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by Ken Ingham

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Mill Creek Journal (1997- ):
Reflections on the Unnatural History of the ICC

(an abridged version of this essay appeared in The Audubon Naturalist, Feb/March 2006 issue; here is the full version which 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.
     Now most of the green space in my everyday world is gone, replaced by housing complexes, shopping centers and roads. Several of my last best hiding places are threatened with a major new highway. The worst part is that most of my elected representatives, indeed many of my fellow citizens, don’t seem to care.

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.
      I come to this relatively pristine stream valley for the first time in March, 1997, in response to an open invitation from local activist Mark Rabinowitz to hike part of the proposed path of the Intercounty Connector (ICC), one segment of an imagined outer beltway around Washington D.C. A leading if not only member of Rock Creek/Anacostia Earth First!, Mark frequently inveighs against the Greater Washington Board of Trade and other road proponents, dispensing a steady stream of articulate email that I find useful for keeping up with the ICC issue. I am curious to meet him.
     The hike draws 25 or 30 people, some from as far away as Pennsylvania where the ICC is perceived as the leading edge of a spreading bruise that could eventually reach Gettysburg. We gather near the bridge on Needwood Drive in Rock Creek Park and study a topographical map on which the proposed highway is superimposed in yellow on a background of green, huge in its dimensions, overpowering the thin blue lines and little black squares that represent the creeks and houses, many in the proposed path of the highway. Elevation diagrams illustrate how the road would be leveled by blasting huge gashes through large hills or building bridges over the valleys, so that, as Mark puts it, “the poor little SUVs won’t have to struggle up hill or tip over on sharp curves.” From where we stand, the colossal causeway would be clearly visible, skirting just above tree line to the north. I squint and try to visualize the prospect. I can almost hear the wheel whir, the groans of the trucks.
     Although I have circled the trodden perimeter of Lake Needwood several times, I have never ventured into the wilder region above it. We walk over the bridge on Needwood Drive and turn north through a conifer grove along the west side of the lake. The leaders seem to know where they are going. Good thing. The woods are pretty thick here, far thicker than any place further south in Rock Creek Park and even though the trees are barren, the place feels remote.
      We cross Mill Creek by stepping from stone to stone. Its bottom is a mix of clean sand and gravel, its water exceptionally clear. I scoop some in my hands, splash it on my face, and try to remember a time when it would not have been foolish to drink from the stream, or even a more recent time when second thoughts were not given to what comes out of the tap, when bottled water was still a novelty. I think of the animals. Has anybody investigated whether they are suffering from contamination of their drinking water?
      We pause here and there while John Parrish , a local naturalist, points out a number of wildflowers: blood root, spring beauty, crane fly orchid, the latter an unusual one that puts out but one leaf per year and that in the fall when most others are being shed. The leaf remains green (on top, and purple underneath) throughout the winter and disappears by the time the flower blossoms in July. Mark points to some wooden survey stakes which designate the Master Plan Alignment. As we follow them up a steep hill, our heart rates increase and our conversation slows.
      The group includes a thick-bearded young man in bib overalls and rubber knee boots with a small monkey wrench dangling from his neck by means of coarse green twine. The gleam in his eye reminds me of a mental patient I once tutored; I wonder if he is fantasizing about a moonlight raid on the survey stakes. We pause for a breather. He twirls his wrench and winks slyly as if reading my mind. I fake a smile. As sympathetic as I am with the Earth First! movement, this guy makes me a little nervous. Yet, I’m thankful there are people who feel strongly enough to lie down in front of a bulldozer, take up residence in a tree, risk going to jail on behalf of Mother Nature. Although such direct actions often seem futile, they serve a useful purpose by attracting attention to the controversy and if enough concerned people come together they can literally keep mountains from being moved.
      After we catch our breath, John tells us that the ICC “wrong-of-way” supports eleven different species of oak . I envy his ability to easily distinguish them simply from their bark, buds, and branching patterns. It is obvious that this gentle botanist has spent a lot of time in the woods, not just here in Mill Creek, but in other threatened areas along the path of the proposed highway. He points out that the Master Plan Alignment would annihilate as many as seven “county champions” (individual trees that are the largest of their species in the county). We pause to observe a trickle of clear water emerging, as if by magic, from the hillside, the beginning of a small tributary to Mill Creek. This water is exceptionally pure because it has filtered through the ground. There are a number of frogs and salamanders that depend on such water for their reproduction, including several that are threatened or endangered. The presence of these “indicator species” signifies the good health of a watershed.
      Eventually we stop by a large fallen log for lunch. Although few of us have met before, we are bound together by our opposition to the proposed highway, the main topic of conversation. John and Mark tell how the outer beltway first appeared on the planning maps half a century ago and was repeatedly knocked down because of environmental concerns like ours. We agree that what might have seemed like a logical plan back then has since turned into a bad idea because of growing awareness of the negative impact that an automobile based transportation system is having on our overpopulated land, our health, and the quality of life. We are choking on our own growth.
      From where we sit I can see the outlines of a church that I assume must face Redland Road. After lunch I excuse myself and head back toward Lake Needwood, hoping to keep an afternoon appointment. Once out of sight and sound of other humans I begin to absorb the vastness of the place, the fact that the woods seem equally thick in all directions with no sign of civilization except for the sound of a jet plane passing high overhead. I vow to return for a more intimate encounter with this threatened watershed – alone.

