Poetry Prose and Other Words
by Ken Ingham
(an abridged version of this essay appeared in The Audubon Naturalist, Feb/March 2006 issue; the version here continues beyond that date)
As a child I would lay for hours in my backyard watching clouds drift
from one horizon to the other against a clean blue sky. As a pre-adolescent
boy spending summers on my uncle’s farm, I would pause on my way
to fetch cows and gaze half asleep into the warm red warning of an early
morning sun. As a teenager I turned my attention inward, searching for
something, my self. The search continued, mostly indoors, through several
universities, marriage, a family and a career as a protein chemist. All
the while, to maintain sanity, to recover that inner peace, I would seek
out patches of forest, the deeper and greener the better, and sit quietly
beneath a canopy, watching, listening, thinking, or not thinking.
1997 - Mill Creek begins by collecting
runoff from subdivisions north of Shady Grove Road in the middle of Montgomery
County. It meanders southward through a wooded flood plain, gathering
volume from several tributaries. By the time it passes under Redland Road,
it is too wide to jump over but still shallow enough to cross barefoot
with pants rolled up. It then curves southeast to join Rock Creek just
before the latter flows into the shallows of Lake Needwood, where flanks
of painted turtles sunbathe on partially submerged logs and slide obliquely
into the water when visitors approach.
place of work is only a couple of miles from Mill Creek. On a lunch
break, I drive down Redland Road looking for that church I saw from
the woods a few weeks earlier. Shady Grove Presbyterian appears just beyond
the bridge over Mill Creek, near an ominous sign that declares: ICC STUDY
AREA. Someone has pasted a bumper sticker over the sign that reads “Give
Wild Life a Brake.” I park behind the church and walk down a grassy
slope that penetrates the woods like a long finger. A red-shouldered hawk
suddenly leaves its perch and flies back into the trees. Its piercing
screams penetrate my heart as if to admonish me for not being more involved
on its behalf. I continue down to the end of the open area and sit on
a log just inside the woods, overlooking another small tributary of Mill
Creek. An oven bird welcomes me with its distinct two-syllable crescendo
, evoking the image of an aggressive fourth grade student, arm outstretched,
hand waving, calling Teacher! Teacher! Teacher! I eat my lunch and try
to interpret that message.
Suddenly I notice some movement high on a limb in one of those ivy-clad
trees. I grab my binoculars and focus just in time to see a pair of scarlet
tanagers mating, the bright red male teetering on top of the pale green
female for just a few moments before chasing each other out of view. In
the woods, the most interesting things seem to happen when I am deep in
thought about something else.
May folds into June. The overwhelming volume of written and spoken testimony
at the SHA hearing is in opposition to the ICC. My own presentation goes
better than I expected after not having found time to write it out in
detail. It is a little humiliating, speaking from the floor while glancing
up at the bored faces of transportation officials.
1998 - In March Governor Paris Glendening abruptly withdraws his longstanding support for all variants of the ICC, referring to it as an environmental disaster. The ICC is dead! Hooray! Yeah, sure, wishful thinking. Many suspect an election year ruse. A few days later a state bill that would have permanently killed the project by converting much of the acquired property into parkland is blocked by a vote of the Montgomery County delegation in Annapolis, thus keeping alive the hopes of developers and the despair of people such as myself. The governor, citing the “need for rethinking about traffic congestion,” forms a Transportation Solutions Group (TSG). In November he is reelected and in December the group, factious from the outset, appears to reject the eastern portion of the Master Plan Alignment, citing the environmental concerns of federal officials. Some members question the need for any highway at all; others insist that it can be done in an environmentally sensitive way and continue to push.
1999 - In February, the TSG reverses
itself and recommends a scaled back four lane “parkway”, begging
the question of alignment. The following month, the Montgomery County
Council formalizes its opposition to the ICC, voting 6-2 against all versions
and recommending instead a network of improvements to existing roads.
This is comforting; it will be difficult to move the ICC forward without
a united political front.
