Notes From Lake Accotink Community Meeting – February 13, 2018

Lake Accotink Community Meeting – 13 February 2018 at Lake Braddock Senior HS

On 13 Feb 2018, Supervisor John Cook (Braddock District) and Jeff McKay (Lee District) co-hosted a community forum to discuss options for Lake Accotink which is filling with sediment from runoff water upstream and will disappear as a lake in 2025 if no action is taken. The future of Lake Accotink is part of a broader Fairfax County Park Authority Master Plan Review of Lake Accotink Park. In 2014, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors allocated funds to the Park Authority to study and evaluate how best to deal with the perpetual problem of sediment from upstream flowing into Lake Accotink. Over 100 people attended this nearly two-hour meeting.  Representatives from Save the Lake and Friends of Lake Accotink Creek and Friends of Lake Accotink Park were in attendance. Six community meetings have been held on this issue since May 2016.

Supervisor’s Cook and McKay held the community meeting to engage the public about the Park Authority’s proposed lake management options and to solicit feedback from impacted communities.  No decisions were made at this meeting. Options under consideration are posted on the Lake Accotink Park Master Plan Revision project webpage at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/planning-development/lakeaccotink. A survey for public comment about the future of the lake has been extended to 28 May 2018 to allow more residents to consider the options and share their thoughts before any decisions are made.

Supervisor McKay believes the future of Lake Accotink Park starts with what to do with the Lake.   He admitted he is emotionally attached to the lake as he visited it often as a child.   Both Supervisors noted that the county does not have funds to dredge the lake and options to save the lake either in its current form or as a smaller lake will likely become a capital expenditure in the form of a bond. Supervisors Cook and McKay noted it will take the political weight of the entire Board of Fairfax County Supervisors to save the lake which touches several magisterial districts.   Both Supervisors are interested in gathering public feedback to guide future decisions regarding the lake that will have county wide implications.

Supervisor Cook walked attendees through the six options under consideration by the Park Authority. He characterized two of the options as temporary making them less viable. The link listed above details the pros/cons and financial implications each option and also includes a side-by-side cost comparison.   In brief, the six options are:

  1. Do Nothing: the lake fills with silt and disappears in 7 years (2025). Cost is $13K annually to maintain the dam. The lake becomes a swamp.
  2. Status Quo: dredge the lake as needed on roughly 15-year intervals. Requires 35K truck trips to move 350,000 cubic yards of silt. This is a temporary fix as period between future dredges will shorten over time. Cost is $29M for dredge and $13K annually to maintain dam.
  3. Annual Dredging with Forebay: involves building a forebay to capture sediment. Requires 150,000 cubic yard dredge for forebay and 350,000 cubic yard dredge to deepen the lake. Requires 50K truck trips to move the silt. Preserves lake in current form for ~35 years. Total cost is $45M in additional to $750K to dredge forebay every 1-2 years.   By comparison cost to renovate an elementary school is $30-35M.   Retains recreational value of lake.
  4. Install Upstream “Beaver Dams”: install a series of sheet pile walls (beaver dams) to capture sediment before it gets into the lake.   Dams are likely to fill up in 5 years. This is a temporary fix and has been eliminated as a viable option.
  5. Single Channel with Reclaimed Land: takes down dam and restores stream.   Will result in a stream and forest where current lake exists. Eliminates the recreational value of the lake, but increases opportunities for trails and nature observes. Cost is $11M to eliminate dam and $26K annually to maintain vegetation.
  6. Single Channel with Smaller Lake: revises dam structure to sculpt sediment and establish a stream channel.   Results in smaller 20-acre lake (~half size of current lake). Cost is $13M and ongoing maintenance.   Some recreational value of lake is retained.

Supervisor Cook opened the floor for comments. Residents from the Crestwood, Ravensworth, Danbury Forest, Kings Park, Charlestown, and Orange Hunt neighborhoods asked questions and raised concerns. The voiced concerns fell into several categories:

