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Community Pond Suffers From Silt

Before the days of the Chesapeake Bay Act, storm-water drainage ponds and silt run-off concerns, the ponds in the Starlit Ponds community started as a water hazard in the Starlit Golf Course, then a centerpiece of the community. Now they are a problem that the 130-home community in Fairfax is trying to resolve.

In 1991, a meeting was held with the Startlit Ponds Homeowners Association, Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), and environmental experts on the situation. Twelve years later, the problem still exists, and Bulova's office is still involved, trying to come up with a plan and funds that will leave all parties satisfied. A meeting at the pond on Aug. 18 will bring together all involved parties.

"Starlit Ponds is a beautiful little community that was developed at a time when the county didn't know as much about storm-water retention. It's been an ongoing problem over the years," Bulova said.

THE PONDS are located in a community off Pickett Road in Fairfax. The two ponds are now filled in, with a little stream trickling through the middle. Downstream lies "Area Landscaping," a gardening business and impromptu wildlife refuge in the middle of the suburban setting. While the ponds upstream are silting in, the run-off is settling in Area's pond, disrupting life for the fish and ducks that live there. Upstream from Starlit, there is the Woodson Downs housing development going in.

Area Landscape general manager Richard Barfield saw progress initially with the community efforts, but that has stopped.

"The pond has silted in over the years. We have complained because they made such a mess back there. Right now, it doesn't seem there's anything happening up there," Barfield said.

Barfield said his pond, which was once 6 or 7 feet deep, always had silt, but not to this extent.

"You could just watch the mud flow into our pond," he said.

The community hired Watershed Services, which began a dredging operation until the county ordered it stopped. Homeowners association president Karl Schwartz would like things explained a little better by the county.

"The county doesn't make clear statements as to what's required," he said, noting that the term "conservation plan" on the stop-work order, and the term "rough grading plan," which the engineers used, mean the same thing. Schwartz feels that defining what needs to be done would be a start.

"I was told they were the same thing," Schwartz said.

THE MATTER could have been resolved back in 1991 if the community decided to convert the ponds from wet ponds, which is their current classification, to dry ponds, which are maintained by the county. The wet-pond status would mean the ponds would still retain water and be a recreation spot in the community. If they were converted to dry ponds, all the water would be allowed to run out, and they would be storm-water retention areas.

Fairfax County engineer Assad Ayoubi is familiar with the situation at Starlit. He noted a lack of upkeep through the years added to the situation.

"I believe those ponds are 40 or 50 years old. It requires routine maintenance. Apparently they did not do the maintenance for a long time," Ayoubi said.

In July 2003, Bulova presented the issue to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, requesting $300,000 "or any other amount of money that could be applied to the cost of improving and maintaining the Startlit Ponds ponds," as stated in the letter, but she encountered opposition.

"Finding money to help them with the dredging has been next to impossible," Bulova said.

She also inquired at the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center and asked about federal funds through U.S. Rep. Tom Davis' (R-11) office but was unsuccessful there as well.

On Aug. 18, the county engineers and the engineers from Watershed Services will meet with Bulova's office and Starlit Ponds to see what needs to be done next.

"The meeting on the 18th will deal with the stop-work order," Schwartz said.

On Aug. 21, there is another meeting scheduled to work out the details with the Woodson Downs plans, and the treatment of silt run-off from that project.