About a dozen mature trees and additional shrubs were cut down and dumped into the Potomac River from Trump National Golf Club property last week, an action that Loudoun County officials say could violate local ordinances covering work on floodplains.
The downed trees were spotted last Saturday by Steven Mckone, director of the Calleva River School, as he kayaked the river and turned into the George Washington Canal, a bypass often used by boaters to avoid a dam that blocks the river. Tree trunks, limbs and branches clogged the smaller passage.
“It was very fresh, the sawdust wasn’t even wet yet,” Mckone said. “Normally when people remove trees, they take the trees out, but these were dumped right in the river.”
Trees in a waterway can create dangerous conditions, where currents can pull watercraft into the branches, then trap boaters underwater in what is known as a strainer effect. In addition, trees along river banks are among the best ways to protect water quality and aquatic life and prevent erosion, environmentalists say.
The general manager of the Trump property referred all questions to the organization’s corporate office, which did not respond to requests for an explanation or comment.
Loudoun public affairs officer Glen Barbour said the county’s urban forester and representatives from its planning and zoning office visited the site Thursday.
“Based on the initial observation, I am told that there appears to be an issue with a number of trees removed from the flood plain, which would require a permit prior to any operation,” Barbour said. “The county is currently determining whether a violation of the ordinance occurred, and if so, what the appropriate course of action would be.”
Potomac Riverkeeper Network employees Dean Naujoks and Phillip Musegaas took a jetboat to the property this week to view the situation. They said they saw about a dozen stumps with diameters of 14 to 24 inches, indicating mature and healthy trees, and trunks discarded along the shoreline.
The clear-cut was just off the fairways of the golf course, in what had been a small copse, Naujoks said. He and Musegaas reported the situation to local and state officials.
“Clear-cutting large trees this close to the river will undoubtedly impact the river,” said Musegaas, vice president of programs and litigation for the organization.
The cut trees could pose a safety hazard for paddlers, he said, while rain and high water could flush exposed sediment in the river. “Bad for the river, and bad for people who use it,” Musegaas said.
In 2010, the Trump club removed more than 400 trees from its property when it renovated its courses, upsetting environmentalists and drawing concern from Loudoun officials. That project also included efforts to clean up the riverbank, which was polluted with trash and debris, Trump officials said at the time.
Nine months later, Donald Trump told a Washington Post reporter that the tree removal was done to create a better view.
“It was done so that people utilizing the services of the club — of which there are 1,000 members, it’s a very successful club — could have unobstructed views of the river, and because it was an environmental enhancement,” Trump said at the time.
At the time, the county considered but never enacted the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, which would have protected a 75-foot buffer along its riverfront, as Fairfax County and other jurisdictions do.