My 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.
      Things are coming to a head. The Maryland Department of Transportation has just completed a draft environmental impact statement that is several feet thick. In response to alerts from the Audubon Naturalist Society and other watchdog groups , I have already written letters to my county executive and council members, my governor and state senator and all three of my delegates in Annapolis. Isn’t that enough? If everybody did just that much, we could all take a rest. But they don’t and even if they did, the legislators might not respond unless our collective campaign contributions outweighed those of the developers and others promoting this project. Now I am being encouraged to speak in person at one of the public hearings that has been scheduled in June 1997. In a strong moment I had committed myself to three minutes of testimony before the State Highway Administration (SHA). As I crunch on my carrot sticks, I try to think what to say. I am so busy—working full time, taking an Ecology class, keeping up with an exercise program and two book clubs. I resent the fact that the commercial interests hire full time lobbyists and lawyers and write off their fees as a business expense, while I have to work pro bono and am not allowed even to deduct my Sierra Club dues.
     In May I return to the church several times, often staying longer than I should, hiking deeper into the forest in search of spots to hunker down for lunch. One such spot is a concrete sewer bunker partially overgrown with invasive multiflora rose. Sitting on the bunker I have a commanding view of Tom’s Trickle, a small stream that I name after a friend who sometimes accompanies me to Mill Creek. It has its origin in the natural spring seen on my first ICC hike. Two tall tulip trees stand nearby, their trunks each adorned with a single runner of ivy, five-leaf Virginia creeper on one and three-leaf poison on the other. It is as if the two species are having a race.
      I settle down to watch the ivy grow and make some notes for the upcoming hearing. I will try to make three simple points, one for each minute allotted.

First, I will implore the state of MD to lead the East coast in turning away from dependence on automobiles, the way Portland is doing in the West. Why can’t my state become famous for something besides crabs? Maryland has attracted some recognition for our ample parklands; why negate it by building a superhighway through them?

Second, I will contend that the ICC won’t relieve traffic congestion but merely expand the size of the area that is congested. After all, the transportation department’s own study has concluded that the ICC won’t alleviate snarls on the existing beltway.

Third, I will try to convey my heartfelt concern for the creatures whose habitat we are destroying and my genuine belief that their demise is a forerunner of our own.

