Some Residents Concerned About SLHS Addition’s Impact on Erosion

by Karen Goff October 16, 2015 at 11:00 am 5 Comments

South Lakes High School addition/Credit: FCPSThe Fairfax County Planning Commission on Thursday recommended for approval the 40,000-square-foot addition that will ease overcrowding at South Lakes High School.

The addition now moves on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for final approval at the Supervisors’ Oct. 20 meeting.

However, several residents of housing clusters directly across the street and downhill from the high school have concerns about how additional construction and square footage at the school will affect stormwater management. Residents say runoff his causing erosion, affecting the hillside behind their homes as well as Lake Audubon.

Reston 2020’s Terry Maynard wrote a recent letter to Hunter Mill School Board rep Pat Hynes outlining his concerns about stormwater standards at the addition site.

According to the Fairfax County Planning staff report on the addition, FCPS has received approval of a general permit through the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which allows for the applicant’s proposal to be
grandfathered under the old stormwater management requirements prior to the Board’s adoption of the new stormwater ordinance in 2014.

Maynard lives on Wakerobin, located across the street and downhill from the school. Stormwater erosion from SLHS and Langston Hughes Middle School collects in basin to the east of the high school, then flows downhill towards Lake Audubon, Maynard said in his letter to Hynes.

Residents of Wakerobin and Cedar Cove met this week with representatives from Fairfax County and Reston Association to talk about the issue and plans to remedy it.

Said Maynard:

“Most of the stormwater from both SLHS and Langston Hughes Intermediate School collects in a basin to the east of the high school and then flows through a stormwater tunnel under South Lakes Drive. The resulting stream then plunges about 30′ in its 1,000′ flow to Lake Audubon.”

“During storms, the creek experiences massive erosion and the generation of huge quantities of silt that is spewed into Lake Audubon as the force of the flow cuts the stream wider and deeper. The decades-long problem has exposed both the County sewer in several places as well as several residents’ lateral connections.”

He said he is disappointed in the county’s plans to meet outdated stormwater regulations.

“So, in a Reston community that focuses on sustainability and environmental excellence, FCPS is proposing to meet old, much less stringent stormwater management requirements than is the current standard, presumably so it can save a few dollars,” wrote Maynard. “The proposed addition of some open joint parking surfaces (one of which is on the wrong side of the high school) and filterra structures is grossly inadequate to meet the additional flow caused by the addition, much less the current unacceptable stormwater management conditions.”

Maynard said each new addition to LHMS and SLHS over the years has made stormwater management worse for the neighborhoods. He said this summer’s sewer pipe leak in the area was a result of continued stress on the pipes on the erosion area.

Dave Thomas, representing Cedar Cove Cluster, has also expressed his concerns to RA and the county.

Graphic: Proposed addition for SLHS/Fairfax County

  • Terry Maynard

    For more on this (including two brief videos) and the County’s (not FCPS’) new efforts, please read this: http://www.reston2020.blogspot.com/2015/10/fcps-ignores-current-stormwater.html

  • Pat Hynes

    My email response:
    Thank you for reaching out. Being good neighbors and good stewards of the environment is important to the school system, and to me. I asked staff for an update on the issue of the runoff.

    As you may know, FCPS did meet with Supervisor Hudgins, representatives from the County’s Stormwater Division as well as Larry Butler from ROA about this issue on September 23rd. During the meeting it was established that the erosion in question was not being caused by runoff from FCPS property but instead the result of multiple developments throughout the drainage watershed area. As a result, the County stormwater staff determined that they would provide a resolution.

    As I understand it, the proposed addition at South Lakes HS will not affect this particular watershed, as its stormwater is directed to a separate storm water system. Let me know if I am missing something there.

    Due to our limited capital budget, FCPS has to be very careful to focus capital dollars as much as possible on classrooms. We have more than 950 classrooms in trailers and multiple schools in need of renovation and repair with an average age of 45 years. The Board of Supervisors understands that the capital funding is barely adequate to meet the needs of the school system, and refrains from transferring costs not related to a particular project or school.

    I do understand and sympathize with your position, and I wish we had the capital funding to be more proactive. But I worry that it would not be a responsible use of school bond funds to shift the burden to the school system in a case like this where the county has determined that the school property is not causing the problem, and the county has accepted responsibility.

    I know this is not what you wanted to hear. I will stay in the loop with staff on this project and I hope you will keep in touch.

    • Jonathan Damm


      On a separate issue, was there any discussion regarding the remaining modular classroom?

      It seems very unfortunate that a major renovation is happening and yet, there will remain a modular classroom.

      From what I understand, the remaining modular will continue to house special education. If that is accurate, that seems particularly troubling.

      Are we really incapable of addressing the entire problem while we are actually engaged in construction and planning?

      – Jon

      • Octo Putz

        That’s nice poetry but it hardly points to any scientific evidence. Accordingly you only provide a political solution instead of a real one. I think the children, our future, would appreciate you address this by addressing this in mathematical terms.

