County Needs More Trees

The Fairfax Audubon Society, representing 4,000 members throughout Northern Virginia, applauds the concern of Fairfax County and others in preserving two 150-year-old swamp chestnut oak trees near Huntley Meadows Park ["Pair of Big Trees Pared Down," Fairfax Extra, June 10].

The article seems to credit the county's 1973 tree ordinance, saying, "As a result, trees still cover approximately 45 percent of the county, despite being home to more than one million residents." What the article failed to mention is that the county's tree cover has dropped from 68 percent in 1984 to 43 percent in 2003, according to county officials. In addition, even though the county does in fact have a tree ordinance, one has to question its effectiveness in preserving trees.

In Fairfax County, an individual or a developer who wants to disturb less than 2,500 square feet of land can destroy trees without a permit despite the trees' age or value. If one wishes to disturb more than 2,500 square feet, the county requires submission of a plan, but that does not guarantee tree preservation or tree planting. County staff may make recommendations, but requirements are minimal.

Tree preservation requirements during construction should be stronger as well. Current policy allows heavy construction equipment to roll over tree roots and compact the soil, often causing trees' demise in a few years.

Trees cool and clean the air, stem erosion, absorb pollution, control runoff, buffer noise, provide habitat for Earth's creatures and increase property values. Fairfax County should be restoring and expanding tree cover, not only because of trees' intrinsic value but for other reasons as well. The county does not meet federal air-quality standards for ozone. Seventy percent of the county's streams are in fair to poor condition. Fairfax County does not meet Chesapeake Bay water-quality requirements.

Our public policies should be strengthened to recognize the value of trees in this increasingly developed area, which is fast reaching build-out.

James Waggener

President

Fairfax Audubon Society

Ambulance Fees Will Be Harmful

I am writing in reply to the letter by R. Michael Mohler, president of the Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics ["Ambulance Fee a Misnomer," Fairfax Extra, June 10].

Mr. Mohler, it is not a "misnomer." A fee by any other name is still a fee. Mr. Mohler wrote that the fee is a "cost-recovery" system because "citizens are already being charged for ambulance transport in their insurance premiums." He further said, "All we are suggesting is recovering the funds from the insurance companies."

Mr. Mohler, Fairfax County does not pay my insurance premiums; I do. How can the county "recover" something I pay?

He seems to think that because "92 percent of people have coverage for ambulance charges," the insurance companies will pay and no one will be hurt. Wrong! I also have homeowner and automobile insurance, but if I have too many claims, my insurance premiums will certainly go up.

Insurance rates are calculated on the probability of the insurance company having to pay out money. In a county where there is no charge for emergency ambulance service, the probability of having to pay for this is small. If the probability of having to pay increases because there is a charge, so will the amount of insurance premiums increase. In other words, both your health insurance and automobile insurance will go up.

Even if you have health insurance, it is doubtful that any insurance company will pay the amount the county proposes to charge, between $300 and $550, plus $7.50 a mile. Other jurisdictions that have an ambulance fee -- Alexandria, Arlington County and D.C. -- were cited, but we weren't told the amount they charge or what percentage of charges billed are actually collected. Was there any research done on this or on what amount insurance could reasonably be expected to pay?

Many health insurance companies will not pay anything for emergency ambulance service unless it is a life-threatening situation, and even then, there is a scheduled amount they will pay. I was told Medicare will pay 80 percent of the amount Medicare approves (if the deductible has been met) but may not pay at all if it wasn't a life-threatening event.

If the county charges $450 but my insurance will only pay $200, that means I have to pay the remaining $250 or the total $450 if insurance won't pay. When the county sends out a bill, will it be written on the bill that the county accepts whatever insurance pays as payment in full? It's very unlikely.

Fairfax County firefighters and paramedics provide excellent service. This is not about them. It is about a new fee that citizens will have to pay and who will be hurt by it.

The truly indigent won't be required to pay, and those who are wealthy can afford it. It is the person who barely manages to pay his bills and make it through the month who will be hurt. It is he or she who, faced with the possibility of having to pay several hundred dollars, will hesitate to call for an ambulance.

I know from personal experience how important it may be to get to the hospital quickly. In 1994, my husband had his second heart attack. He only felt very nauseous, but because of his heart history, he was taken to the hospital. He was in the beginning stages of a heart attack, and a "clot-buster" drug was administered. We were told by the doctor that 80 percent of the time this worked if given early, but not if he was going to have a massive heart attack.

Because of the early medication, the damage to his heart was greatly diminished, he recovered and with medication lived another good eight years. If he had waited at home until he had the crushing chest pain he later had at the hospital, he would have died.

People may try to drive themselves to the hospital, or mothers try to drive and take care of a sick or hurt child at the same time, and have an accident in which they and others are killed.

For all of these reasons, the proposed ambulance fees are wrong. We pay the highest taxes in the area; we shouldn't have to pay for emergency ambulance service. This is one more reason people are telling me, "I'm moving out of Fairfax County, I can't afford to live here." (I'm staying!) Write, phone or send e-mail to the members of the Board of Supervisors and ask them to reconsider imposing this fee.

Claudette C. Ward

Fairfax

Workers prune one of two 150-year-old swamp chestnut oak trees near Huntley Meadows Park in the county's Hybla Valley area.