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.
      Near the sewer bunker I discover a narrow path that leads westward around the foot of a large hill and ends at the edge of the woods near a pair of cell phone towers each enclosed by a chain link fence topped with several strands of barbed wire angled toward the outside. Thereafter I accessed Mill Creek woods from the cell-tower parking lot, which doubled as a spillover lot for the adjacent Knights of Columbus Hall. From that point; it was only a five minute hike to the sewer bunker.

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.
      The issue continues to dominate local politics throughout the summer of 1997. In September, the SHA’s top administrator Parker Williams, in a letter to Montgomery County Council President Marilyn Praisner, “accepts the conclusion of the federal agencies, that the portion of the Master Plan Alignment between MD 98 and US 29 should be eliminated from further consideration” acknowledging that it “would have adversely impacted large portions of Paint Branch and Northwest Branch parks”. The former still harbors brown trout whose breeding would be adversely affected by the chemical and thermal effects of highway runoff. Attention turns to more northerly alignments that would avoid those watersheds but are not without their own hazards including a possible impact on the drinking water in Rocky Gorge reservoir.

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.
      In June, after more than a year of bimonthly meetings the TSG achieves consensus on expanded transit and other non-road initiatives but includes in its final report a controversial recommendation for a limited access “congestion-priced parkway” to be financed in part by tolls on single occupancy vehicles. They warn that even if all their recommendations are followed, traffic will worsen. The exact route for the central portion is still unspecified but the western alignment remains the same; the threat to Mill Creek and Rock Creek is unchanged. Panel members opposed to the ICC in any form issue a minority report urging measures for “getting people out of their cars instead of giving them more roads to clog.” Those are the words of Steven T. Dennis writing in The Gazette, a countywide weekly that lands in my driveway every Wednesday.
      I continue to communicate sporadically with my state representatives as well as some members of the county council. I send them each a copy of a recent article in Science that calls attention to the imminent peak in global petroleum production, asking them to consider the consequences for the next generation. I implore them to envision a world without automobiles, recommending alternatives from light rail to roller blades. In spite of my advice, and in the face of numerous polls showing majority opposition, they all maintain their position, politely professing also to be concerned about the environment but claiming, in the name of gridlock, no other choice.
      One group of legislators becomes so frustrated by lack of popular support for the ICC that they start their own advocacy group called ICC-Yes!, adding a touch of irony to the term auto lobby. Their web site (no longer active) includes a list of those who support the ICC and invites others to sign up. I wonder how many on that list have walked the path? How many are familiar with the natural areas that they would devastate? How could they be?

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 Turtle.)
      We continue through the valley following the general direction of Mill Creek. Our conversation is interrupted several more times by “quacking” and each time the sound ceases before we can identify its location. We start up a steep hill, part of a ridge that separates the Mill and Rock Creek watersheds. A continuous quacking rises up from the valley on the other side and from the summit it is possible to have a conversation without disturbing them. We snack, listen to the frogs and talk about our involvement in the campaign of Pat Baptiste, a democrat who is running in a special primary for the county council seat of Betty Ann Krahnke who has resigned because of illness. Although Pat is a democrat and Betty Ann a republican, both are opposed to the ICC and Betty has endorsed Pat. On our way back to the car we pass near the original vernal pool where the wood frogs are again quacking. The thought of a highway being built through this place only strengthens our desire to elect Pat Baptiste.
      In the weeks that follow I return periodically to monitor the progress of the eggs in that vernal pool, the one closest to the sewer bunker. They soon hatch into thousands of tiny tadpoles. I watch them while eating my lunch, sharing morsels from my sandwich with the “polliwogs”as I and my Michigan boy friends used to call the squirming critters. As the days lengthen I begin stopping by after work. On returning from one of those trips I encounter a small group of men and boys, volunteers from the Knights of Columbus, working diligently with chain saws and weed whips to clear brush and small trees in the area around the parking lot. One of the men, noticing my binoculars, strikes up a conversation.

“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.”

     It is discouraging that someone could be so misinformed. Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has made no secret of his support for the ICC and is rumored to be preparing a run for Governor in 2002. Support for the ICC will attract big bucks to help finance a campaign.

