OP-ED: The 50 stump solution

IMAGE: Most of these trees are scheduled to be clear-cut. April 2016 photo by Bill Brown.


In the April 29, 2016, edition of the Takoma Voice I wrote of a proposed WSSC water and sewer project in the Little Eastern Avenue neighborhood that has had three different WSSC project managers—who with different consulting engineering firms, arrived at several different solutions. The latest solution was projected to result in clear-cutting 25 neighborhood trees. I called it the WSSC horror show.

A poo problem

You see, the Takoma Park neighborhood of Little Eastern has a poo problem. Older sewer pipes dating from the 1930s are located in the backyards of private property owners on Little Eastern Ave. and many of the pipes are broken … but the system is still in use.

WSSC staff has warned of an environmental disaster unless the sewer lines are replaced as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the current WSSC plan proposes to replace one environmental disaster with another. It is “the WSSC 50 Tree Solution.”

The current WSSC plan that project managers are pushing (known as “the backyard option”) will impact trees in the front yard and the back yards in the Little Eastern neighborhood. WSSC plans to install new water lines in the street at the front of homes and install sewer lines on private property in the back yards of homeowners.

Mayor Stewart promotes education and democracy

The saving grace over the summer has been the efforts of Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart to establish a good working relationship with WSSC General Manager Carla Reid and WSSC Deputy General Manager Monica Johnson. Mayor Stewart arranged for onsite walks around with Westmoreland property owners and both elected and appointed officials. She also negotiated arrangements with WSSC for a meeting of Westmoreland and Eastern Aves. property owners with WSSC project, held on July 26 (you can view the meeting here).

On July 25 meeting WSSC Project Manager Crystal Wheaden sent an email ONLY to Little Eastern homeowners encouraging them to show up the next day at the meeting to support the backyard option. When this email was brought to the mayor’s attention, she notified WSSC of the inappropriate message. Mayor Stewart was not having any of—pitting one neighborhood against another is not acceptable.


Westmoreland/Little Eastern backyard trees. April 2016 photo by Bill Brown.

At the July 26 meeting WSSC presented the backyard sewer line option as the only thing on the table. Homeowners would be paid for a 20-foot wide easement (and likely for the value of the trees on each affected property). WSSC would also pay for removal of trees as well as cover the removal costs and pay replacement value for additional items currently located in homeowners backyards that are in the path of the proposed sewer line.

Fifty trees—not the 25 trees originally projected by the neighborhood—would likely be taken out. Some trees would come out of the front yards from the water line construction but most of the tree impact would come from backyards where the sewer line would be constructed on private property.

Questions remain

The July 26 presentation failed to address the following questions:

What is the cost of TWO construction projects in the Little Eastern neighborhood—the new water lines in the front yards and the sewer line in the back yards?

How do two construction projects compare with the cost of one construction project—a front yard gravity option for BOTH the water and sewer lines in the road bed (and removing the need for grinder pumps)? Where is the data that doing one project in the public right of way is not possible?

How does the cost of construction under the backyard option look when you add in the additional WSSC costs to pay for easements, pay each homeowner the value of their trees being removed, pay for tree removal, and removal of other items in the expected easement area including a garage, garden, stone wall and pond?

What would be the anticipated hydrology changes in storm water runoff if 50 trees were removed? How would that impact the folks at a lower elevation on Westmoreland with runoff coming off the Little Eastern backyards that no longer had trees to absorb or slow down the storm water flow?

What about the aquifer on Westmoreland Avenue? What would hydrology changes do to the current underground aquifer/spring that requires one homeowner on Westmoreland to have a sump pump that removes 200 gallons of water an hour from her property?


April, 2016 photo by Bill Brown.

Upon hearing citizen comments about storm water and water table concerns at the July 26th meeting, WSSC Project Manager Crystal Wheaden committed to conducting a hydrology study prior to making final decisions about the project.

This commitment was made even though easement assessments for the back yard option are still being developed and given to property owners for their review. Clearly the bias is in favor of full-speed-ahead on the backyard sewer alignment. Are WSSC, county and city officials open to hydrology science results? Or are they of the Trump not-believing-in-science camp, with hydrology results “malleable” to a predetermined end?

Takoma Park: Speak for the trees

The stunner of the July 26 meeting was the announcement by WSSC Project Manager Crystal Wheaden that the final decision on the project would likely be made at the level of the WSSC general manager’s office.

Takoma Park you know what this means. This will likely be a decision shaped by the politics of personal relationships between your elected officials and the WSSC general manager’s office. Keep those calls and letters coming to your elected officials encouraging them to find a solution that deals with the poo as well as limiting the tree impact.

Demand the results of a hydrology study. Ask for a storm water study. Ask to see the project cost estimates that compare the back yard option with an all-front yard gravity-fed option for water AND Sewer lines. (This will likely be cheaper than paying homeowners for the value of their trees, paying the cost of tree removal, paying for new tree plantings, paying for garage removal, garden removal, pond removal, etc.)

We live in a time when people are aware of the interconnectedness of all life on our planet. Making smart and reasonable choices are the ethos and moral core of this progressive city. This is a unique and complex infrastructure situation that calls for creativity and modern problem solving techniques rather than “old school” construction methods.

The fate of at least 50 trees—an urban forest—hang in the balance along with the potential for property damage from storm water runoff, negative impact on habitat, climate and air quality that goes well beyond several city blocks.

Mayor Stewart, you have done well so far. Take it on home in your discussions with WSSC.

DISCLOSURE: Takoma Voice Managing Editor Bill Brown’s property is in the neighborhood affected by this issue, and he is involved in the effort to save the trees. He did not solicit this op-ed piece, nor did he assist in the writing or editing. He did provide the photos.

1 Comment on "OP-ED: The 50 stump solution"

  1. “nor did he assist in the writing or editing” – well, that explains certain things.

    The atavistic tree worship in Takoma Park is bizarre. Your neighborhood is polluting the area with discharge of raw sewage, but you’re concerned about 50 trees that can easily be replaced?

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