Waiting for Godot (and a Vaccine)
President’s Letter – by Ken Bawer
I am ready for Spring. I am ready for the pandemic to be over. I am ready to resume former activities. And I am waiting for a vaccine. Fortunately, we are headed in the right direction: the days are getting longer, and the vaccines are rolling out. Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine has just been approved by the FDA for emergency use, projects to have 20 million doses ready in March and 100 million by June. None of these can come fast enough, but at least there is light at the end of the tunnel and these will all certainly arrive before Godot.
We recently signed onto two letters that commented on the County’s draft https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/green/climate/index.html. One, from the MoCo CAP Coalition, provided an extensive critique of the entire 130-page document. The other, from the Montgomery Coalition to Prevent Stream Destruction, provided comments relating to “stream restorations”.
There are six Water & Sewer Service Category Change Requests that we continue to follow in our area. Some of these property owners requested conversions from septic systems to WSSC sewer service even though they don’t qualify by law. Plus, two new requests were made as 2Q 2021 applications. Several of the owner requests claimed special circumstances and asked that they not be held to the same rules as everyone else. Why is it important to limit sewer line sprawl? The answer is to protect the water quality of streams in our low-density areas from polluted runoff associated with large impervious surfaces and higher density development. Water from Watts Branch, Piney Branch, and Muddy Branch are taken up by the WSSC Potomac River Filtration Plant on River Road.
The County Department of Environmental Protection is working on a “technical update” to the Water and Sewer Plan. We anticipate an attempt to weaken the rules for sewer line connection which would lead to more sewer line sprawl in our area.
Proposed Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA 20-01) with amendments for Community Solar in the Agricultural Reserve was approved by the County Council. Rather than the original text, which would have allowed much more expansive installation of solar arrays in the Ag Reserve, the amendments – which we supported – ensure that each construction application must be approved on a case-by-case (Conditional Use) basis. This was a compromise situation to somewhat stem the tide of creeping industrialization in the Ag Reserve – this area was created as an agricultural reserve, not an industrial zone.
WMCCA signed onto a letter by the Montgomery Coalition to Prevent Stream Destruction asking for a temporary pause in “stream restorations” in the County and Parks to allow a reexamination of their desirability.
As expected, the Planning Board approved the Forest Conservation Plan Amendment for Congressional Country Club. We opposed the plan since it will allow the cutting of previously protected trees and will allow armor-plating of their stream with boulders instead of controlling their stormwater at its source.
Finally, we met with and provided suggestions to the County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding new septic legislation they will be proposing to require septic tank pumping every five years.
Spectrum Retirement Communities, LLC Submitted by Susanne Lee
On February 25, 2021 the Montgomery County Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings approved Spectrum’s application and granted conditional use approval to allow the construction and operation of a residential care facility for individuals 62 years and older at 9545 River Road (currently Potomac Petals and Plants/formerly Behnke’s garden center). The facility is approved for 100 units with up to 130 beds (assisted living and memory care units). Eighty five parking spaces must be provided and up to 43 employees may be on site at any one time. Although not included as a condition in the decision, in its revised application Spectrum agreed to reduce the building height from three to two stories. Spectrum now joins the other two new residential care facilities approved by OZAH: Brandywine (140 assisted living and memory care units) 10800 Potomac Tennis Lane next to ManorCare and Arden Courts and Artis Senior Living (72 memory care units) 8301 River Road near Sunrise at Fox Hill. It will be interesting to see how marketable the Spectrum units will be given the number of such units already available and under construction in Potomac and nearby, the documented desire of seniors to age in place, and the issues surrounding congregate living facilities that have been tragically underscored during the pandemic.
Synthetic Turf Disposal Submitted by Carol Van Dam Falk
WMCCA submitted testimony last week and testified before the Maryland Environment and Transportation Committee via zoom on Wednesday, Feb. 24th in favor of HB0857, which would require manufacturers and owners of synthetic turf and turf infill to file with the Maryland Department of the Environment, disclosing the owner and location of the field and infill. This after one Montgomery County high school’s used-turf field was dumped in a Balitmore County community and another was shipped off halfway around the world to Malaysia, purportedly to be recycled. The following is an excerpt from Carol Falk’s testimony:
Roughly 40,000 scrap tires go into the making of each synthetic turf field, along with hundreds of tons of mixed plastic. That means each synthetic turf field that is either carted off to a landfill or dumped at unmarked locations contains tens of thousands of pounds of plastic material containing PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) and other harmful chemicals, in addition to hundreds of thousands of pounds of pulverized infill of tire or other plastic.