  1. Transport of Silt.   Concerns were voiced about the impact of the thousands of trucks on neighborhood roads required to remove silt and resulting safety/noise implications.   There were calls for police to conduct random inspections to enforce safety/weight restrictions and ensure trucks were washed.   Crestwood residents expressed concern their neighborhood would feel brunt of truck traffic compared to other surrounding neighborhoods that benefit from the lake.  Supervisor McKay indicated he was looking at transport paths out of the park and admitted the impact on Highland Ave would be significant. He indicated if options C or F are pursued, many meetings would be held to discuss best methods for transport with goal of weighing impacts against benefits. He noted VDOT plans to pave every road in the Crestwood neighborhood this year. There were also questions asked about whether existing railroad track at Lake Accotink Park could be used to transport dredged silt. Supervisor Cook indicated that use of railroads is hard due to rules and fact that the tracks are privately owned and the county can’t force companies to allow use of tracks to transport silt.   The railroads are not interested in transporting silt at the expense of passenger trains.
  2. Cause of Silt.  Many attendees asked why sediment is increasing and expressed concern why the root of the problem is not being fully addressed.   The Supervisors responded that development over time has taken away available land for water to permeate into the ground increasing runoff and sediment build-up. A representative from Friends of Lake Accotink Creek noted human impact is a huge contributor to sediment and encouraged attendees to learn what they can do as individuals to protect the watershed.
  3. Dredge Mechanics.   There were questions about how the dredge would be conducted, how silt could be transported from the park, and where the silt could be dumped. There were questions about whether permanent infrastructure could be put in place at bottom of the lake to make future dredges easier. Supervisor Cook indicated that such permanent infrastructure would be cost prohibitive.
  4. Environmental Impacts. There were concerns voiced about impact of dredging on 4 eagle’s nests at the lake. There were also concerns about elimination of species and changes to habitats if the lake transitions to swamp, forest or green land. There were also concerns about the impact to the Chesapeake Bay if nothing is done as the silt will continue to move down stream and will potentially impact the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. The President of the Friends of Lake Accotink Creek voiced concern that fresh water muscles native to Lake Accotink be considered in any solution.
  5. Project Funding. There were questions about whether federal or state funding was available for dredging the lake or whether Lake Accotink could be considered a storm water management project.  The Supervisors responded that no federal/state funding was available and that Fairfax County would be forced fund any solution decided upon. The project does not qualify for storm water management funds. The leader of Save the Lake indicated the group is advocating for Option C as it is the only Option that goes forward with a bond referendum and the only way to get a fair vote is to put the measure on a bond referendum.
  6. Impact to Property Values. Supervisors Cook and McKay both described Lake Accotink as a gem and that was unique to Fairfax County.   Several attendees voiced concern that elimination of the lake could result in decrease surrounding property values and noted their opinion that this impact is not captured in the overall assessment.
  7. Impact on Recreational Facilities/Events at Lake. Many voiced concerns about the importance of the trails surrounding the lake for personal enjoyment and as used by local schools for athletic training. Some attendees asked for a comparison of recreational activities supported by the existing lake and a proposed smaller lake (Option F).
  8. Potential for Lake Redevelopment. There were concerns the Lake Accotink Park property would be sold and redeveloped into condos. The Supervisors reassured attendees the property will be retained by Fairfax County Park Authority and not redeveloped.
  9. Timing of Decision. There were concerns regarding the time horizon to make a decision on the final disposition of the lake. Supervisor Cook stated a decision should be made this calendar year. If the community wants to save the lake, he believes it is necessary to put a bond for funding on the 2019 ballot. There is already a park bond planned for 2020 and he does not want to wait to include Lake Accotink on this bond due to potential confusion of the two issues. Supervisor McKay stated more silt is accumulating every day. He wants to look at the decision from every angle but believes it will be necessary to work together with fellow Board of Supervisor members to devise a funding strategy. For these reasons, Supervisor McKay believes a decision is needed this year.
  10. Community Awareness.   Concerns were voiced that the Park Authority’s proposed lake management options has received insufficient publicity. One attendee noted there are no signs at the Lake to indicate discussions about the lake’s future are ongoing.   There was also a request to post notices about the lake’s future in multiple languages to provide greater transparency for those who live in adjacent neighborhoods.   A representative from the Park Authority agreed to put up signs at the park. The Save the Lake group is looking for volunteers to translate flyers into Spanish and other languages.
  11. Coordination Between VDOT and Park Authority.   There was concern that VDOT and the Park Authority coordinate with each other to ensure they are not working at cross purposes.

The meeting concluded with closing remarks from Supervisors Cook and McKay. They encouraged attendees to tell their neighbors about the ongoing Lake Accotink Park Master Plan Revision project. They encouraged attendees take the online survey described above and noted additional feedback could be provided to parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov. Supervisor Cook indicated he looks forward to hearing from the public as many good ideas for potential solutions have originated from feedback provided to date. Both supervisors noted that they are hoping for a community driven solution and it is important to get as man inputs now as it will be impossible to bring the lake back in 25 years. The Friends of Lake Accotink Park announced they plan to hold a community meeting at Richard Byrd Library on 22 March at 7:30pm.