Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Gas Pipeline Job Kicks Off Mass Ave Road Rebuilding

Big machines. Trucks. Orange Cones. Yellow-vested workers.

What are the crews doing in the Massachusetts Avenue roadway? Why are they funneling traffic to fewer lanes? Why must we walkers and runners dodge their stuff? It's been going on for months!

Stepping around the cones and you'll step into the world of District underground infrastructure.

These big cutting machines scratch the surface of the bother we'll have for years along Mass Ave from 20th Street to Waterside Drive. Their work is the opener of a big DDOT road-and-sidewalk replacement known as MARP, for Massachusetts Avenue NW Rehabilitation Project, due to start in 2021.

Restore Mass Ave has been concerned about the MARP. That project will replace roadbed, sidewalks and street lights between 20th Street and Waterside Drive - the most historic mile of Embassy Row where we have been growing mature trees. Since the first MARP plans were released in 2017, RMA worked to make them tree-friendly.

In advance of the MARP, Washington Gas moved up its plan to replace the old underground gas system on this route. The gas pipeline web that carries gas to each address is one of the entanglements that underlie District streets.  The gas work here is part of PROJECTPipes, a $300 million replacement of the gas system, to stop leakage of CO2 and methane and water leaks which can disrupt service. (Below are links for PROJECTPipes' cool map and for the Washington Gas Climate Business Plan.)

The yellow pipes you see are waiting to be set into the roadbed. Pull out the old! In with the new! But watch out! They must be hitched up seamlessly!  Then dump trucks refill the trenches with piles of dirt. The road surface gets topped with steel plates or asphalt. It becomes driveable but hardly smooth.

Will the gas line replacement hurt the trees? RMA gets care for 200 "street trees" that form rows along the curbs. Most are lindens. Some are of impressive age and size. Their roots link to each other underground. Aboveground their leaf canopies join with the next in the row to make shade.

Trenching the roadway  Most of the yellow pipe is set in long trenches aligned with the street. The diggers have almost no chance of finding roots there. Utility lines have been buried in District main arteries since the late 19th century  - when the first street trees were planted.  Street trees that have survived know better than to search past bundles of buried wires and pipes.

At street intersections the new gas lines must be hitched together seamlessly. The contractor, Miller Pipeline, returns over and over to reopen those nodes. Fortunately, there are no tree roots there!

Service lines into yards  From the main lines under the road gas, is distributed in spurs, or "service lines." (See graphic below.) These pipes tunnel under sidewalks into the front yards (which are DC land) to a local line or even straight to the building.  Many service lines here are old.
Replacing service lines poses the biggest risk to trees.

 To grow big above ground, a tree's roots must find good soil. The roots of a street tree grow sideways, into the soil of the tree next tree, if there is one.  Research shows that root systems of neighboring trees feed one another, helping them both grow. The roots of curbside trees along Mass Ave often grow back under the sidewalk into the generous 'yards.'  And down-pointing roots add stability and growth.

These roots are the odd three -way scaffold that upholds the big street trees we all enjoy.

Alas the Washington Gas Construction Process page does not mention trees or tree protections. Fortunately, the Miller Pipeline contractors are bound by DDOT rules for work in public space - including tree protections. Miller Foreman Vincent A. showed me the copy of these rules he keeps on his truck.

Among the rules: No root greater than 2" diameter may be cut, until an Urban Forestry Division arborist has inspected. If a root greater than 2" diameter is left exposed by digging it must be covered with a wet cloth until filled over.     

You can be an RMA Observer! Download the six points to look for here.

What do we get for it? 

We get the upgrade of a major utility locally and to the city. PROJECTPipes is not cheap. The regiowide work through 2024 costs $305 million - paid in part by a $4 surcharge on DC residents' monthly gas bills. 

Climate impact: Old gas pipes leak methane - a terrible greenhouse gas. Gas leakage also harms soil. At an online community meeting July 29, Washington Gas said it had been one of 10 national leaders in climate -friendly actions for the three years. The first phase (2014-2019) removed 5,674 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by upgrading parts of the  system.

We tree-huggers like that Washington Gas is part of efforts to halve DC's greenhouse gas emissions by 2032, and the more ambitious DC goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

But note: The rows of street trees  - old sturdy ones and those just now maturing - already provide huge environmental services. Our present tree rows combat the District's urban heat island.  They offer walkable, shady public space for decades to come. And they're a "sunk" investment, so basically no cost. -

Trees v. gas upgrade tradeoff:  RMA and friends will work towards zero-tradeoff between street trees (and all other trees) and  gas line upgrade.

