The mayor and the Rockville city council have decided to destroy the largest unbroken tract of old-growth upland forest and natural stream valley within easy walking distance of Rockville center.

Based on information compiled by the consultant firm Greenhorne & O'Mara and the Department of Public Works on the proposed extension of Ritchie Parkway and the related Tower Oaks development project, the plan is to have the road cut through the wooded upper valley of Cabin John Creek, and downstream remove more natural forest for a 10-acre stormwater management pond, colorfully named "Future Cabin John Lake."

All of this was presented in a public meeting on May 22; the poor attendance at City Hall illustrated the minimal amount of prior notice given to the public regarding this important plan. The proposed wetlands mitigation is grossly inadequate, and viable alternative plans to minimize or avoid impacts to streams and wetlands, required by federal guidelines, have not been properly weighed.

The area in question is a confluence of three tributaries of Cabin John Creek and, though already altered by development around the upper rim of the watershed, the tract still holds a wealth of plant and animal species. A cursory assessment was done on March 30, 1988, according to Greenhorne & O'Mara's report (October 1988) on water quality support data, and "there were no unique or unusual fish, threatened or endangered species, wildlife or plant species found." In addition, the area "is not publicly designated for hiking, bird watching or other aesthetic or recreational functions."

My remark to the first quotation is "look closer"; my question to the latter is "why not?" Only last week I saw, in the edge of this area, numerous bird species including our state bird, the Baltimore or Northern Oriole, now uncommon in most parts of Maryland, and pileated woodpeckers, which are sensitive to loss of old-growth forest habitat.

As a citizen of Rockville and a biologist, I am concerned that our community will lose much more than it would gain from the extension of Ritchie Parkway and the associated development. The unique riparian stream valley and surrounding upland forest is a living library of great educational value in our city's back yard. The proposed road and artificial pond could never equal and hold the biological richness of the valley lost.

WARREN E. STEINER JR.

Rockville