Save Happy Creek Information Guide

Members of our local community, including several members of the Warren County Democratic Committee, are taking action to protest the Town of Front Royal’s decision to clear-cut trees and grade the banks along a section of Happy Creek within town limits. Aside from creating an eyesore, this poorly conceived project threatens water quality and flood control in the area. This Royal Examiner story provides some background. And this opinion piece includes information and analysis.

 

A consortium of local conservation groups is planning a protest at 2 p.m. this coming Saturday, Nov. 21, along the creek. Participants must wear masks and stay 6 feet apart from on another. If more than 25 people attend, organizers with divide the group into smaller units and send them to different locations along the creek. To register for the event, click here.   If you have questions, email the organizers at savehappycreek@gmail.com.

The conservation groups also encourage people to write the Front Royal Mayor and Town Council. When writing to them, you may request that your message be read into the record at a council meeting and cc'd to the Clerk of the Council. Physical address: 102 East Main St. Front Royal, VA 22630.  If you decide to write to the town officials, you may use the points below, organized by topic, that the conservation groups gathered on the project.

 

Email Addresses For Front Royal Officials

 

Mayor Eugene Tewalt, tewalt@frontroyalva.com

Clerk of the Council Tina Presley, tpresley@frontroyalva.com

Town Council Members:

Lori Cockrell: cockrell@frontroyalva.com

Gary Gillispie: gillispie@frontroyalva.com

Christopher Holloway: holloway@frontroyalva.com

Jacob Meza: meza@frontroyalva.com

William Sealock: sealock@frontroyalva.com

Letasha Thompson: thompson@frontroyalva.com

Breaches of Public Trust

  • Failure to follow the Town’s own commitment to limit cutting of trees less than 4” in diameter, as posted on its website from October 30 to November 2. On the west bank alone, 115 trees of 4” or more in diameter have been cut, and there is no way to determine how many more have been removed completely, now that the tree trunks and roots have been ripped out of the streambank.

  • Failure to consult with the many volunteer groups that have maintained and paid for plantings for more than a decade in this area, including though not exclusively Trout Unlimited, Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards, Beautification of Front Royal Committee, local Boy Scout Troops, and others.

  • Removal of trees paid for by individual and nonprofit donors.

  • Taxpayer dollars wasted on an unnecessary project to alter a streambank that did not need repairs.

  • Failure to hire qualified contractors to carry out the specialized work of streambank mitigation.

  • Destruction of riparian buffer zone maintained with funds for removal of invasive woody species from Department of Forestry in 2009-10.

  • Removal of trees blocking both traffic sounds and sights for pedestrians using the popular Royal Shenandoah Greenway for relaxation and recreation – and for residents along Front Street.

  • Egregious violation of Tree City USA standards. Front Royal has been awarded Tree City USA designation by the Arbor Day Foundation for twenty-one years.

  • Failure to provide a public hearing at which citizens could express their concerns to Town Council prior to implementation.

 

Legal Violations

  • Failure to post permits on site as required by law.

  • Failure to consult the Town’s Urban Forestry Advisory Commission, a board of highly qualified professionals appointed by the Town Council for projects involving tree health and preservation. Town Code Section 156-3. A reads: An Urban Forestry Advisory Commission shall be established to perform the following duties:

    • #9: Review plantings, maintenance, and removal of trees and other vegetation on Town-owned public property, landscaping easements and rights-of-way.

    • #10: Review and make recommendations to the Director of Planning & Zoning regarding landscape plans related to subdivisions and/or developments. Except where authorized by the applicant, any subdivision or development application may not be delayed or denied solely because of a delay or lack or review by the UFAC.

 

Improper Permitting Procedures

  • Violation of VMRC permit #20201561, Item 20: to conform with the 1992 Third Edition of the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook throughout construction, including failure to install proper and effective Erosion & Sediment controls, including an excavator working in the stream-bed without proper accommodations. A Stop Work order has been put in effect by Warren County at this time.

  • Failure of state regulatory agencies (Virginia Marine Resources Commission, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality) to properly review permit application resulted in the Town’s flagrant disregard for best practices in project implementation and environmental protection of natural resources under their care.

 

Improper and/or Incompetent Project Implementation Methods

  • Failure to assess and tag existing trees for preservation before clearcutting.

  • Destabilization of streambanks through removal of tree root systems.

  • Failure to observe Vegetative Replacement Standards put forth in the Riparian Buffers Guidance Manual by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Forest Service, Virginia Dept. of Conservation & Recreation, and Virginia Dept. of Forestry (eg, for every tree or sapling of ½-2 ½ inches in diameter at 6” above the ground, preferred replacement is one tree of equal or greater measurement; for every tree greater or equal to that measure, recommended replacement is one tree for every 4” of the removed tree’s diameter).

  • Implementation of a project that will not prevent flooding in a designated floodplain, merely push volume downstream during flood events to damage existing structures, including bridges, businesses, and homes. The FEMA "Guidance for Flood Risk Analysis and Mapping: Floodway Analysis and Mapping" states that an engineer must: "demonstrate through hydrologic and hydraulic analyses performed using standard engineering practices that development will not result in any increase in flood levels during the base flood...unless the engineering analysis demonstrates that there will not be an increase in the base flood elevation as a result of the development, the permit must be denied" (p4). It seems that the project plan explicitly intends to raise the elevation of flood levels by preventing them from entering the regulatory floodway until they cross Prospect Street, threatening Water and Main Street areas.

  • Destruction of trout habitat. For this purpose, funds for were granted by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (now the Virginia Dept of Wildlife Resources) in 2007-08

 

Neglect of Best Practice Standards

  • Failure to observe best practices for working in riparian buffers recommended to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission for inclusion in the permit issued by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. This included avoidance of installing hardened surfaces (such as riprap) and avoidance of disturbance of “established native vegetation, including trees, as they provide streambank stabilization, stream shading, and leaf litter which are important aspects of aquatic habitat.” Unfortunately these recommendations were ignored by VMRC Environmental Engineer Jay Woodward in assembling the permit, providing the town with a loophole that resulted in the destruction we witness today.

Information here composed from materials provided by numerous local conservation group. 11/18/2020

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