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.
     On May 1, 2000, Glenda and I attend what we hope will be a victory party at a popular night club in Bethesda. Doug Duncan is there, out of courtesy I suspect; his endorsement of Pat’s campaign has not been compelling. I maneuver myself into a position next to this large imposing figure and work up enough courage to start a conversation. “Are you familiar with the Mill Creek Stream Valley” I ask. “Certainly” he says, smiling down at me. I then follow up with an unrehearsed statement about how I have been spending a lot of time there and how tragic it would be to build a major highway through it. Before he can answer, a relative hush comes over the room as the results of the election are announced on the big screens -- Howie Denis has won by a margin of seven percent. Doug looks at me and shakes his head. “I thought for sure she would win” he says, but I suspect that deep inside he is pleased with the outcome. Glenda and I feel very discouraged. I need to get to the woods.

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.
      Presently I return with a bucket. It still hasn’t rained and the pool has shrunk further, now a tenth of its original size. The tadpoles are even more concentrated in the shallow water, which has darkened to the color of dilute port wine mixed with a little soy sauce. As I approach, my looming presence triggers a wave of wriggling that spreads over the entire surface of the pool. The wine sauce boils and froths with a surging sound akin to that of a handful of chopped onions thrown into hot oil. I step closer, and again, the surface of the water is punctuated with thousands of little disturbances. How could they know I have come to their rescue?
     If the drought continues, they will all be dead in a few days. Why hasn’t a heron or other wading bird discovered this delicacy; for them it would be like stabbing hors d’oeuvres with a toothpick. I dip my bucket into the broth and scoop up several dozen of them. My captives continue to thrash about as I hurry back to the car. While stopped at traffic signals I peek into the bucket where they still wriggle, though more calmly now. I show the catch to Glenda, then go behind the house and dump them into a small homemade pond, full of stagnant water, mosquito larvae and tree litter. They immediately disperse and swim about furiously, bouncing up to the surface, then diving deep. Their ecstatic behavior seems to mirror my own emotion.
      Over the next couple of weeks I keep an eye on them through the dining room window. Even from that distance, I see that some are sprouting limbs. One day I notice a small but fully developed frog sitting on the edge of the plastic liner. I put a little piece of wood in the water and the next day I am pleased to see it sitting there. Then it rains, hard—as if all the rain for the month of May has been saved up. The pond overflows and I never see the polliwogs again. But I know that at least one of them matured and may have survived the flood. The most gratifying end to this little story would be if next April I hear quacking in my back yard.

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.
      There is little common ground between the two sides. One letter to The Gazette referred to ICC opponents as “environazis” with a “pagan pseudo-religion.” I resent this tendency to denigrate environmentalists, as if we were unwholesome selfish people. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the environmentalists I know are concerned not just for themselves but even more so for future generations and for the future of all creatures with whom we share this planet, and for the multitudes who have yet to learn or have forgotten the value of quiet time in the woods. Sure, we want to preserve our favorite places but more than that, we want to preserve as much of nature as possible, preferably all that is left, so there will be enough of it to accommodate the huge flocks that we hope to stir with our evangelism.
      Yes, Virginia, ecology is like a religion for some of us. We have faith in its rational principles to guide our decisions about land use and how to treat this planet. We worship in natural places where we get in closer touch with our spirituality than we ever did in church. We also believe in Santa Claus. He keeps his reindeer in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and loves all the living creatures in the world, even you Virginia -- and his helpers know who’s naughty or nice and they squeal!
     Seriously, one of the most promising developments on the religious front is the growing acceptance of the notion that it is sinful to harm the earth. Indeed, Max Oelschlager in Caring for Creation (Yale University, 1994) argues persuasively that religion is the last best hope for saving it. To that end, a growing number of religious leaders are attempting to resurrect the biblical concept of stewardship over God’s sacred creation. As if to counteract the lingering effects of Lynn White’s widely read essay (Science, 1967) contending that religion is the main cause of environmental destruction, they take out full page adds in major newspapers declaring the importance of renewing the endangered species act. To promote discussion on the subject of greenhouse emissions, the Evangelical Environmental Network asks questions like “What would Jesus drive?” Humanity, increasingly concerned about overpopulation and sustainability, is again in the process of updating its views of right and wrong, even as it wages war over control of diminishing petroleum and potable water.

