinal cord tissue from Fairfax County to an area where CWD hasn’t been detected before. Deer parts should be put in double bags and disposed of in a landfill or a trash bin, where they can be collected.
The state says it won’t make any regulatory changes in response to the CWD detection in Fairfax County until after the current hunting season, but drop sites where deer heads can be taken for CWD testing will be added before the next season. Right now, the closest options are in Loudoun.
Though deer-hunting season is mostly over in Virginia, Fairfax County is one of several localities included in the state’s urban archery program, which restricts hunters to deer without antlers and lasts through March 26.
In an effort to manage local deer populations, Fairfax County is allowing hunting with bows and arrows at over 100 parks in its 2022-2023 archery season, which runs through Feb. 18. Testing for CWD has been conducted throughout the county in recent years as part of its deer management program.
“Since the 2019-2020 season, over 750 deer have been tested, with this being the only detection to date in the county,” DWR said.
The Fairfax County Police Department’s wildlife management staff, which has been assisting with CWD surveillance efforts since 2019, will work with DWR to “determine any new rules or regulatory changes that will occur.” It will also help identify testing options for hunters participating in the county archery program or on private property.
This has evidently been a year for new diseases in local nature. Last week, the county announced that beech leaf disease has been found in three parks, putting one of the area’s most common tree species at risk.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”
More than three years into a groundbreaking agreement, this spring should bring solar power to one of Fairfax County’s facilities for the first time ever.
The county had 30 sites lined up for solar panels under a power purchase agreement (PPA) initiative that was touted the biggest ever undertaken by a Virginia locality when it was announced in December 2019.
Then, lease negotiations with the company contracted to install and operate the panels stalled, forcing the county to start from scratch with a different provider in July 2021.
“With the pandemic, there were supply chain issues within the solar industry and the cost of some construction materials went up,” said John Morrill, the county Office of Environment and Energy Coordination’s (OEEC) division manager for innovation and sustainability. “The county negotiated and accepted revised pricing from the vendors. But it’s still challenging, and the size of the system is still important to make the numbers work for both parties.”
Though the PPA initiative remains in place, the county is also pursuing other options to outfit its properties for solar power — specifically, incorporating it into new construction projects or enlisting energy services companies to do energy efficiency upgrades.
The solar project expected to be completed first will come from the general contractor hired to build the Sully Community Center, which opened in the Dulles area on Sept. 17.
The contractor is currently getting permits for the solar photovoltaic panels, putting the installation on track for completion by May, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.
The general contractor route will also ensure that the new Seven Corners Fire Station has solar panels when it opens in spring 2024. The existing station on Sleepy Hollow Road was demolished last month.
Projects are also in various stages of development for the Woodlawn and Reston fire stations, the Spring Hill Recreation Center in McLean, and the Pender building, which hosts the county’s Housing and Community Development offices.
For those sites, the county will buy solar panels from energy services companies hired to install them along with other efficiency upgrades. The fire stations are in the final design phase with delivery target dates in August, while the Spring Hill project is in engineering design and slated for completion in winter 2024.
The county is targeting October for the Pender building upgrades, which are “a bit more complex,” Morrill says. In addition to a rooftop solar array, the project will retrofit the facility’s lighting and replace some other infrastructure, according to a permit under review.
“This combination of approaches gives the county maximum flexibility, as smaller systems…are not suitable to the PPA model,” Morrill said. Read More
The Fairfax County Park Authority has some new financial muscle behind its efforts to clear invasive plants from Blake Lane Park in Oakton.
A $20,000 grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation will enable the agency to clear an additional 1.2 acres of land and replant it with native shrubs and trees, the FCPA announced last week.
The invasive plant removal efforts will specifically target Ailanthus altissima, also known as tree-of-heaven, a tree native to China and southeast Asia that got introduced to the U.S. in the 1700s.
In addition to being prolific and difficult to remove once it takes root, tree-of-heaven is a host for spotted lanternflies, according to the park authority. The winged pests secrete a honeydew substance that can attract other insects like wasps and ants and spur mold growth, ruining forests and crops.
Since a spotted lanternfly made its way to Fairfax County via a grocery store shipment in Annandale in 2021, the park authority has urged community members to kill the insects immediately.
According to the Jan. 4 news release, Blake Lane Park was chosen for the grant to the Fairfax County Park Foundation “due to the high density of Ailanthus altissima, and strong community volunteer support” for the FCPA’s Invasive Management Area program (IMA).
“Conservation and restoration of our parks and woodlands requires a communitywide effort and our Invasive Management Area program is a shining example of a community-forward approach to achieving those aims,” FCPA Resource Management Director Laura Grape said. “We are very grateful to Dominion Energy and to our community volunteers for their tremendous dedication to environmental stewardship and helping us make a lasting difference at Blake Lane Park.”
The grant went to the Fairfax County Park Foundation, which raises private funds and obtains grants for the park authority to supplement its public funding. The FCPA will match the grant to “provide long-term maintenance and community engagement” at Blake Lane Park, according to the release.
Located at 10033 Blake Lane, the 10-acre park features a forested trail, a dog park, two soccer fields and an open play area. It was targeted for development as a new elementary school, but resident opposition — and the realization that the Dunn Loring Center could be converted instead — nixed that plan.
The park is one of 65 sites in the IMA program, which recruits volunteers to help remove invasive plants and restore habitats. Program Manager Patricia Greenberg previously told FFXnow that 70 to 75% of the county’s parkland is covered by invasive species.
The park authority says the grant for Blake Lane Park will cover enough seedling purchases to plant 100 stems per acre.
“We know how important it is to care for our air, water, and land — including the wonderful parks in our communities,” Dominion Energy spokesperson Peggy Fox said. “We’re proud to support the Fairfax County Park Foundation with an education and stewardship grant to enhance our local parks.”