Alexandria Letter: Improve Notification

Alexandria Letter: Improve Notification

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Monticello Park is renowned for its great diversity of migrating warblers and is possibly the best place to see them and other neo-tropical migrant songbirds in the entire metropolitan area. How to manage, and even whether to manage, a natural place that continues to be so attractive to birds, despite the presence of many exotic plants, is not something that should be decided by a single city employee.

Thanks to Shirley Ruhe’s story, the community now knows that for the first time a highly controversial chemical herbicide has been used at Monticello Park and the project was carried out with no input from the neighborhood or the greater birding community. There was no advance notice. The active chemical, glyphosate, was declared by the World Health Organization to be a “probable carcinogen” last March, but it was used in our public park to kill English ivy and wintercreeper. A sign was posted at the park entrance on the day the spraying actually began but was vague on what was to be done, suggested people use an alternate route through the park implying some unidentified danger, and provided no name or phone number to call for information. It wasn’t even clear that it was a city-sponsored project. I later learned that Rod Simmons, natural resource specialist for the city, was responsible for this operation.

When a single volunteer under Mr. Simmons’ off-site supervision began killing honeysuckle and other exotic plants in the park in 2008, a resulting uproar from birders caused Mr. Simmons to call off the activity. When the dust settled, Mr. Simmons wrote in an email to me, with CCs to officials in the Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities Department, on Nov. 14, 2008: “And before conducting any large-scale invasive exotic plant removal work in the park, we would detail and make known such efforts well in advance, probably on the kiosk bulletin board, as well as other ways."

This written commitment to make known such plans for the park well in advance was broken. Mr. Simmons was quoted in the article as saying that public notification is not required, but “it is more of a policy because we care about community involvement.” However, prior notification with an opportunity for interested users of the park to voice objections might have delayed or even cancelled the operation, and this is probably the reason no notification was given. Unless mandatory notification and procedures for public comment are in place, citizens will likely continue to be kept in the dark until it’s too late for them to be involved.

What happened at Monticello Park is not acceptable in a city that has pledged itself to transparency and community involvement. The city manager should review the operations of the Office of the Natural Resource Specialist.

Paula Sullivan