Bluemont Park losing multi-purpose space to fenced space

Sent: Tue, Oct 11, 2016 4:19 pm
Subject: Fwd: Bluemont Park renovations and S Arlington flood rise

Dear Mr. Dorsey,

I am directing these comments to you (and copying your colleagues) because you not only live in S. Arlington, you also live very close to the lower part of Four Mile Run.
At the October 5 public meeting for Bluemont Park’s diamond field #3 renovations, the public learned some interesting details. First is that we don’t necessarily lack a sufficient number of diamond fields on which to play baseball or softball. Rather, we have a shortage of properly maintained fields for this purpose. There are roughly 7–8 county staff members tasked with keeping 80+ fields in good condition. Volunteers have been putting in long hours on weekends (for years, as I understand it) to help keep at least some fields playable.

Staff’s acknowledgment of a serious breakdown in public communication and process was very welcome. But staff did not offer an explanation as to why it decided to spend $700,000 to renovate and upgrade facilities in what it acknowledged is a FEMA flood plain—even though for a similar cost, staff might have been able to renovate two fields elsewhere where mitigating stormwater runoff into a Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area (RPA) was not an issue.

Though the community as a whole is focusing almost exclusively on the fence( for good reason) that will dedicate 1/3 of the currently flexible field space to a single sport, there are other critical systemic issues that deserve to be discussed and considered.
Even in Arlington, water still runs downhill and flows downstream. I want to clearly communicate the potential consequences of the land use decisions being made in this case because I do not want either staff or board members to later claim that “no one could have predicted” the potential for increased flood risk as described below.

Paved and drained flood plains cannot absorb the same amount of storm water as those that are left in their natural state. The renovations/upgrades in Bluemont Park apparently aren’t limited to the rehabbing of diamond field #3. Staff, as I understand it, also plans to expand the nearby tennis courts and the parking lot—something which staff didn’t publicly acknowledge or discuss at the Oct. 5 meeting. Staff also seems not to have questioned the wisdom of making a significant financial investment in facilities that lie in a FEMA flood plain, which has flooded in the past.
The map above illustrates both the Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area next to Four Mile Run and the FEMA flood plain, which covers all or most of the diamond field area and then some.

My understanding is that increasing impervious surfaces (aka, expanding the parking lot and tennis courts) and semipervious surfaces (like the diamond field with a drainage system) will result in a greater volume of storm water being dumped into Four Mile Run. Even though a riparian buffer is planned between the diamond field and Four Mile Run, nothing is apparently planned to filter the runoff from the parking lot or tennis courts. Parking lots deliver a particularly heavy load of toxic contaminants in their runoff.

Moreover, as you can see from staff’s answer (below) to a question posed about our recently revised stormwater management plan (see attached), Arlington’s stormwater detention and filtration systems are not flood-control mechanisms.

Staff response: Stormwater retrofits were not included in the assessment of flooding and stormwater  capacity for two reasons. First, the implementation rate of stormwater retrofits is not fast enough to have a meaningful impact on stormwater capacity in the short term; and second, stormwater retrofits are designed to collect and filter the first ½ to 1 inch of rainfall, before the peak of the storm, and therefore they have a small impact on large rainfall events. (p. 6 of attachment)

I can provide visual confirmation (below) that these stormwater management systems do not reduce runoff or prevent flooding. See the picture of flooding and runoff at the Ashlawn Elementary site in Feb. 2016—despite all the “stormwater management” infrastructure that was in place:

Feb. 24, 2016–Ashlawn flooding and runoff (you can see the tennis court lights shining in the background)

The flooding and runoff coming off the Ashlawn site (which is across Manchester Street from the diamond field, tennis courts, and parking lot) is much worse today (even with all that stormwater “management”) than it was prior to the school system’s having cut down +/–100 trees, leveled part of a hill, and poured tons of asphalt and concrete over the site—including paving a significant portion of the RPA uphill from the school.

The more water that flows into Four Mile Run from the Bluemont area and elsewhere upstream (and the less water the flood plain can absorb) during heavy rain, the more likely we are to experience increased flooding downstream.