2000 - Although my wife Glenda
had joined me on a hike in the Paint Branch area, she has never been to
Mill Creek and is curious to see it after my glowing descriptions. On
a warm and sunny afternoon in March we walk slowly down the narrow trail
toward the sewer bunker. The trees are barren of leaves and their trunks
cast crisp shadows on the leaf-matted forest floor. As we round the bend
beyond the sewer bunker, we hear an unusual noise, like ducks quacking,
but different than any ducks I’ve ever heard, and more persistent.
We follow the sound, which ceases before we get close to its source, the
way gossip stops when the subject of it unexpectedly enters a room. We
pick our way through a meadow of newly sprouted skunk cabbage toward a
long narrow vernal pool that runs parallel and close to Mill Creek. As
we approach, numerous frogs splash into the pool, which contains several
large masses of clear gelatinous material attached to fallen branches.
Each mass holds hundreds of tiny dark beads—the embryos of the next
generation. One of the frogs is still visible on a small stone near the
edge of the water. It is drab brown with two dark stripes starting near
the eyes and continuing laterally along the back—a wood frog! It
is one of 18 amphibian species that John Parrish identified as living
in the proposed path of the ICC. (John has also identified eight species
of turtle, including the state-endangered and federally threatened Bog
“Out looking for deer?” he inquires.
“Well, yes, if they’re around” I said “but I’m more interested in birds - there are a lot of interesting ones in this woods”
“I can imagine” he replies.
After some additional small-talk I ask him how he feels about the possibility of an interstate highway coming right through this parking lot.
“I thought that project was dead” he replies.
“On the contrary - there are some powerful people who still want it.”
“It’ll never happen. Doug Duncan is a member of our chapter and he’s against it.”
“That’s not true” I said, “he’s one of the strongest supporters.”
“Really? I thought he was against it.”
“Do you know Doug Duncan?” I asked.
“Not very well but I see him at meetings some times.”
“Well, next time you see him, you ask him his position on the ICC.”
On April 18, 2000, Pat Baptiste wins the democratic primary by a large
margin, boosting the spirits of environmentalists and members of the various
anti-ICC groups who have supported her campaign. Since the other democratic
candidates have endorsed the ICC, we hope this result will send a message
to the party that it is politically risky to support that project. In
Montgomery County, where democrats vastly outnumber republicans, winning
the democratic primary is often tantamount to winning the election. However,
the party establishment, many of whose members also favor the ICC, is
not enthusiastic about Babtiste. Some office holders and prominent democrats
openly support her republican opponent, Howie Denis, a popular former
state senator whose devotion to the ICC is also no secret. Among his supporters
is Rich Parsons, former executive director of Maryland Dems and Doug Duncan’s
former campaign manager.
This Spring has been very dry and by late May the vernal pool has shrunk
to less than a fifth of its original size, concentrating the tadpoles
into a thick shallow soup. Previously they were quite active, swimming
energetically, rising to the surface, then diving out of sight against
the murky bottom. Now they idle pathetically like motorists backed up
on the beltway, inching through the dark milieu, looking for something
to eat, probably short of oxygen. Although they are growing quite large
and their tails are getting shorter, none has yet sprouted hind legs;
it might be several more weeks before they are able to hop out onto the
forest floor and seek a terrestrial home. How many will make it, I wonder.
By Summer, 2000, the presidential campaign is intensifying. Gore and Bush have survived threats from Bradley and McCain and are clearly destined to be the candidates for the major parties. After reading Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance, I had become exuberant over the prospect that such an ardent environmentalist might actually become president of the United States of America. It would be the beginning of a new era. But my enthusiasm has waned over the years. As vice president, he hasn’t emphasized the issues that he wrote so passionately about. And now, as presidential candidate, he seems to be holding back on the very issues that could most distinguish him from his opponent, the governor of one of the most polluted states in the union. Both candidates have apparently concluded that the mind-numbing intricacies of social security and medicaid funding are of greater concern to the voters than global warming and urban sprawl. Enter Ralph Nader whose contention that the distinction between the Demicans and Republicats has become blurred by their mutual dependence on contributions from big industry rings true with me.