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.
    An anti-ICC rally near Lake Needwood in April is well attended. After viewing posters depicting the effects of the ICC on local flora and fauna and listening to speeches advocating rapid transit and other alternatives, several hundred of us hike single file up a narrow path along the east side of Rock Creek through what will later become known as Option C, an alternative local alignment for the ICC. The stream is beautiful here, with many ripples that glisten in the sun, its banks lined with over-leaning trees and clusters of moss covered rocks.We continue all the way to Muncaster Mill Road, back down the other side of the creek and into the Mill Creek stream valley. Although the large turnout confirms that opposition to the highway is still substantial, the vast financial resources of the commercial interests are beginning to affect public opinion.
      Meanwhile, rising tensions over transportation are hampering the ability of the council to conduct normal business. Those members who oppose the road feel threatened by Duncan’s formidable machine, financed largely by developer dollars. Councilman Blair Ewing proposes an “improved mobility plan” based on upgrades to existing roads, expanded public transit, emphasis on walking, biking and telecommuting, and construction of some new roads but not the ICC. It goes nowhere. Ewing is despised by the ICC-mongers. A few weeks later another council member is quoted in The Gazette (5/24/02) as threatening to “cut his balls off.

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.
     My thoughts turn to the grim upcoming midterm elections. Duncan has abandoned plans to run for governor and is seeking reelection as county executive, virtually unopposed. Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is running for governor against former delegate Robert Ehrlich, a supporter of the ICC. In an awkward break from Glendenning, the one who plucked her from near obscurity to be his running mate, Townsend declares her support for an (environmentally correct) ICC. She does this on the same day (Mar 26, 2002) that Ehrlich formally announces his candidacy. The Gazette immediately questions her veracity. Some democrats are also suspicious, while others hope that she doesn’t really mean it. They haven't forgotten that Glendenning also supported the ICC in his first campaign, then reversed himself during his second.
      At the county level, all nine council seats are up for grabs. Executive Duncan, with huge sums accumulated during his temporary run for governor, is supporting a slate of candidates for county council. They promise to “End Gridlock” by building the ICC. It has become almost impossible for a member of either party to raise enough money to run an effective campaign if he or she is opposed to the road. According to Rich Parsons, now chairman of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, the ICC is the “top priority for the business community.”
      On July 4th, Duncan proposes a $10 billion “Go Montgomery” plan which includes, in addition to the ICC, a study of the equally controversial “techway,” a proposed road leading through the Agricultural Reserve to a new bridge that would link Maryland’s “technology corridor” with Virginia’s counterpart across the Potomac—all part of the imagined but rarely mentioned outer beltway. The council strips the ICC from that package and is promptly assailed by the executive who calls it “the most important component.”
      By the end of July, both The Gazette and its owner, The Washington Post, have endorsed the pro-ICC “End Gridlock” council slate. The Gazette had cosponsored another poll in which 1,200 voters were asked the simple question “Do you favor or oppose the so-called Intercounty Connector or ICC?” After several years of intensive public relations effort and repeated editorial hammering by both newspapers, the percentage in favor has increased to 53 percent statewide and 66 percent in Montgomery County. Of course the respondents are not asked weather they favor or oppose light rail and other alternatives. The outcome probably reflects the genuine frustration of motorists increasingly stuck in traffic with no meaningful alternatives in sight. Most of them do not follow the issue in depth and want to believe when their leaders tell tham, mistakenly, that the ICC will solve their problem.
     In September, Ewing and several other slow-growth candidates, whose collective budget was a pittance compared to that of their “end gridlock” opponents, are defeated in the primary election, victims of a nasty negative campaign. Two months later, Maryland voters elect their first Republican governor since 1966, in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 2:1, and on December 3 the new “no nonsense” county council votes 6 to 3 in favor of a resolution supporting the ICC. The front is becoming more united.

