Avenel Tries to Reassure Local Citizens

Avenel Tries to Reassure Local Citizens

Stream experts tell citizens that Avenel’s landscaping plans would benefit Rock Run Creek.

The Tournament Players Club at Avenel, an 18-hole championship golf course in Potomac, wants to overhaul its clubhouse and landscaping. But its plan to alter nearly 4,700 feet of Rock Run Creek has local residents demanding an explanation.

On Thursday, Oct. 12, a team of 10 representatives of Avenel – including the project manager, attorneys and public relations specialists for the golf course, as well as environmental experts – met with about 50 local residents from multiple citizens associations at the River Falls Community Center.

“We’re trying to give the golf course a major upgrade – it’s about 25-years-old and the course has become somewhat outdated,” said Rich Brogan, project manager at Avenel.

The golf course is partially located in the floodplain of Rock Run Creek, and flooding, stream bank erosion and sedimentation have posed problems. At the Booz Allen Classic earlier this year, the final round was pushed back two days because of wet conditions, the longest delay for a PGA tournament in more than 20 years.

AVENEL HAS ASKED the Planning Board for permission to make the following changes:

* Oversee a streambed restoration project on 4,663 feet of Rock Run.

* Construct 23,800 square feet of additional stormwater runoff pond, and an 850-foot creek channel for stormwater management.

* Fix flooding problems on six of the holes.

* Upgrade the irrigation system.

* Rebuild all the greens and reconfigure the holes.

* Construct a 39,000 square foot clubhouse.

* Increase full-time employees from 50 to 80.

Avenel is still early in the application process to modify the original site plan and receive permits from the county and state.

A Board of Appeals hearing was scheduled for Friday, Oct. 13, but the hearing examiner postponed the hearing until Monday, Nov. 6, in order to give Avenel more time “to continue ongoing discussions with community members and civic associations.”

THE PROPOSAL to alter Rock Run creek stirred up the most concern among local residents, but Brogan sought to assure them that Avenel will protect the environment during the changes.

“We could have gone and armored,” or paved over, the golf course, he said. “Instead, we went the unique path of involving land studies to help us do the right thing here.”

Bob Walter, a professor in geology and geochemistry at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., helped develop the land studies for Rock Run. He researches humans’ post-Colonial impact on streams on the East Coast.

“What did Rock Run look like when the settlers arrived?” asked Walter.

“You don’t have to go back to the settlers, you can go back 15 or 20 years,” replied audience member Ginny Fowler, who lives on Horseshoe Lane. “The banks were nowhere near as steep, they didn’t have roots collapsing, and there wasn’t half as much flooding.”

Walter acknowledged that the streams had changed significantly in the last few decades, but he told the audience that humans’ negative impact on streams began much earlier. By the 1800s, Americans had built mill dams at streams across the country, leading to massive soil erosion.

BY DIGGING UP “legacy sediment” deep in the soil, Walter and his colleagues can locate the natural bedrock that supported streams before humans intervened.

“[Rock Run] was as heavily impacted and manipulated as any stream we looked at,” said Walter. “It was basically overturned.”

Avenel also had water resource engineer Ward Oberholtzer speak to the audience. He is from LandStudies, Inc., an environmental restoration and planning firm based in Lititz, PA.

“A [stream] system that has lost its core, gravel sediment will tend to laterally migrate, so you end up with overhanging roots and streams collapsing,” he said. “Our objective is to try to go in and get a more natural floodplain at a lower elevation…. We’re trying to find a bed that the stream can sit on.”

Oberholtzer said that by cutting some of the floodplain down to its historic base sediment and replanting vegetation, Rock Run will experience less flooding, less erosion and more slowly moving waters.

Steve Kaufman, an attorney for Avenel, said that the environmental engineering plans Avenel is proposing could become a model for other stream improvement efforts in the area.

“This may be a prototype for treating streams in the county that have eroded,” he said.

CHUCK DORAN, president of the Brickyard Citizens Association who convened the meeting, was initially wary of the presenters’ claims.

“Putting down vegetation is a good idea, but it seems to me, you’re basically straightening and widening [the stream],” he said. “I see that water won’t go on the golf course, but I’m not convinced that water will not [flood] downstream.”

However, Doran said that by the end of the meeting, data that Oberholtzer presented about similar projects by LandStudies, Inc. – such as New Street Ecological Park in Lancaster County, Penn. – convinced him to cautiously support Avenel’s planned environmental engineering, as long as it is closely monitored. Doran also learned that the environmental engineers would retain curves in the stream to better simulate its natural course and slow water movement.

“At first, the discussion of the history of geological change and of recent change in the last 100 years… looked like a justification for doing anything [they] want to Rock Run,” he said. “But then we saw that they were trying to restore a section that was terribly badly eroded in a way that simulates the original marshes and grasses through which the stream flowed.”

Doran said he contacted Gordon Wolman, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s department of geography and environmental engineering who is an expert on streams. Doran said that Wolman “basically supported the fact that this kind of an approach needs to be tried because the alternatives are worse.”

Ginny Fowler also said that the meeting – particularly the presentations by Walter and Oberholtzer – helped allay her fears somewhat, though she remains wary. She said it was unfortunate that the monthly meeting of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, which she called “an environmental watchdog group,” was held at the same time as the community meeting with Avenel.

“I would have been much happier had this meeting been held months or at least weeks before the [originally scheduled Oct. 13] hearing,” she said. “Whenever you have a time crunch like that, it looks suspicious.”

Nonetheless, Fowler is willing to entertain the possibility that Avenel’s proposal may be in the best interest of the environment.

“I think we need to do our own analysis of what’s good for the creek. That said, I was impressed by the presentation, and it looked like it could be a good thing,” she said. “It might be that allowing Avenel to do this is a way to save the creek.”