I had been flirting with the Green Party since the early nineties and in 1996 I personally gathered about seventy-five signatures from neighbors and friends as part of a failed effort to get Nader on the ballot in Maryland. After that I sporadically attended local meetings, at one of which I was the only person to show up besides the organizer, Robert Kopp, a dedicated college student who was instrumental in holding the Montgomery Greens together after the 1996 election. Now, as the 2000 campaign develops, my interest intensifies, stimulated in large part by frustration over the attitudes of my democratic state delegation towards the ICC. By the time I renew my involvement several thousand signatures have already been gathered and it is beginning to seem possible that we might reach the daunting goal of ten thousand required to achieve ballot status. In early summer I abandon Gore, formally switch my affiliation to Green, and devote what little time I can muster to the Nader/LaDuke campaign, eventually collecting 350 signatures. I don’t expect Nader to affect the outcome in Maryland. I merely want to help establish a viable Green Party in my state with the hope of eventually impacting local politics and decisions on issues affecting the environment and social justice.
As always, whenever my commitment wavers I sneak off to the cool of the woods for a dose of green elixir. One of those sessions takes me back for lunch on the sewer bunker at Mill Creek. The air is still and quiet as usual in the summer; not much happening. I take out my sandwich and start reading the latest issue of the Audubon Naturalist News. Gradually I am distracted by the peripheral jiggling of a small oval leaf that is suspended in mid air by a barely visible piece of spider silk. The leaf sways and jiggles in the intermittent breeze, performing all kinds of evocative maneuvers. I focus my binoculars for a closer look and am amazed to discover that the object of my fascination is not a leaf at all but a small feather! A dancing feather! Its motion seems even more magical under magnification and the fact that it is a feather and not a leaf compounds its effect on my mood. It twirls and twists, rotates top over bottom, becomes suddenly still, then drifts up to the right, falls back and rotates some more. I am reminded of a ballerina I saw at a Save the Whales benefit performance in Georgetown at the invitation of my close friend Manley McGill a few years before he died. Just as that performance and his friendship had fostered my concern for the whales and other endangered species, this feather and my memory of him reinvigorates my determination to help preserve the watersheds that are threatened by the ICC, to stop this road and get this terrain converted to parkland once and for all! Dancing Feather becomes my muse, one of many I have encountered in the woods.
2001 — Since most opposition
to the ICC is on environmental grounds, politicians who support it are
beginning to qualify their endorsements, claiming to be concerned
about the environment. The issue is morphing into one not of whether but
of how to build the road. The idea that it can be done in an “environmentally
sensitive” manner is becoming a mantra among supporters regardless
of party affiliation. This is a clever way to appease marginal environmentalists
who want to believe in that possibility. It also enables a number of politicians
to garner support from developers while linking their final position to
the outcome of some future environmental impact study. Yet, according
to a poll in the local Gazette in January 2001, voters still favor transit
over new roads, 52 percent to 32 percent. Some state representatives are
reportedly “amazed.” They just don’t get it.
During early Spring, I listen in vain for the improbable “quacking” of the wood frog that matured in my backyard pond last year. I wonder, even if it survived the winter, frozen solid under leaf litter in the neighbor’s woods, would it try to return to the pond from which it emerged or would it be searching futilely for the pond in which it hatched? In several trips during March and April, I also failed to hear wood frogs in Mill Creek. I shouldn’t be surprised; their breeding period lasts but a few days.
