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Sharon Boies: There’s nothing environmentally friendly about stream ‘restorations’ in Columbia | COMMENTARY

It’s disappointing to learn the Columbia Association’s watershed manager, John McCoy, is in the preliminary stages of a stream “restoration” at Lake Elkhorn after what happened in the Longfellow and Town Center neighborhoods.

Longfellow had one in-person meeting in 2018 about a stream “restoration” that occurred last fall and winter.

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Ecotone, the company hired by the Maryland State Highway Administration, was granted a waiver exempting them from certain requirements of the Forest Conservation Act. They logged over 9 acres of mature woodland and wetland forests in three stream corridors. Some considered the forest in Longfellow to be a bird and wildlife sanctuary. It was quite special, and now it’s gone.

These forests had been intentionally preserved for decades prior to McCoy’s employment for the betterment of everyone, per Columbia founder Jim Rouse.

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Ecotone removed the sellable logs and left the stumps, branches and undesirable logs behind in two of the areas. It looked like a natural disaster. Three months of calls and letters complaining went unheard. If a tornado had caused it, it wouldn’t have been left like that. Finally a call to the SHA prompted Ecotone to come and spend nine days chipping debris.

They scraped away and removed the fertile creek banks, dug up the stream channel, and killed as much aquatic and wildlife as they wanted to. They connected with the iron-rich groundwater, causing a fluffy, orange bloom called iron flocculate that initially killed all the remaining aquatic life in all three streams. It’s a process that can repeat itself, affecting stream biology for an undetermined amount of time. The iron flocculate smelled like sulfur.

Instead of individual banks, they “restored” every foot of stream to add value and Total Maximum Daily Load credits to the project.

They lined the streams with dark gray stone. These stones act like solar heaters sitting in the exposed stream, raising the water temperature. I was told they used these riprap stones instead of native stones because it was cheaper.

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A few people earned more money on a decision that looks terrible and will permanently affect the stream biology and planet forever. They left their trash behind, including plastic baling twine next to the stream. The heritage species of trees, several feet across in diameter, were replaced with trees 1 inch in diameter or less. One species, the silver maple, is among the most overplanted in Maryland.

They’re planted in clay and rock in the baking sun with no one watering them. The clay has pockets that hold rainwater filled with countless mosquito larvae.

The mature forest flora like trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit and bloodroot were replaced with grass.

Our stream had everything but trout. Now it has difficulty sustaining any life, including insect larvae.

The CA was solicited by Ecotone with the hypothetical potential for a 30% reduction in silt and sediment entering Wilde Lake. Wilde Lake is the human-made catch pond for our neighborhood. The developers knew there would come a time when it would require periodic dredging, just like Lake Elkhorn. Fifty years later, here we are. It’s not that the lakes won’t need to be dredged anymore; the hope is not as often.

Ecotone was paid $2.2 million for the project by the state.

The residents and existing wildlife were left with an unrecognizable, biologically impaired, riprap lined, smelly storm ditch in a logged forest that’s missing entire species of flora and fauna.

Homes that were built looking into mature forests now look into each other with exposure to sun and wind.

There was nothing restorative, green or environmentally friendly about our “restoration.” The carbon footprint from the logging, topsoil removal and loss of carbon filtering trees is incalculable.

During this time of climate change and species die-off, why would the CA think removing four layers of cooling forest canopy was the right thing to do? This is the opposite of what the scientific community says we should be doing as a planet.

This is the antithesis of Columbia. We could have stopped Longfellow’s “restoration,” but we thought we were doing the right thing for Wilde Lake and the Chesapeake Bay. We trusted the CA. I feel sucker punched. I’m no longer comfortable with someone who doesn’t live here and doesn’t have the same feelings and connections to our forests and streams as the residents do making permanently damaging and devastating decisions for us.

The tide is turning on stream restorations; the environmental community is beginning to see the trade-offs have not been worth the losses. Instead of Columbia leading the way, we were taken backward.

If Longfellow and Town Center had been given the option, $2.2 million could have bought a rain barrel and rain garden for every home. There may have been money left over for pervious pavement grants. This would have been more effective at reducing stormwater runoff then removing mature forests.

I’m saddened Columbia has completely lost its way. I miss old Columbia. I could still find and feel the original Columbia on my daily walks until one man’s signature.

There’s a plaque on a park bench at Wilde Lake that says: “Beauty is free if you really plan to respect both the land and man,” Jim Rouse, 1965.

This was the most disrespectful thing the CA has done to date. The citizens, land, streams and wildlife were written off, ripped off and disregarded.

Don’t be fooled again, Columbia. Pay attention. It’s our homeowners’ fees that pay for everything, including salaries. The CA works for us. I hope the new CA president, Lakey Boyd, will be able to help Columbia find its way back. I wish her all the best.

The writer is a Columbia resident who lives in the Longfellow neighborhood.

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