Sunday, July 26, 2009

Agriculture, Environment and Open Space Co-exist in the County – For Now

By Sharon Dooley.

This is the weekend of the Montgomery County Farm Tour and Harvest Sale. Several farms are open for tours, produce picking, sales or demonstrations. Take advantage of the opportunity to visit working farms and orchards and further the efforts of the buy local experiences. Yesterday one of the sites I visited was Butlers Orchards near Germantown. There one can find field fruits for picking such as blackberries or just picked vegetables from the fields for sale in the farm stand. Families unloaded from cars and children hurried to pick their choice of fruit. Let’s all hope that our elected and appointed officials ensure that this experience continues for residents of our county.

To get to this farm one must wander through a tucked away and beautiful area along truly rustic roads that traverse dense forests following meandering waterways with the occasional one lane bridge spanning the streams. Here, only moments from 270 and 355, the din from those bustling roads is not evident as the dominant sounds are those of birds, flowing waters and rustling branches. A youngster was spotting hopping across rocks in one stream as the sun glistened through the trees and the waters sparkled. Occasionally a meadow or farm field is spotted up from the narrow lanes that join the routes sometimes-steep inclines, where trees line the edge of the shoulder less roads. These roads have descriptive names such as Wild Cat or Davis Mill and all are urged to explore these quiet places while we can. Unfortunately, also noted, was a small cluster of luxury homes being built along Davis Mill – how long will it be before these homeowners will demand wider roads and straighter exits from their wooded hide-a-ways? How inappropriately sited this development seemed.

Yet, I was reminded that some of this forested area is being considered for yet another highway – one that would carry the traffic from the mid-county highway (soon to be linked to the ICC) from its current terminus in Montgomery Village up through the Brink Road areas to near Clarksburg. It would go again through stream valleys and Seneca Park, while some routes would continue this passage through some of the virgin forests just described. Areas in the Dayspring retreat center, where meadow habitats and lively flowing waters are now protected, would be threatened with destruction. The county has placed signs at spots along Blount Road and other places noting the potential for this highway. Some potential routes would cross waterways in a dozen or more areas and would change the natural resources, degrade water quality and destroy plant and animal life in large measures. This is not stewardship of the environment – a phrase too often tossed around in political circles these days, but given lip service frequently.

Recently I was among those requesting that the Maryland National Capitol Parks and Planning Board delay planned construction in the western area of Clarksburg near 270 because of the potential damage to the Seneca Creek watershed generally (because of impervious surface runoff among other concerns) and the Ten Mile Creek area specifically. Ten Mile Creek – to those of you who are down county – is an actual ford – where the stream waters are often flowing over the road surface. The testimony from Diane Cameron of Storm water partners can be read here and is representative of comments submitted.

The decision was taken to indeed delay this construction; environmentalists throughout the area applauded this action.

The county has spent millions of dollars to restore and reclaim some of our down county creeks and waterways, so it is a real positive note to see that the planning board took this proactive stand. Now – it is hoped that the council will continue to approve this delay despite demands by builders to the contrary. However we cannot just stop there and applaud; the community must remain vigilant and stop allowing channeling of streams as has happened with negative effects in Clarksburg already along with other sensitive areas in the county. Affected communities need to question claims that this actually protects the streams. It has been demonstrated many times that the straight stream is not the most effective way to direct water flow.

In previous County Council testimony, contractors have noted that they are not always following the county water standards. Recent storms have sent mud and water flowing out from the construction sites along the ICC. Large tracts along the path of this monster highway have been cleared and are now clear-cut with no remaining undergrowth to hold storm waters. A recent article in the Washington Post noted the huge culverts and massive bridges that are being built over sensitive areas of the upper Rock Creek and Lake Need wood Park areas. The environment was supposedly protected with a runway for deer and other small animals. These structures were created which keep the traffic flow above the natural beauty below - supposedly minimizing the negative effects of this three Billion dollar highway. How much nicer could it have been if these natural areas had not been disturbed at all?

Now back to the Farms and the upper county areas of beauty and quiet reflection. Is there will in this county to keep these forests, vistas, and farms and nearby crops? Is there a critical mass of those who would speak up for protecting what we have and keeping the Buy Local movement alive? Are the powers of those who would work to build highways at the cost of life quality and protection of the environment and our heritage greater than those who would protect our current choices for moderate growth? This question gives the county a clear choice and whatever choice is made can provide a critical tipping point for county residents, not just for ensuing decades but also maybe for the entire metro area. Can we – should we ever have to – sustain our growth and provide for food, energy, education, employment, transit and shelter for those who will live here?