On September 11, 2001, I ride my bike to work, commuting the nine miles under my own power as I often do on nice days. Pedaling through scenic and peaceful Rock Creek Park I am oblivious to what is occurring elsewhere; passenger airliners colliding with the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon and another crashing in a field in Pennsylvania on its way back to the Capitol. Working in my office with the door closed, I don’t hear about these tragic events until later in the morning. I immediately go to the staff room where the horrifying scenes are being replayed on television. Like everyone else I am angry. My anger is directed not just at the attackers, but at the foolish arrogance of the many politicians and commentators who have been bragging for a decade about being the sole remaining superpower, like bullies on the playground, challenging anybody to make something of it. The end of the cold war opened a window of opportunity for us to lead the world in a different direction but we failed to take advantage. I have never felt so frustrated and helpless in my life. If ever I needed to be alone in the woods, now is the time. But I can’t pull myself away from the tragic events of the day, the media, the conversations, the second guessing. And that, I fear, is how it will be for quite a while, hard to think about anything as trivial as the ICC.
2002 — In March the Maryland
senate passes a resolution to restart the environmental impact statement
process, this time invoking new design methods, such as “elevated
end on construction” of long bridge spans over sensitive terrain.
The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, in their response to the earlier
draft environmental impact statement, has already proclaimed that this
approach will not be adequate. But that was the 1990s. This is a new millennium
and the attitude of the Bush administration toward the environment seems
to be that it doesn’t exist other than as a dumping ground for toxic
substances and greenhouse gases. Although Governor Glendening remains
opposed to the ICC, his term will soon expire. Republicans and Democrats
alike seem intent on replacing him with someone more sympathetic to the
building of super highways through forested stream valleys.
Near the vernal polliwog pool at the very edge of Mill Creek stands a
large tulip tree. Gushing suburban runoff has eroded a large gap beneath
its trunk such that half of its roots are exposed and covered with bark,
like the trunk itself but smoother. The roots loop over the water like
giant pretzels, intertwining to form a sturdy multilayered labyrinth capable of supporting a man’s weight. I place my rump on one root
and feet on another and stare down through the maze at several water striders.
Their feet make tiny dimples on the water’s surface that magically
refract enough sunlight to produce six exaggerated shadows on the sandy
bottom, dark ovals that slowly drift in tandem along the streambed. The
middle legs serve as a pair of oars that periodically thrust the insect
forward as it maintains its position against the lazy but unrelenting
current. Drift and thrust, drift and thrust, a perfect metaphor for the
unending work of stopping the ICC.
- Soon after taking office, the new governor declares
the ICC, his top priority. The project is expected to get a boost from
the Bush Administration’s new top-down policy of streamlining the
environmental review process for “high priority highway projects,”
a select list of which, at the request of both Duncan and Ehrlich, would
soon include the ICC. Sure enough, shortly after the governor’s
visit to Camp David, the project is placed on the federal fast track.
Fortunately, there are still a few hurdles to overcome and some small
encouragement comes from the fact that the Prince Georges County Council
remains unanimously opposed. One Prince George’s Councilman calls
the ICC a “$3billion subsidy to the wealthy.” Better, he says,
to locate new business in Prince George’s leading to shorter commutes
and less need for a highway. The opposition from Prince George’s
seems based more on socioeconomic grounds than on environmental ones.
2004 - In June, the SHA holds another series of public “alternatives workshops”, a required part of preparing the next draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). At one of those workshops I join several hundred protestors chagrined that non-road alternatives are not on the table; the idea that anything but a new (six-lane) highway could solve our congestion problem was dismissed up front and the only alternatives under discussion are the two proposed routes, corridors 1 and 2. The latter is a more northerly route that would be less damaging to parklands and stream valleys but more disruptive to established communities. The former follows the original Master Plan, the central portion of which has already been twice rejected by the Feds. After the protest I go inside to view the exhibits and pause by a scale model of a bridge being “end-on” constructed over wetlands. The model bridge intercepts the room light, casting a dark shadow underneath. It reminds me of the barren, light-starved litter-strewn ground beneath the Norbeck bridge over Rock Creek, under which I sometimes pass when commuting to work on my bicycle.
2005 - The DEIS was completed
and released just before the holidays last year, allowing precious little
time to prepare for the public hearings scheduled for early this month.
