Trees Tangled in Red Tape
In addition to this year's drought and the usual troubles with beavers and plant diseases, about 700 trees along the Anacostia River may be newly imperiled by a particularly nasty pest: government bureaucracy.
In the last few years, trees planted near the confluence of the Northeast and Northwest branches of the river with the blessing of some government agencies have been mowed down and sprayed with herbicide by other government agencies.
"All of these bureaucracies, that is the problem," said Sam Love, of the Anacostia Flood Plain Restoration Alliance, a community group that organized many of the tree plantings. "They were all just oblivious to each other."
In recent weeks, Love and other community activists met with government officials to try to bridge what they call a serious communication gap among at least five federal, state and county agencies that oversee the river junction near Brentwood, Hyattsville, Bladensburg and Mount Rainier.
The trees were, after all, planted with the help of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which agreed to buy them and dig the holes, residents say.
Many of the trees were two-year-olds worth about $50 apiece, planted to restore the watershed to a more natural state.
But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees flood control, has contracted with the Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation to keep the river banks cleared of woody vegetation, which is said to erode levies needed to prevent flooding when waters rise.
On levies with very dense soil, officials said, roots break up the earth by the mere fact of taking up space and thus allow water to wash away the surface.
Before a flood prevention plan was adopted in the 1950s, many of the small towns in the area flooded routinely, said Dale Hamel, chief of storm drainage maintenance for Public Works. Bladensburg was particularly hard hit on a regular basis, he said, and will be again if the dense soil levies are not maintained.
To combat plant growth, the banks are mowed and sprayed with an herbicide that residents call "the blond death" because of the yellowing effect it has on the plants, Hamel said.
The degree to which the efforts of Public Works have hurt or killed the trees is a matter of debate. Residents say hundreds of trees may have been destroyed, while Public Works officials say only a handful were marred.
In order to give the languishing trees a chance, swaths of land have recently been designated "no mow zones," Hamel said. And herbicide is generally sprayed several feet away from the trees, he added.
Still, some of the tree-loving volunteers question the commitment of Public Works and have planted stakes next to the trees and tied red tape around their trunks as a gentle reminder to the workers who mow. Other residents routinely hike area trails to check on the status of the trees, reporting any perceived wrongdoing to Hamel.
Some of the residents also organize trash pickups along the river banks. Others water the trees with buckets.
"Here we are, just some local guys trying to get some trees in the ground," said Mount Rainier Mayor Fred J. Sissine, who also helped plant trees. "It's been a real struggle, but we'll keep these trees alive."
-- Mary Louise Schumacher
Where Six Flags Really Is
The television spot shows families having fun on a perfect summer day in what seems like an idyllic wonderland of cartoon characters come to life, roller coasters and games. Then a woman standing next to a young man proclaims, "We still can't believe there's a Six Flags in Washington!"
Well, neither can Del. Melony Griffith (D-Suitland), who said she is outraged "because it's in Prince George's County."
Largo mailing address, to be exact, but the commercial never mentions either. Just this: Beltway Exit 15A.
"I, for one, welcome all these businesses to Prince George's County," Griffith said in an interview last week. "I would just be happier if they were proud to say they're in Prince George's County, Maryland."
To some county residents, Griffith included, this is just the latest in a string of slights.
BET SoundStage Washington, really in Largo.
Raljon, really Landover.
But last week's agreement to wipe Raljon off the map has sparked a certain optimism about a wave of change.
What about a compromise, some suggest, such as "Six Flags Washington, located in Prince George's County?"
"Basically, it's that people outside the immediate area have never heard of Prince George's County," said Debbie Daniels, Six Flags spokeswoman. "It's not a geographic identifier for them."
Further, "there's simply not enough time in a 15-second commercial to throw up a map of Washington and show where Prince George's County is, then to show where Largo is . . .," Daniels said.
The free advertising would be quite a boon though, some residents said, especially because the county has recently embarked on campaigns to promote itself with highway signs and television spots called "Prince George's Proud" and "Discover Us."
"It would be really cool to have advertising for Prince George's County on the air that way," said Louisa Buffet, 32, a homemaker from Upper Marlboro.
Said Leroy Boldley, 50, a charter bus driver from Calvert County who spends a lot of time on Prince George's roads: "Since it's in P.G., that's what it should say. Then all the clout would come P.G.'s way."
But officials who work on promoting the county said they understand Six Flags' reasoning.
"Knowing the folks over at Six Flags, it has to do with being regional," said Shelby Burch, marketing and public relations manager for the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. "We really would love to have the county touted with commercials from businesses with venues in our particular jurisdiction, but someone in Richmond or rural Virginia might not recognize Prince George's."
"In [Six Flags'] defense, that might be one of the issues here," Burch said.
The commercial is broadcast as far away as Pennsylvania and Delaware, Daniels said, adding, "Six Flags is doing its part for the county. . . . Our goal is to drive attendance and economic impact into Prince George's."
And, Daniels noted, Six Flags is not singularly overlooking Prince George's.
Six Flags over Georgia is in Lithia Springs, which is in Cobb County, "but it uses Atlanta as its identifier," she said. "It's not that we're not proud to be in Prince George's County."
-- Susan Saulny
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CAPTION: Lance Whitney, foreground, with Jim Groves, left, and Scott Goetz, of Hyattsville Organization for a Positive Environment, look at a tree their group planted along the Anacostia River in Mount Rainier.