        Inputs to the formula
        . Sq feet of concrete and paved surface
        . Sq feet of a strong turf
        . Run off per Sq ft
        . Annual rainfall per Sq feet
        . Etc

        This may work for.an election but it will not work for our future:
        “…during the meeting it was established that the erosion in question was not being caused by runoff from FCPS property but instead the result of multiple developments throughout the drainage watershed area”

  • Terry Maynard

    Here is my response to School Board Chairman Hynes’ e-mail below:

    Dear Chairman Hynes,

    Thank you for your public reply to my letter. I will follow-up in the same manner so more Restonians can understand will happen as a result of the FCPS decision not to follow the current stormwater management law.

    As in most situations, I believe it is important to start with the facts. Here are some pertinent ones:

    Fact #1: NO residential developments in the South Lakes area, including Whisperwood–the cluster east of South Lakes HS and Langston Hughes IS and adjoining the stormwater collection basin on SLHS property–are planning any additions or other stormwater-inducing development from their property.

    Fact #2: FCPS is planning a much-needed 40,000SF addition to SLHS that includes
    the addition of about 100 parking spaces on its east side of the building.

    Fact #3: Stormwater from the east side of SLHS and LHIS drains into the basin on
    the eastern edge of the SLHS property.

    Fact #4: The addition of 100 parking spaces will add more stormwater flow to the
    SLHS basin.

    Fact #5: FCPS’ decision to use an old, lesser standard for stormwater management means that a substantially greater volume of that stormwater will flow into the basin than if FCPS chose to adhere to the current County stormwater management ordinance.

    Fact #6: The water that flows into the SLHS basin drains through a tunnel under
    South Lakes Drive to RA and private properties below on its way to Lake

    Fact #7: The stormwater flows from SLHS property have caused serious erosion of
    the stream below, silting of Lake Audubon, and broken a County sewer line,
    releasing raw sewage into the stream and lake, all over a period of decades.

    Fact #8: FCPS’ decision to use an old, lesser standard for stormwater management will add to the downstream damage that is already being done to County, RA, and private property.

    Like the cost of proper stormwater management, failure to properly manage stormwater flows also has its dollar cost as well as its environmental consequences. In this case, the County and its taxpayers (but not FCPS) has had to put riprap in the downstream channel three times on an emergency basis, in one case filling a 12’ deep trench that exposed a County sewer where the stream drains into the
    lake. This summer, it had to make emergency repairs to a broken 8” sewer line hanging across the eroded stream bed after it ruptured in a storm. It is now assessing whether a full remediation of the downstream channel is required,
    an effort that could cost the County and its taxpayers (but not FCPS) millions
    of dollars. All that is just dealing with current stormwater flows, not the additions that will come with the proposed added parking and minimal stormwater management efforts proposed by FCPS.

    And the cost is not only the County’s. Property owners along the stream have spent thousands of dollars double-wrapping their exposed sewer laterals to reduce the risk of additional sewer breaks adding more raw sewage to the stream and maybe the lake (and I have the bill to prove it). Now RA is planning the removal of scores of trees along the edge of the stream on its property as well as homeowners’ properties (at property owner expense) at a total cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.

    Of course, none of this may be adequate to prevent further damage to the stream, the lake, and property if FCPS does not take adequate steps to prevent further increases in (or maybe even reduce) stormwater flow from its property. So I am left
    wondering whether the maximum extra 0.1% cost of FCPS’ FY2016 budget ($2.6
    Billion) is a greater cost than the costs experienced by the County, RA, and
    homeowners downstream, not to mention the added silt and sewage in Lake
    Audubon. With bond payments on this capital investment spread over decades, the sum is lost in rounding. How would you compare that cost with what homeowners, some living on fixed incomes, have paid and may look forward to paying as the stream continues to erode?

    Finally, I find it highly disconcerting, if not hypocritical, that FCPS does not practice what it preaches about community and the environment. FCPS states that Student Achievement Goal #3 is “Demonstrate Responsibility to the Community and the World.” There are four objectives under that goal. Here are two of them:

    –Objective 3.2 states, “Be respectful and contributing participants in their school, community, country, and world.” Does FCPS believe that that it is being a “respectful and contributing participant” in our community by dumping large volumes of stormwater on its neighbors’ property and adding silt and raw sewage to a lake that drains into the Chesapeake Bay?

    –Objective 3.4 states, “Exercise good stewardship of the environment.” Does FCPS believe that is exercising “good stewardship of the environment” by taking the cheapest, easiest, and least effective means to prevent additional stormwater runoff and its damage downstream?

    It is inexplicable to me how FCPS can articulate these good citizenship and stewardship goals for its students when it is quite willing to cause further damage to its neighbors’ property and the environment because it’s cheaper.

    I would recommend that FCPS live up to the expectations you hold
    for your students. As I stated in my previous e-mail, the least FCPS can do is meet the current legal standards in the County ordinance for stormwater management.
    What would be really great would be for FCPS to own the problem and provide leadership in its resolution consistent with the goals it sets for its students.

    I hope that you will take these thoughts into consideration immediately and make the needed changes in your proposal for the addition to South Lakes High School now headed to the Board of Supervisors.

    Terry Maynard


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