I sign up to testify on January 5th, and on the 3rd I make another trip
to Mill Creek, seeking inspiration. What can I possibly say that would
persuade them to change their mind? As I approach the sewer bunker, I
find fresh survey
stakes with red ribbons and ominous inscriptions like “HVB AT
TOP OF BANK” and “X-SEC-102." It is unseasonably mild
so I leave my coat on a log, put my flannel shirt in my pack and continue
down the trail, passing more survey stakes. At the labyrinth I sit and
listen to a Carolina wren, that faithful winter songster. A nuthatch works
his way head first down the trunk of a nearby sycamore, pausing by a large
dark hole where I saw a wood duck nesting a few years ago. A gnarled and
sinewy ironwood leans out over the creek. It has see-through holes in
its trunk and the fresh chisel marks of a woodpecker. In spite of its
wounds the aged tree seems healthy and muscular, its trunk smooth and
rippled like the limbs of an athlete. If left alone it will probably outlive
In April I make an early morning visit to Mill Creek. This time I am
unnerved by the presence of bulldozer tread
marks near the sewer bunker. I open a long wooden box that lies on
the ground nearby. It contains cylinders of earth and stone that I realize
must be core
samples. I poke gently with my finger along the marbled length of
one cylinder. It seems not very far down to bedrock. Perhaps this data
will help in planning how much dynamite would be required to bust through
these hills to make way for the ICC.
2006 - On January 5, the Federal
Highway Administration declares the ICC project to be environmentally
sound. A few days later the final EIS appears on the SHA web site; 1178
pages of text plus almost 2000 megabytes of tables, figures and appendices.
Even if I try, I doubt that I can digest it all by February 27, the last
day to submit comments. Sometime after that a “record of decision”
will be issued. From what I’ve seen so far, the EIS, like its draft,
is overwhelmingly biased toward the building of roads; alternatives are
merely listed and asserted to be inadequate. The Gazette, in
an editorial, absurdly refers to opponents as desperate and intellectually
dishonest. Maryland Transportation Secretary Flanigan says “We do
expect desperate opponents to file lawsuits . . . and we will be prepared.”
In other words, bring the desperados on.
The author, taking notes on the sewer bunker.
Note: An abridged version of the above essay was published in the Feb/March 2006 issue of the Audubon Naturalist News. Below you will find periodic updates that will continue until either the project or the author dies. For additional commentary on transportation issues, check my blog page.
March 13 - Glenda and I visit Mill Creek hoping to hear the wood frogs. The vernal pool is low but we see some frogs, maybe a dozen. They are silent as we approach. There are some egg masses already present and one dead frog floating upside down in the pool. We sit down by the labyrinth and eat our picnic lunch. Eventually we hear some quacking but not very robust. We move closer to the pool and wait quietly for about 20 minutes but the frogs never resume croaking. They seem to sense our presence in spite of our stillness. It is very warm, 81F.
The following day I send a copy of the Jan/Feb issue of Audubon Naturalist News, containing this essay (see above) to all members of the County Council as well as the state and federal representatives of my district.
Later in March the results of a Mason-Dixon poll indicate that 60% of Montgomery County democratic voters believe that transit and other traffic improvements should take precedent over the ICC. The poll was conducted in such a way as to reveal that the more people learn about the facts of the ICC, the more likely they are to oppose it.
June 10 - Glenda and I, along with about thirty others, attend a hike through the Paint Branch watershed led by Greg Smith, an activist with Save our Communities. He convinces us that the ICC is not a done deal in spite of the "final federal approval" announced earlier this month. He tells us that legal action is in the works and encourages us to stay with the program. Our inclination to do so is reinvigorated by spending time in this most pristine of the watersheds that would be devastated by the highway. The Feds approved the project a few weeks ago in spite of numerous flaws in the DEIS. Governor Ehrlich scheduled a press conference for June 8 and then suddenly moved it ahead to May 30, confounding plans by opponents to organize a protest rally and making it impossible for Doug Duncan to share in the glory. It is hoped that the courts may delay the project long enough to allow for some turnover in the November elections.