2003 - 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.
      In June, almost a year since my last visit to Mill Creek, I start down the usual path and come to a huge fallen tulip tree. Then another and another. By the time I reach the sewer bunker I have seen, climbed over, or walked around a dozen recently fallen trees, all lying in the same general direction, apparently toppled by the same downburst. Although it is sad to see so many large trees meet their end prematurely, this natural calamity can’t compare with what is looming at the hand of man.

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 me.
     I recently retired and am now free to linger as long as I wish. And yet I feel restless, as if I should be going somewhere and doing something. But what could be more important than what I am already doing here in the woods — reading the DEIS overview that arrived in the mail, just two days before my scheduled testimony. My attention settles on Table 4, a summary of the extent of the impact of the ICC on the environment. The natural features that would be adversely affected include, depending on the alignment, 22-38 acres of wetlands, 37 acres of “emergent wetlands” created by past mining activities, 7.4-9.3 miles of streams, 48-68 acres of floodplain and 589-794 acres of woods. The major benefit of the highway would be to shorten the projected time of peak auto travel between Gaithersburg and Laurel by about half an hour. However, only a tiny fraction of projected trips would cover that distance. Shorter east-west trips would be less affected; from Rockville to College Park for example would take 42 minutes instead of 53. Some sections of local roads and parts of the existing beltway would experience an increase in traffic if the ICC is built. This revelation, which is not included in the summary, detracts from the claim that the ICC will “end gridlock.”
      The purpose of an environmental impact statement is to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, a requirement for federal funding. It is supposed to compare various alternatives, their potential consequences and the approaches taken to minimize impact on the environment. That didn’t happen. This DEIS considers the pros and cons of building the ICC only in comparison to doing nothing. We are left in the dark as to the impact of spending $3 billion on alternatives, such as those proposed by the brave Mr. Ewing. Well, not completely in the dark. Opponents of the ICC invested $40,000 of their meager funds to sponsor a separate study by a nationally recognized traffic modeling firm. All of the alternatives examined were projected to cause a greater reduction in congestion than would the ICC.
      None of this is surprising or new to those who have paid attention. As I stated during my testimony before the SHA at Gaithersburg High School on the evening of Jan 5, 2005, the ICC is not about relieving congestion, it is a blatant quest for power by a minority of commercial interests who have the financial resources to manipulate public opinion, employ fulltime lobbyists and contribute inordinate sums to political campaigns, buying their way into a multibillion dollar deal that will literally pave the way for future sprawl, destroy hundreds of acres of natural park land, disrupt communities and rob the rest of us of the resources needed to develop alternatives. Building the ICC is tantamount to a Declaration of Dependence on a dwindling nonrenewable resource at a time when global competition for that resource is soaring.
      Now is the time to prepare for the inevitable by developing a new sustainable transportation system that makes better use of human energy and moves people instead of cars. The auto era was splendid while it lasted but now, it seems so clear, we must liberate ourselves from the burden of taking several thousand pounds of steel with us wherever we go.

