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McLean Planning Committee Rejects Piping

Landowner wants to put stream underground, in defiance of Chesapeake Bay regulations.

McLean residents have rejected a landowner's plan to pipe a stream before tougher environmental laws kick in. On Dec. 18, the McLean Planning Committee passed a resolution opposing the plan which would have piped a small tributary of Pimmit Run that meanders through an undeveloped lot at the corner of Chain Bridge Road and Davidson Road. The landowner, Jim Wheeler, has also asked the county to let him put in the pipe. County staff is reviewing his application.

Wheeler told the committee at a Dec. 12 meeting that he wanted to pipe the stream called Saucy Run as quickly as possible before the county formally adopts the state's new set of Chesapeake Bay regulations in March. The new rules would set up a 100-foot protective buffer around the stream if it runs all year.

"This is just a case where a developer is trying to get around the Chesapeake Bay regulations," said Bob Young, a member of the committee.

THE RULES STATE that if a stream is perennial, it is entitled to a 100-foot Resource Protection Area (RPA) on either side. While the county will formally adopt the ordinance next March, the state regulations have been in effect since March 2002. This means that if the stream is perennial, nothing can be built for 100 feet on either side of it.

The question then hinges on whether the stream is perennial or not. County scientists have not yet ascertained which of the county's streams are perennial and which are intermittent. Environmentalists from the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services are in the process of mapping all the streams in Fairfax County to find which are perennial according to a definition the county has agreed on

But the map will not be completed until late spring or early summer, several months after the county is set to adopt the new ordinance on March 1. Until then, landowners such as McLean's Wheeler, who want to build near a stream, will have to hire consultants to determine whether a stream is perennial. The consultants determination will have to be approved by county staff.

"IF THIS STREAM is not perennial the whole thing would be moot," said Maya Huber, another member of the McLean committee. Wheeler said he had hired a consultant to examine Saucy Branch but the committee has never seen the consultant's report, according to Huber. Wheeler did not attend the Dec. 18 meeting. Neither did his business partner, developer Jim Ballard or his attorney, Keith Martin, of Walsh Colucci. Martin did not return phone calls for comment.

But Michael Rolband, a consultant with Wetlands Studies and Solutions who helps landowners deal with the Chesapeake Bay regulations, criticized the county's position of enforcing the new rules before all the streams have been mapped.

"You shouldn't regulate a resource that you haven't figured out how to define accurately," he said. "That just doesn't sound right as public policy," he said.

Until 2001, Rolband was a member of the state board charged with drafting the Chesapeake Bay regulations. On Jan. 15, he and Martin will present testimony on the issue at the Fairfax County Planning Commission's public hearing.

But Huber said Wheeler's site plan would try to "outflank" the environmental laws.

"We asked Fairfax County's Department of Public Works not to approve the submitted site plan because it attempts to go around the existing and future Fairfax County ordinances," she said.

Steve Dryden, a board member of the nonprofit Fairfax Trails and Streams, told the committee that Pimmit Run, where Saucy Branch ends, is already "one of the most degraded streams in Fairfax County."

"You have a streambed that has been deteriorating," said Huber. "Putting more of it in a pipe would just add to that degradation."

If the Saucy Branch turns out to be perennial, Wheeler can still ask the county for a waiver to proceed with his piping. Rolband said it was unsure whether the county would grant him the waiver because so many of the new rules are still untested.