Duncan's campaign against Martin O'Malley (popular Mayor of Baltimore) in the Democratic primary is faltering. Although O'Malley has also signalled his support for the ICC (to a Chamber of Commerce group), he is not as deeply entrenched as Duncan on this issue. There are also at least two candidates running for county council who are opposed to the ICC: Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg. The cost of petroleum continues to climb with gasoline now at over $3 per gallon. A recent poll suggests that the more people learn about the huge costs, extensive adverse effects and marginal benefits of the ICC, the more they tend to favor alternatives.
September 17 - I love walking in the forest after a good rain. Everything is fresh, the ground damp, footsteps go unheard. I'm perched on the sewer bunker. Chickadees and nuthatches are chatting, jays calling, dogs barking in the distance. The stilt grass has almost covered the trail - not much traffic through here lately. Tom's trickle is trickling. It's peaceful here, as usual, a pleasant place to sit and think, and there is a lot of good news to think about.
The Democratic primary was a huge success in spite of a spate of dishonest publicity by the End Gridlockers. Ike Legget, on a campaign of slowing growth, trounced pro-growth Steve Silverman. Dutchy and Marc made it into the top four. Valerie Ervin, also opposed to the ICC, won handily in district 5. There being no significant Republican opposition, we now have the prospect of an executive who was accused by his opponents as being equivocal on the ICC and a county council whose majority is on record as being opposed. In a further development, Doug Duncan pulled out of the governor's race on June 23rd for health reasons - he is suffering from depression. Thus, Martin O'Malley, whose support for the ICC has been much less zealous than Duncan's, will run against Ehrlich in November.
To my right, another oak tree is down, uprooted by wind and rain. It was a large one that took several neighbors along for the ride. Huge clusters of brown leaves droop from its branches which block the trail. There is not yet a new path around it. As I said, not much traffic through here.
A healthy multiflora rose with six foot branches grows in the soil that has accumulated on top of the bunker. The soil is an inch thick in places, even thicker at the base of the rose bush. I scrape the bush loose from the surface with my boot, push it over the edge of the bunker. I'm amazed at the richness of the soil. Carbonaceous. Cellulosic. Organic leaf litter, bird droppings, worm excrement.. The multiflora rose, if unchecked, will take over this woods, render all trails impassable, convert this place into a jungle.
A pileated woodpecker has entered the scene. I hear its loud call once in a while but haven't seen it yet; haven't really tried to locate the bird. It will appear soon enough, or maybe not. It doesn't matter. We can appreciate eachother without eye contact.
Early November - Martin O'Malley defeatsRobert Ehrlich for governor of Maryland. Shortly thereafter, Environmental Defense and the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club filed notice that they intend to jointly sue to stop the ICC, arguing that it would violate the federal Clean Air Act. The Audubon Naturalist Society announced its intention to file a separate suit, contending that the Ehrlich administration violated NEPA by failing to adquately consider alternatives that are less damaging to the environment. Maryland Transportation Secretary Flanigan said he was neither surprised nor worried.
2007 - On January 25 I attend a Transportation Forum at the county office building. The council members, some old, some new, are seated on the stage, ready to hear public comments about transportation. After turning in a written statement linking the ICC to the War in Iraq, I take a seat near the front and listen. Of 30 people who speak, 29 of them express opposition to the ICC. Where are the supporters? Their numbers are few. They need not show up. Their support is expressed in large amounts of cash donated to campaign funds. At the conclusion, council members are each given a few minutes to respond. Marc Elrich declares his desire to "put a dagger through the heart of this project". I watch the Gazette and Post carefully over the following days. Nothing is reported.
February - I attend a lecture by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods - Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. He talks about how children today spend less and less time outdoors and mentions studies that are beginning to show the adverse affects on physical and mental health. One of the reasons why children spend less time in nature is that urban sprawl has diminished the number of natural places that are available. All the more reason to oppose the ICC. Let's get people out of their houses and cars and into the woods!
