Judy Waby and many of her neighbors on Ladd Road in Morningside, Md., say they'll fight to save trees that are threatened by a storm sewer and flood relief project.
The tall trees lining their property are a visual and auditory buffer between Ladd Road homes and the Suitland Parkway, said Waby and other Ladd Road residents. In addition, the thick underbrush helps keep out intruders and the woods are a haven for wildlife, Waby said.
The neighborhood is on the warpath because the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission wants to cut down 2,997 of the trees to make way for the combined sewer and flood control construction. The group met agency officials head on last week when the WSSC and the Maryland Water Resources Administration held a public hearing on the project.
The neighborhood group has been working since December to produce alternative routes around the forested area behind their houses. At the meeting, most supported a "cross-stream" route that would put the sewer line in National Park Service property.
"An application for a waterway permit for the project may be denied if it proves detrimental to the general public interest," Waby quoted Maryland law as saying. "Why should we give up 2,997 trees for sewer construction for future development upstream . . . for a public that does not now exist?"
The Henson Creek Relief Sewer project was designed by the WSSC to prevent "potential health hazards in surcharge conditions," and also "to serve future growth needs in the Henson Creek Basin." In addition, the WSSC wants to build a flood control project within the sewer system for the Morninghside residents whose property abuts the creek.
The dual nature of the public hearing brought both Ladd Road residents who want to save their trees and other Morningside residents who are flooded during heavy or sudden rainstorms and want the flood control.
Many of the Morningside residents thought the Ladd Road group was holding up their flood control because of protests over the new sewer line.
Rita Beale of Pine Grove Road carried her sleeping child to the podium. "A drainage ditch runs through my whole property," she said. "My children can't play in the yard because they could fall in the ditch. Some people are concerned about my kids."
Russell Charlesworth objected to the two projects being combined. He charged the WSSC with trying to "cloud" the sewer location with the flood project to diffuse public opinion on the tree issue.
"It behooves us as community to get our alternative approved and get on with it," Charlesworth said. "The WSSC has been playing both ends against the middle with us. We assumed our fight was not going to affect the town of Morningside."
Everett A. Huffman, WSSC assistant director in the bureau of design, said the two projects have to be combined "to minimize the impact on the area, to get more done in less space." Huffman said he believes the "cross-stream" alternative will be approved by the WSSC.
"But a key factor, after Environmental Protection Agency approval, is the National Park Service," he said. The cross-stream route will move the line 50 feet into park service property.
"They are touchy about their lands," said Huffman. "They have said unofficially they don't like it. They claim more trees would be lost in the new alignment. The NPS will be in control, finally."