Though we’ve been lucky for the past few years, significant storm and rain events are becoming more frequent and more intense due to climate change. Below is a picture of Four Mile Run overflowing its banks upstream at the Greenbrier exit of the WO&D Trail in 2011. Below that is a photo of Four Mile Run downstream in the Shirlington area:

Four Mile Run–WO&D Trail exit at Greenbrier on 9-9-11 (photo from

Four Mile Run in the Shirlington area on 9-8-11 (photo from

There is also a YouTube clip demonstrating the intense power of the flood waters at

The Army Corps of Engineers channelized and undergrounded portions of Four Mile Run after serious flooding events in the 1960s (including Camille) and the 1970s (including Agnes). But these measures were meant to handle the conditions at that time. If we continue to increase the level of impervious and semipervious surfaces and continue dumping large amounts of storm-water runoff into Four Mile Run during heavy rain events, we will again have significant floods downstream in South Arlington, particularly because the lower portion of Four Mile Run is affected by the Potomac River’s tidal flow.

Below is a picture of the Walter Reed bridge collapse after Agnes in 1972:

Collapse of the Walter Reed Bridge in Arlington County – Just Upstream of the USGS Gaging Station. Flooding on June 22, 1972 was due to the remnants of Hurricane Agnes.

See p. 9 in “Flood Frequency Analysis for Four Mile Run at USGS Gaging Station 1652500” prepared by the Northern Va. Regional Commission in 2004 at

On p. 10 of the source document noted above, you can see the stream’s gage heights recorded between 1947 and 2003.

1) Ask staff to suspend all future renovations/upgrades/significant changes to this area until a bona fide park plan for Bluemont Park can be drafted and approved. The two civic associations abutting this site (Bluemont and Boulevard Manor) have been asking DPR for a bona fide park plan for at least a decade without success.
Promulgating a formal park plan would force all park users to negotiate the park’s future as an entire system rather than permitting it to be cut up piecemeal—as staff intends to do—based upon whichever special interest group is screaming the loudest at a particular point in time.

2) Not only should the County’s Park & Rec Commission be given an opportunity to review all park projects and plans, the County Board should route these projects and plans through E2C2. How can it be that the County Board’s environmental committee has no say in what happens to the county’s parkland and natural space?

3) If there are stormwater mitigation issues or if the project/plan/work is near an RPA or a FEMA flood plain, then it may also be wise to have the Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission review the plans or work to help monitor and measure the increased flood risk associated with them.

Staff’s piecemeal approach to park planning virtually guarantees that we will see more parks like Aurora Highlands: Parks covered by dedicated sports fields and facilities (many of which are locked up when not in use) and play areas, with little or no remaining natural space available for flexible enjoyment by everyone. With this piecemeal planning process, there also appears to be no mechanism for considering the larger cumulative impacts of these land use decisions with respect to environmental degradation and risks to public safety.

In addition to those living downstream, also at risk is Arlington’s wastewater treatment facility, which processes human waste for roughly 200,000 people.

I respectfully urge the County Board and staff to strengthen the process for evaluating park improvements or changes in order to improve the stewardship and management of this highly valuable but finite public resource.

I ask that these comments be added to the public record for the Bluemont Park field #3 renovation project.  Thank you for your time and consideration.
Suzanne Smith Sundburg
5300 8th Road North
Arlington VA
CC:  Libby Garvey, County Board Chair
Katie Cristol, County Board
Jay Fisette, County Board
John Vihstadt, County Board
Mark Schwartz, County Manager
Bryna Helfer, Assistant County Manager
Jane Rudolph, DPR Director
Aileen Winquist, DES Watershed Outreach Program Manager
Stefanie Pryor, ACCF President
Jesse Boeding, ACCF Executive Committee Chair
Michael Thomas, ACCF Parks & Rec Committee Chair
Phil Klingelhofer, BMCA President
BMCA Board
Nick Pastore, BCA President
BCA Executive Board
Claudia and Paul Maloney, Boulevard Manor residents
Josh Handler, Boulevard Manor resident
Sandra Spear, Boulevard Manor resident
Scott Brodbeck, Editor