June 21 - I had lunch on the sewer bunker today. It was delightful - 78F, a few clouds and breeze enough to give voice to the leaves. Some of the houses along Garrett Road in Derwood appear to be vacant, as if their owners have given up the battle. Who can blame them? Governor O'Malley has reiterated his support for the ICC, dashing hopes that he might turn around after the election. None of the politicians are talking about the ICC anymore, in spite of the pending law suits, which were transferred from the District of Columbia to Maryland where the courts are said to be less sympathetic to environmental concerns.
After lunch I walked further into the woods. The ferns are luxuriant. The vernal pool is dry enough to traverse without getting shoes muddy, even though we've had plenty of rain this spring. I drifted over to the labyrinth, took a seat on one of those massive roots that curls out over the creek and stared down at the water striders for a while. Drift and thrust. Drift and thrust. I have been urged to write to O'Malley, who could still put an end to this madness if he chose. What could I possible say to make him change his mind? Nothing, I fear. He's not going to read my letter. His aides will quickly assess my sentiment and throw my letter on the appropriate pile. I suspect that in this final hour he will receive more letters opposed to than in favor of the ICC but the commercial interests have already garnered his attention by contributing to the more than ten million dollars he raised during his campaign.
Last night I attended a meeting at which Roger Berliner, one of the new county council members, spoke about development, mansionization and energy issues. I asked him his opinion about the ICC and whether he saw it as connected to his concerns about conserving energy and stopping global warming. He expressed the opinion that the ICC was a done deal and that the county council didn't have much clout at this stage. He wasn't inclined to waste political capital (where have you heard that term before?) on that issue unless he could see a path toward success. In other words (mine) let someone else take the lead and forge the path. OK, having no political capital to lose, I will take the lead. Dear Governor O'Malley . . . (The response was pro forma)
In August a group of Maryland's top enviro groups including the League of Conservation Voters, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Environment Maryland presented lawmakers with a proposed budget designed to diminish the $1.5 billion deficit by half. Central among the recommendations was stopping the ICC.
In September, all nine members of the Prince Georges County Council formally added their support for a law suit brought by the Audubon Naturalist Society and others to stop the ICC on the basis that the impact on the environment was not adequately addressed, particularly the effect on the health of those who live near the proposed highway.
On October 1, I went to the federal district court in Greenbelt to hear some oral arguments, Judge Alexander Williams Jr presiding. I took metro down into the city and back out, then waited almost thirty minutes for a bus. It took two hours to get there and I was 30 minutes late. (A metro train that paralleled the beltway would come in handy. They could make a good start on one with the money that is being spent on the ICC). The court room was filled with people including numerous familiar opponents of the ICC. I could hardly find a seat. Lawyers for the plaintiffs showed a background video and proceeded to complain that the process had started with a single outcome in mind, that adequate alternatives were not considered, the analysis was inadequate. At one point the judge made it clear that he didn't want to "fly spec" a bunch of environmental documents. I can't blame him for that. Lawyers for the defendents were better dressed and supremely confident. They argued that every issue had been addressed, that all the hoops had been properly jumped through. As for the destruction of parkland, the "Right of Way" was established at the same time as the parks or had been designated by the master plan, blah, blah, blah. It was not an exciting afternoon and nothing would be resolved. A second lawsuit dealing with air quality issues was scheduled for Oct 29. The final decision would be several weeks in coming.
The following week, in a letter to Gov. O'Malley, five of nine Montgomery Council members ask for a delay in construction until the legal issues are settled. The SHA agrees not to do anything that couldn't be undone. The segment that traverses the Mill Creek watershed is first in line. Signs are going up and heavy equipment is being moved into position.
Finally, on Nov 8, Judge Williams rules in favor of the state, declaring that the latest study "thoroughly considered, examined and, most importantly, corrected the deficiencies from previous failed attempts" to address the environmental issues. Environmental groups have ninety days to consider an appeal. Where will they get the money? Attention turns to Governor O'Malleys Commision on Climate Change in hopes that the rising cost of oil and growing momentum to reduce carbon emissions might be seen as incompatible with the construction of another beltway. Not much hope.