Every year, more than a thousand of these synthetic turf fields have to be ripped out, (typical lifespan is 8-10 years) and disposed of according to the Synthetic Turf Council, (STC) the industry’s leading association. The STC estimates that 80 million square feet of plastic carpet weighing 40 million pounds and 400 million pounds of infill, usually made of tire waste, are disassembled and it all has to go somewhere. The disturbing fact here is that no one is monitoring, much less regulating where used-synthetic turf fields go when they are removed. Several municipal solid waste disposal facilities in Maryland have said they would not accept used-synthetic turf waste due to the weight and volume that are associated with a single playing field.
In addition, recycling facilities in this country have rejected synthetic turf fields and infills because it is usually too costly to separate the materials. That means these chemical-laden plastic carpets are either being incinerated, repurposed, or dumped “in ravines, deserts, woods, and empty lots” according to a Fair Warning investigative report, and dumping often happens in lower-income communities. That is a big problem, not only here in Maryland, but everywhere. The direct impact on aquatic life has also been documented in many sources.
Since no regulations currently exist governing the disposal or recycling of these materials, synthetic turf companies have been known to make unsubstantiated claims regarding reuse, recycling, and disposal of their product at the end of their lifespans, as they have done with officials and parents within Montgomery County Public Schools at “information meetings.” If the Synthetic Turf Council recommends end-of-life chain of custody certification, and it does, why wouldn’t Maryland lawmakers support such legislation?
We are hoping Maryland lawmakers agree with us. We will update you on whether HB 857 is favorably reported out of committee.
Rushing Beltway Expansion Won’t Solve Congestion Submitted by Carol Van Dam Falk
Even though the final environmental impact statement is not expected until the Fall, on January 27, 2021 Maryland highway officials announced they are plowing ahead with plans to expand I-495 and I-270, adding 4 toll lanes to each roadway. As currently envisioned, the plan also would include a managed “lane flyover” cross ramp at River Road that would cross Seven Locks Road and encroach on the historic Moses Hall and Cemetery off Seven Locks Road.
“Alternative 9” will add four High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes: two in each direction:
- to I-495 between the American Legion Bridge and the I-270 spurs
- to I-270 between the Beltway and Interstate 70 in Frederick
In mid-February, MDOT selected Accelerate Maryland Partners, a consortium led by Transurban, to do “predevelopment” work on its $11 billion-plus 495/I-270 road widening project. As John Stout, the U.S. PIRG transportation advocate wrote in a Washington Post Feb. 2 opinion piece, “The science is clear: Highway expansion doesn’t solve traffic congestion. Wider roads mean more drivers. Expanding our highways traps us in our cars, increases harmful air pollution and destroys our environment.”
Among the wasteful highway boondoggles still moving forward amid the coronavirus pandemic, few would harm local residents’ health more or cause greater, irreversible environmental damage than Maryland’s Capital Beltway project.” The expansion is opposed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, environmental activists, the U.S. Navy, and County residents who say the expansion will threaten hundreds of acres of natural parkland and streams and destroy numerous homes.
Website Assistance Needed by Peter Poggi:
WMCCA is looking for someone to help modernize our website.
While the current http://www.wmcca.org website has served us well since 2003, it is built upon an outdated Microsoft Frontpage 2003 platform, written entirely in HTML using frames, and reliant upon one individual. Our objectives are twofold. First and foremost, we need to have a trained backup who will share responsibility for maintaining the current site alongside our current website administrator. Once familiarized with the site, this responsibility will require a minimal time commitment of less than 30 minutes monthly. Our second goal is to identify and begin transforming the site to a more maintainable, template driven, platform. This will require gaining an understanding of the existing website structure and working closely with the WMCCA Board and website administrator to come up with a suitable design.
Interested candidates should have a background in current website design/development methods, and a familiarity with available hosting options. Please contact Peter Poggi, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any issues or concerns in your neighborhood, please contact WMCCA. We appreciate the input from our neighbors and are glad to review and address issues as they affect the Potomac Subregion Master Plan, zoning, and environmental threats to the “Green Wedge”, our creeks and water supplies, and the Agricultural Reserve.
West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter
P. O. Box 59335
Potomac, MD 20854-9335
President – Ginny Barnes 301 762-6423
Newsletter – Lois Williams
The Newsletter is published monthly, and the Board of Directors meets each month. We welcome any suggestions for upcoming meeting topics and ways to further utilize our web site (www.wmcca.org).
Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.