We know that pipeline workers love the District's trees as much as we do. 

Links to go here.


Saturday, October 3, 2020

We clean & mulch 31 street trees. Your turn!

Every spring our great landscape contractor Ricky Fuentes cleans out weeds and grass that choke the soil around young and  vulnerable trees that form the "first row" along the curbs of Mass Ave on Embassy Row.  In June Ricky's crew worked around 31 trees we thought needed help.

Starting to help a new tree.

These "street trees" are stressed by wind from traffic, drought and overgrown grass and weeds. These trees are planted & owned by DC Urban Forestry Division. UFD wants nearby owners to care for them, but many owners don't know this.

Restore Mass Ave actively urges those nearby - embassy staffs, other workers and residents - to be stewards of these public trees.

More than 10 years of RMA / owner stewardship helped tree canopy in our project area to grow overallby 13.2% in our first ten years.

Below are photos of RMA's once-a-year kickoff by Ricky's firm J&R Landscaping.

 Now we hope nearby owners will weed and water the trees and keep the soil boxes tidy through the fall.

         Thank you, Ricky and the crew!  Now it's the turn of nearby occupants to look after the trees!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Haiti Embassy 911 Memorial Tree Gets Spring Cleanup

James starts clearing away grass from the tree.
Treekeeper James Brown and Tree Ambassador Deborah Shapley cleared grass that had sprung from the soil around the 911 Memorial Tree at the Embassy of Haiti at 2311 Mass Ave.

Our May 27 cleanup will help the Embassy continue nurturing this tree, which is an important symbol of that nation's resilience.

The 911 Memorial Commission honors those who have faced a terrible tragedy with the award of a clone of the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) that survived the World Trade Center collapse. Back story: In the rubble, workers found this old stump. It was alive!  Experts rescued it and nursed it back to health. It was replanted at the new WTC. Visitors love this living symbol of hope. (See photo below.)

In 2017 the 911 Memorial Commission awarded a clone
of the original survivor tree to the Embassy of Haiti. 
This award honors the Haitian people's resilience
 in the  tragic 2015 earthquake there.
Patrick and James

Restore Mass Ave helped arrange the new tree to be planted right in front of the Embassy, where the public can see it best. Bartlett Tree Experts planted it in 2018 and provided the fence to protect it from vehicles, wind and crowds. The Embassy takes great care of this special tree. 

Josh Nadler of Bartlett's checks up on this tree as it's a special case. He's pleased with its growth.
As part of our Green Community the Haiti Embassy, RMA and Bartletts are growing a new living memorial on Embassy Row.

Haiti Embassy's 911 Memorial Tree.
The original 911 Memorial Tree blooms at WTC.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Thank Korea Embassy for great roses at Sheridan Circle

Travelers can enjoy the Sheridan Circle rosebeds thanks to Embassy of Korea.
   Who's caring for the red rose beds by Sheridan Circle at Mass Ave and 23rd Street?

   The Embassy of Korea has become the "angel" caring for the now-lovely beds of roses on two bits of city land - the big triangle west of the circle and the tiny triangle on the east side.

    Hometown Landscape of Silver Spring now maintains these beds. They even set out RMA's sign, which vanished years ago when RMA Treekeepers were trying to maintain these plantings.

  RMA planted these sites with 'knockout' roses in 2013 with community-donated funds.  But our small NGO has struggled to maintain the beds. The soil needed enrichment which helped. But once the soil was better, weeds spring up!  Wind and dust from traffic buffet the plants and dry the soil. There is no nearby water source.

     The Republic of Korea has three properties in the heart of historic Embassy Row:
 the Consulate (2320 Mass, facing Sheridan Circle), the Korean Cultural Center (2370 Mass), the Embassy (2450 Mass). That embassy like so many of us want to sustain beautiful long views that make our shared, great Grand Avenue an international treasure.

     By giving regular professional care to these once-abandoned sites, which RMA reclaimed and planted, the Embassy of Korea has strengthened our Green Community of "friends working together to re-green Embassy Row."

RMA planted these ginkgos with the Embassy.
RMA Treekeepers mulch and weed the roses,

 The Embassy of Korea  Taegukgi / Taegeukgi   (Korean: 태극기)
Flag of the Republic of Korea or Taegukgi.