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.
      A pileated woodpecker lands on a nearby trunk, announcing its arrival with a loud kik kik kik. . Maybe it sees those dozer tracks and wonders what I’m going to do about it. The vernal pool is low (no rain for ten days) and holds fewer frog eggs than in previous years. Those wood frogs are in trouble even without an ICC. A buzzard leaves a nearby perch, one of several who apparently roosted there. Now they are leaving one by one, beginning their day and another search for dead meat, road kill. The ICC might be good for them. I follow the dozer tracks a little further into the forest and find several more boxes filled with cores. It is beginning to feel like ground zero.
     The county council recently voted 7-2 in favor of corridor 1. This occurred on the same day that EPA announced its preference for corridor 2, concluding that even with longer bridges, etc., the environmental impact of corridor 1 remains “significant.” The council also favors Rock Creek Option A, as opposed to option C which is preferred by EPA. Both options would trash the headwaters of Mill Creek, crossing each of its two upper forks, then running adjacent to it for about a mile before diverging at Redland Road near the Presbyterian Church. Option A would continue straight and follow the path I use to access the vernal pool. After obliterating Tom’s Trickle, it would continue through a wet meadow of ferns, skunk cabbage and jack-in-the-pulpits, traversing Rock Creek Park at one of its widest points. Option C would veer sharply to the north to avoid the lower part of Mill Creek but still pass within shouting distance of the labyrinth. After barging through the neighborhoods of Cashell Estates (where real people would lose their homes) and Winters Run, it would cross Rock Creek Park at a point close to Muncaster Mill Road where those several hundred protesters hiked in the spring of 2002. According to the DEIS, option C would be more expensive and take more houses than Option A. To me, the choice is akin to that between heart disease and cancer; one causes more suffering but both are deadly and neither is acceptable.
      In July, Governor Ehrlich schedules a news conference to announce the state’s choice of alignment for the ICC, a slightly modified version of corridor 1 together with Rock Creek Option C. Even though the venue is kept secret until a few hours before the conference, a small cadre of protestors appears. Supporters, on the other hand, were plentiful, having been notified and provided with special buses. Doug Duncan, now a declared candidate for governor, is there, eager to take as much of the blame as possible. The event plays as if the choice of route is the last uncertainty, as if the ICC is now a done deal. But that is not the case. Some significant obstacles remain and opposition continues to simmer. An EPA spokesperson expresses lingering concern about the fate of the brown trout in Paint Branch. The army corps of engineers must also approve. In past battles it has been the Feds that have nixed the project but that seems less likely under the current administration. The failure of the SHA to analyze meaningful options in the DEIS violates at least the spirit of NEPA and invites legal action.

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.
      January 12 is exceptionally mild, in the sixties. Coincidently, the morning paper has a front page story linking the disappearance of dozens of frog species to global warming. I spend the middle half of the day hiking in Mill Creek valley, retracing my first steps of almost nine years ago. Since then I have enjoyed this and other watersheds in the path of the ICC many times. Glenda accuses me of single issue politics. Maybe she is right. The ICC has definitely become a kind of symbol, a focus for my environmental angst. The fact is, Mill Creek, Rock Creek, Northwest Branch and Paint Branch are irreplaceable resources that were set aside for conservation and recreation, not for the building of roads. Construction of the ICC would desecrate these stream valleys and further entrench our reckless dependence on personal automobiles. On the other hand, a decision to forgo the ICC and develop alternatives would point us in a new and fresh direction, one more likely to serve us well into the future. We must continue the fight. We must resist the developer juggernaut. If all those who oppose the ICC will take the time to scribble their heartfelt concerns on a piece of paper and mail a copy to each of their representatives, especially those at the federal level, we can turn this thing around. They need to hear from us, now, and again. We are numerous, perhaps the majority, and we have the moral advantage because our concern is not just for ourselves but for the next generations, for our children and theirs and theirs . . . who will need these natural places even more than we do.

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. A booklet hard copy is available at lulu.com

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, 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, a tireless local activist. 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.

July 8 - Mill Creek Sewer Bunker
A delightful morning. Wood thrushes singing. Two deer, young velvet-pronged bucks, grazing along Tom's trickle, selectively, ignoring the abundant stilt grass and multiflora rose that dominates the understory. It is difficult for them to locate something native to eat. They've already consumed most of it. They drifted quite close to me before noticing my movement, then retreated to the other side of the trickle and stared at me as I write.

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?

= = = = =

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.



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