The tree cutting at Happy Creek was another discussion topic at the Front Royal Council meeting last week with several people speaking against the project, Interim Town Manager Mathew Tederick explaining it and council members voicing their thoughts on it.
Over 10 residents, some representing local environmental groups, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting criticizing the project.
Susan Tschirhart said the creek was at a major intersection that visitors and through-travelers see when entering the town. Over 160 trees had been cut, she said, and most disappointing about the project was the lack of trust the town made with the community as no permit for the project was displayed at the site.
Saying a similar project around 8th Street was done previously with no complaints was like saying the clothes for a 3-year-old were the same as clothes for a 12-year-old, she said.
“This can be salvaged,” said Melanie Hotek, president of Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards. An extension to the project can be given, citizens can help with replanting native trees and the public can be reengaged, she said. A meeting request with Tederick was never followed through on by him, she added.
Resident Tom Dombrowski, who works in the Public Works Department in Prince William County, said he was shocked that the public wasn’t more aware of the project and that if he was doing the project in the county where he works he would’ve needed to have public meetings about it. He found out about the project after coming across a group of people protesting it on Nov. 21.
“That’s shocking to me,” he said, on the lack of public awareness about it.
Tederick reiterated the purpose of the project was to provide streambank stabilization and address flooding in the creek with high water flows during heavy rains to avoid a $39,000 civil penalty from the Department of Environmental Quality.
The project was approved in April by the council and an expert in the field with 33 years of relevant experience was retained, Tederick said. Trees that were larger than 4 inches in diameter that were cut were done by a contractor outside of agreed-upon terms, Tederick said, and that contractor was fired that day for their actions.
The town is under a consent order to finish the project by Dec. 31, Tederick said. The goal is to put 10 to 15 feet of riprap along the bank, and come back in the spring to plant trees and bushes along the tops of the bank, he said.
“I think we need to listen to these people,” said Councilman Bill Sealock, who attended the protest. At the same time, he acknowledged riprap is going to need to go in some areas of the bank that have eroded. Too much time with no work on the creek had passed prior to the project that allowed the creek to require the work it needs now, he said. He inquired about what kind of trees and grasses could go into the creek now as a way to salvage what can be saved.
Councilor Latasha Thompson suggested forming a committee with the Urban Forestry Advisory Commission. The commission is responsible for the Urban Forestry Management Program, educating the public about proper tree care practices and supporting other urban forestry groups in Front Royal.
Mayor Eugene Tewalt, Mayor-elect Chris Holloway and Councilwoman Lori Cockrell said the community and town need to work together on the project, with Cockrell saying the goal of preventing flooding in the creek still needs to be remembered.
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