2008 - I attended a couple of forums organized by Greg Smith, the most tireless activist I've ever met.There is still considerable opposition but the momentum is gone. Construction in the Mill Creek headwaters area has put most of the creek underground. According to the FHA, construction costs have increased 40% since 2005 but the estimates for the ICC have not been revised. I am no longer actively working on this issue. I am defeated.
Why don't deer eat exotic plants? Does anybody know? Does stilt grass taste bad or is it accually indigestible? Do the deer lack enzymes required to break it down? Do the deer in Asia eat stilt grass? I am curioius but can't find the answers to these questions.
I can hear the beeps and groans of heavy equipment working on the ICC, rearranging the earth nearby. I don't want to think about it. I feel guilty about my failure to keep up the Mill Creek Journal on nethingham.org. Is there any point? The battle is over. We lost. The enemy is in the process of reaping the spoils. The quaint little neighborhood along Overhill road has been demolished. The latest issue of ANS News has a picture of runoff being funneled into the Mill Creek headwaters area.
But here, on the sewer bunker, things are pretty much the same. The trees that fell over the trail during the downburst of 2003 are beginning to decay, their trunks are settling closer to the ground making it possible to get over them.
Through the seams of the man hole covers I can hear the faint sound of water running through the sewer pipes. I would love to pry the top off and have a look. It might be a good place to hide when the authorities eventually come after me. The thought of it reminds me of that movie Dark Days about homeless people living under NYC in old railroad tunnels.
Blair Ewing, the county council member who worked so hard to promote rational transportation policy, passed away last week. The Washington Post saw fit to begin its eulog with a favorable quote from Mike Subin, the guy who had once threatened Ewing's testicles. The Post editors couldn't resist mentioning how Ewing had "fought road construction including the desperately needed intercounty connector that is only now materializing".
I love being alone in the woods, alone with the birds and bugs and plants. The birds are crucial. Without them it would be too desolate, the solitude oppressive. Their songs and chatter make all the difference in the world. Where are the squirrels?
Red rasberries galore, growing near the bunker next to one of the fallen trunks. It appears that some have been picked recently since there are many freshly exposed orangish-yellow cores. Humans? Animals? Maybe they just fell off under their own ripe weight. Regardless, I ate a few and quickly filled my large McDonalds coffee cup with more to take home. Should return again and pick enough to freeze.
The vernal pool has no standing water. It was an unusually wet spring until a few weeks ago when my daughter and family arrived from California packing beautiful dry weather. I hope some wood frogs managed to mature and escape before the drought.
As I approch the Labyrinth I pause to take a leak. Just as I finish, some movement catches my eye and I am surprised to see a young woman in tan shorts, hiking boots and a forest green T-shirt moving quickly down the foot path across the creek. "Hi" she said, as I waved. She waited for her golden retriever to catch up and then continued on her way, swinging 3 lb weights in each hand. My kind of gal.
The creek is clean except for a faint sheen on the surface where the sun hits. A few water striders drift and thrust, their out-sized shadows clearly visible, distinct against the smooth silt that covers most of the sand and stones along the creek bed.
I walk upstream and eventually come to the small tributary that runs behind the Presbyterian Church. It has suffered terrible erosion; its bed contains a two foot wide channel 18 inches deep. The cause is obvious. From here I can see through the trees a large culvert not fifty yards away, directing runoff from freshly layed asphalt into the drainage. This is not the ICC, it is the newly routed Overhill Road. I take some pictures and head on home. Can't help but wonder what's happening at Northwest Branch and Paint Branch. Dare I go there?
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November 2013 - ICC Toll Revenue falls short of early forecasts, according to an article in the Washington Post.Tolls elsewhere in the state have been jacked up to help pay the debt incurred by the $3 billion ICC. For example, the toll on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge increased from $2.50 to $4.00 in July 2011, and more recently to $6.00. As for the ICC itself, it already costs $8 for a round trip on the 19 mile highway. That is already more than many are willilng to pay.