I got whiplash reading the Mount Vernon Gazette last week. On page 1, Supervisor Dan Storck commented, as a panelist at climate change forum, that he would “take immediate action” to protect “people, places, and property” in Mount Vernon from the effects of climate change. A few pages later, three letters to the editor opposed Mr. Storck’s proposal to fill in several acres of the Dogue Creek floodplain for a new luxury townhouse development.
In Mr. Storck’s panel statements he noted that Mount Vernon “contains many waterways and various industrial sites that combine to create unique risks and challenges,” and have also been subject to flooding and other environmental damage.
Doesn’t he realize that preserving adequate floodplains is one of the chief ways local officials can build resiliency to climate change?
Mount Vernon faces flooding risk not only from the Potomac River, but from increased rainfall and potential flooding in the many streams that run through it to the Potomac. All of these streams have been degraded and sometimes funneled into concrete channels by the mistaken management of the 1950s and 1960s. Their floodplains have been reduced and flooding already occurs in neighborhoods and streets in heavy rains (which will only get worse as warmer air holds more moisture and creates more frequent storms).
Dogue Creek, on whose banks George Washington built his gristmill and which enters the Potomac at Mt. Vernon Estate, has been especially abused and degraded over the years. On the property at 8800 Richmond Highway, where the fill is proposed, some of the floodplain was filled in and the flow of the creek was diverted into a C shape, which is now undercutting the bed of Richmond Highway. County planners say the creek should be restored to its original creek bed and managed to ensure flood protection and wildlife connectivity from Huntley Meadows to the Potomac.
Mr. Storck is strongly backing a luxury townhouse proposal that the property owners and their agents pushed through the Mt. Vernon Council of Civic Associations. This project does not have the support of the whole community. Just this week a downstream civic association passed a resolution against the townhouse development and the Planning Commission now has more letters against the plan than for it.
It is time to stop this 1950s style of floodplain development. Now that we are beginning to see the effects of climate change, we need to adhere to even stricter codes of development around streams to protect residents from loss. The best way to prevent flooding is to engage natural buffers to absorb the water.
Mr. Storck could get support from the Audubon Naturalist Society, the Smarter Growth Coalition, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Friends of Little Hunting Creek and Accotink Creek — as well as the Fairfax County planning department staff — all of whom oppose filling the floodplain for townhouse development.
If Mr. Storck really wants to protect the people, places, and property of Mount Vernon, he will drop his support for building townhouses in a floodplain and promote restoration of our creeks so that floodwaters can be absorbed naturally by buffering wetlands.