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Column: West Montgomery County Citizens Association

WMCCA Meeting On Tree Canopy

The West Montgomery County Citizens Association will meet at the Potomac Community Center on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7:15 p.m. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.

The speakers will be Stan Edwards, chief, Division of Environmental Policy and Compliance, and Laura Miller, forest conservation coordinator, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.

The County Executive introduced Bill 35-12 (Tree Canopy Conservation) in late November 2012, and the bill is now moving through the legislative process at the County Council. A public hearing was held Jan. 17 and the Transportation and Environment Committee has held one work session Jan. 28, with another one scheduled for Feb. 25. The speakers will use a 30-minute power point presentation to explain how Bill 35-12 will work, who will be affected and why it is needed. As always, the public is welcome to attend.

Understanding Why Trees Matter

By Shawn Justement, By Shawn Justement

There are many reasons that we should look to protect trees — trees add value to properties, reduce energy costs and control stormwater runoff, all while cleaning the air we breathe and the water we drink. Trees have the psychological and social benefits by improving the quality of life in communities and providing recreational areas.

In Montgomery County we have a Forest Conservation Law that protects forest on larger tracts of land, but there is little to address the protection of roadway trees or trees on smaller properties, and particularly to discourage the common practice of clearing trees from small lots during redevelopment. Two bills now before the County Council will help protect the urban tree canopy. One bill (Bill 35-12) addresses trees on smaller tracts of land and another (Bill 41-12) covers street and roadside trees located in the right-of-way.

Trees have a tangible economic value. Mature trees can add 15 to 20 percent to the value of a home, and a single mature tree can be worth from $1,000 to $10,000. Trees that shade in the summer and block winds in the winter can reduce air conditioning costs by 30 percent and heating costs by eight percent.

The environmental impact of trees is substantial. One acre of forest sequesters six tons of carbon dioxide and releases four tons of oxygen. A single tree can filter out 60 pounds of pollutants in a year, and a mature tree can absorb 760 gallons of rainwater, thus reducing storm water runoff. Trees prevent sediment and chemicals from washing into streams and the Chesapeake Bay. They reduce flooding, recharge the aquifer and improve water quality. And more trees reduce the need for construction of artificial storm water management infrastructure.

The Forest Conservation Law covers tracts land of an acre or more, and was written to address protection of forest stands on large lots. Currently the county has no protection for trees on smaller lots or for roadside trees. The urban canopy is an important part of the overall tree canopy in Montgomery County. With the increase of infill development and PEPCO’s drastic tree cutting, it is important to protect the remaining urban canopy. Bill 35-12, covering smaller properties, and Bill 41-12, covering street and roadway trees, are designed fill in where the Forest Conservation Law leaves off. It is important to note that these bills will not prevent any development or remodeling of a property. Instead, the goal is to provide incentive to preserve trees where possible and to provide funds to replant trees when removal is necessary.

The urban canopy provides many benefits to communities. Any home, road, sidewalk or parking lot is much more pleasant when shaded by trees, and communities with a mature tree canopy can be as much as 11 degrees cooler in the summer than communities without trees. We need to act to protect existing trees and replant new trees to replace ones removed to prevent a continuing net loss of tree canopy in Montgomery County.

ARTIFICIAL TURF

By Carol Van Dam Falk

There is a move afoot in Montgomery and Fairfax Counties to install an artificial turf stadium field at each high school and other complexes in the two counties, despite disturbing potential health and environmental risks noted by scientists and researchers. And in Prince George’s County, one lawmaker has introduced legislation mandating that all Prince George’s high schools have artificial turf by 2015. There have been no long-term studies performed on the potential environmental or health risks associated with artificial turf fields, yet one Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) staffer who advocates the conversion of all county high school natural grass fields into artificial turf recently deemed all such fields safe. Now his testimony, without the backing of any research, is being quoted by other school districts nationwide in support of artificial turf.

The MCPS Board of Education recently approved Wootton High School as the latest candidate for an artificial turf field, at a cost of $1.1 million. The WHS Booster Club submitted a letter of commitment to raise and contribute $200,000 toward the installation of its field. During the Wootton High School Back to School Night, the principal promoted the artificial turf field over the school’s public address system, beckoning all parents to make a contribution toward the field’s cost at the nearest Booster Club table, insisting the money was “urgently needed.”

A local group, the Safe, Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, is working to counter this rush to artificial turf. The coalition believes we need more accurate and science-based assessment of the true health risks of the exposure of young players to such fields’ small particulate and off-gassed chemical compounds, along with toxicity assessment of field runnoff. The coalition is working with a Maryland state senator to introduce a bill to the Maryland Senate Committee on the Environment that would ban any Open-Space Funds or other public funds from being used to purchase or install synthetic fields, or to replace existing ones every eight to 10 years.

The coalition, with the help of WMCCA and other like-minded organizations such as the Sierra Club, is calling for: 1) Placing an immediate moratorium on outdoor artificial turf installations; 2) Ending the use of tire crumb on both on-order and existing artificial turf fields; 3) Identifying and using safe, healthy and less expensive infill alternatives to tire crumb; 4) Promoting high-quality natural surface fields built with best practices including pre-installation below-ground drainage and soil engineering.

BRICKYARD ROAD SCHOOL SITE UPDATE

By Curt Uhre

A hearing is scheduled Feb. 8 in Montgomery County Circuit Court to hear argument on the appeal of the Board of Education Brickyard school site lease to Montgomery County.

GLEN HILLS AREA SEWER STUDY UPDATE

By Susanne Lee

After citizen pushback, the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cancelled both the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) and the General Public Meetings that had been previously scheduled for January. DEP promises a CAC meeting towards the end of February, with time in advance of this meeting for the CAC members’ review of the draft Phase 2 report and the revised Phase 1 report, and a public meeting the third week in March.