South  Korea flag is the Taegukgi features the red and blue
Taeguk, symbol of universal balance. The four black trigrams around it symbolize the seasons.
of Silver Spring, Maryland

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Street trees get help and reminder tags

Treekeeper Kathy digs out crabgrass that was strangling this tree.
Treekeeping Our 2019 program featured reminders and thanks to local owners who care for city-planted trees along the street.

RMA Treekeepers also pitched in - literally. Here Treekeeper Kathy Ryan pulls crabgrass from around a new elm by 2315 Mass. We asked the city UFD to plant this species because, if the tree grows well, it could shade a big bare spot. We thank the Embassy of Haiti, which is next door, for helping the new elm survive.

Tree tags We made and put up tree tags crediting local owners who care for a particular tree. See tag on tree now helped by Embassy Row Hotel at 2015 Mass.

RMA's contractor loosened the soil on 10 trees along 20 Street by the Colombia Residence and at the bus stops on Mass Ave. Then we put tags on some of those trees to warn people not to trample the soil. The final image shows that our tags credit the Urban Forestry Division for planting the tree and credits others involved in its care.      

So we strive with our friends, one tree at a time, to grow full tree rows!

RMA tag on tree on 20th Street.
New tree watered by Embassy Row Hotel, 2015 Mass.

Our tags credit UFD for planting the tree and those who care for it.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Huge trees could be lost at Sursum Corda site

    RMA nurtures the great, huge trees along Embassy Row. Our Grand Avenue was spared the developer's wrecking ball in the 1970s when federal historic status was granted. But RMA cares about big trees all over DC - especially Heritage Trees of 100" circumference or larger, that get extra protection under the 2016 tree law.
       Today RMA warned that developers will axe many Heritage Trees at the Sursum Corda apartment site if a bill before City Council is passed. The bill could come up tomorrow.
       We joined Casey Trees in objecting to the brief bill introduced by Charles Allen, Council Member for Ward 6, where the redevelopment is taking place. Sursum Corda  was a group of low-income homes and apartments for years. The area had many problems, so redevelopment was planned and partly carried out.
      For this phase, hundreds of new apartments would be built on the part of the land where large trees - now called Heritage Trees - have thrived for much of the 20th and all of the 21st century.
      Allen's bill would let the developer pay a lower rate for removing these trees than the 2016 law requires. And by exempting trees on this big, conspicuous project - the bill if passed will invite others to come to the Council with "emergency" exemptions for Heritage-size and other large trees.
      RMA President Deborah Shapley urged Council Member Jack Evans to vote against this bill in  our September 16 letter.
    The 2016 Tree Law is one of the most advanced in the US. It fulfills the visible, shady legacy of our City of Trees which thousands enjoy along Embassy Row and elsewhere in the city.
      We say: Don't gut this law through this back door!


Saturday, September 7, 2019

RMA aids street trees VIDEO

See images of how RMA helps young trees grow, even those next to the busy avenue. RMA works with the Urban Forestry Division of DDOT on what species along curbs will provide the most shade and revive the historic look  - if  they are cared for. We're trying!
Along here, the historic Grand Avenue streetscape had full double rows of shade trees; the District needs these mature tree rows today to reach its tree canopy goals. 

  • Thank you Urban Forestry Division for this lovely little elm which could grow into a mighty shade tree, cooling and beautifying the sidewalk and driveways. It's in front of the vacant Pakistan building at 2315 Mass. The lovely entrance of 2346 Mass is across the street.
  • Thank you Embassy of Haiti (next door at 2211 Mass) for watering this new tree. And for caring for its own sidewalk tree - the 911 Memorial survivor tree (see Our Green Community).
  • Thank you RMA Treekeeper John Umberger for clipping the grass  around this tree and the  Haiti memorial tree next door. The hat is John's after-work attire. There were no bumblebees except in the music.
Your support enables us to help young and at risk street trees. Below are street trees - planted by UFD, for which we arrange care.  Ricky Fuentes of R & J Landscaping loosened and enriched soil around 11 city trees on 20th Street and Mass; two are shown below plus the little elm after John's weedwhack.

Why should neighbors care for street trees? Keeping the tree box clear of grass and crabgrass, loosening soil and light mulch  - improve soil-nutrient exchange. When young trees in hostile environments are cared for  - they grow stronger roots and get bigger.
Note that street trees should be watered regularly through the fall.

          - Deborah Shapley, RMA President, September 2019