Connect with us

Opinion

A perspective on the Town Council’s view of creek stabilization – Time to catch up with the 21st Century

Published

on

During the November 9 Town Council meeting, Melody Hotek, president of the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards was assured by town staff that no trees over 4-inches in diameter had been cut down by the Town Public Works crew along Happy Creek next to Front Street. However, an inventory of stumps along the west bank by arborist David Means and myself revealed that 115 trees of that size or larger had been cut down. Of these, 87% were native species, and 77% measured 5-16 inches in diameter.

Unfortunately, we cannot know the size of trees ripped out by the roots before Means reported the work to the Royal Examiner in October. According to town staff some larger trees had to be removed so that the “bench could be sloped” for the installation of rocks.

Interestingly, the oldest trees were about 20 years old. Asking around, we were told that the Town used to cut the trees down every three years – until about 20 years ago. This would also explain our town manager’s claim that clear-cut banks and rocked-in streambeds “will be beautiful.” Those of us over 50, like myself and the town manager, grew up in landscapes like that, with nature tamed and trimmed, shrubs sheared into lollipops, perfect lawns doused in herbicide, and trees with limbs chopped off like amputees.

After: Expensive 20th Century flood control concepts replacing effective 21st Century solutions along Happy Creek in Front Royal. Courtesy Photos FR-WC Tree Stewards

But times are changing, and we must change as well. Every 21st-century kid learns about water quality and riparian buffers in school nowadays. But those of us who haven’t been to school in a while may have missed the updates – that clean water, flood control, and healthy trees go hand in hand. Most towns and cities are exchanging the riprap our Council is now installing for exactly what we’re yanking out: 35 to 100-foot borders of broad-rooted trees and shrubs, called riparian buffer zones.

Before: A riparian buffer no longer in place along Happy Creek’s bank on Front Royal’s southside as Tree Stewards plant the now ‘deceased’ willow tree on a rainy Arbor Day 2016.

Unfortunately, the “bad haircut” accurately described by Tenia Smith in her recent letter to the editor is the result of misguided and outdated thinking in stormwater management and healthy water quality. A rock-lined stream acts like a water chute, accelerating and building the volume of excess water as it travels downstream, spreading out at first opportunity into town streets, damaging bridges and buildings along the way. By contrast, tree roots not only quickly absorb water, but prevent erosion and filter out pollutants like dog poop and toxins. In addition, they shade us and the stream on hot days, keeping the water cool enough for fish and other organisms that thrive in healthy streams.

Fortunately, the roots of the remaining stumps along Happy Creek not only continue to secure the banks but contain enough energy to re-sprout next spring – if they’re not removed so that “the bench could be sloped.” Had the trees remained undisturbed, the larger ones would have eventually shaded out the weaker ones, leaving a tall and beautiful low-cost water filter while providing cheap flood control.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a role for riprap. Trees are not allowed within 100 feet of bridges, and if you look off the north side of the South Street Bridge, you’ll see two things – a huge culvert draining the South Street hardscape into Happy Creek and erosion caused by the resulting volume of water. This is where a hardscape mixed with low-growing shrubs and grasses would be a great solution, leaving nature to do the work downstream.

Drainage culvert from hardscape into Happy Creek at South Street.

As buildings are added upstream, such as a likely seven-acre housing development between the Martins plaza and Samuels Library, another enormous culvert will start draining stormwater from new roofs and parking lots. A responsible, forward-thinking Town Council would ensure that Happy Creek remains healthy and that we don’t all have to freak out about another bad haircut along Remount Road. For this reason, a plan should be created and shared with residents for comment well in advance by qualified professionals in our community who understand the importance of both housing and clean water. They are not incompatible.

Our town has an Urban Forestry Advisory Commission appointed by Town Council to address tree care and preservation. But did they obey their own town code by consulting these experts? No, ma’am, they chose a $37,000 bad haircut instead of expanding and beautifying our riparian buffers.

Meanwhile, people must understand that flood control is complex, with many variables. For example, the flooding you observed on downtown a few years back was due to overwhelmed pipes draining excess water into poor old Happy Creek, who could not contain it all. Well-managed communities know that excess water is best controlled at its source. Thus proper zoning ensures that runoff is retained where it hits the ground, to be released over a 24-48-hour period into streams like Happy Creek. Nowadays, beautiful equals healthy – for humans, trees, and water.

Sonja Carlborg
Front Royal

Share the News:

Opinion

This Thanksgiving, let’s embrace a resilient new tradition

Published

on

For a holiday grounded in tradition, this Thanksgiving is going to feel unsettling: face masks, socially distanced gatherings around an outdoor fire pit, and even Zoom calls with relatives from afar. In the midst of such a shakeup, perhaps the most grounding step we can take is to reflect on our old traditions and whether they truly serve us, our families, and our communities — especially when it comes to the focal point of the holiday for millions of American households: the bird on the table.

The origins of the turkey at the center of our holiday meal are actually murkier than the widely embraced narrative of the “First Thanksgiving” celebrated between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe, which was, in reality, an unremarkable occasion that may not even have featured turkey at all. And, of course, the account completely sidesteps the grim history of raids, murders, and other crimes committed against Native Americans by European colonists. Nonetheless, the turkey took on a starring role in early American literature — particularly the 1827 novel Northwood by Sarah Josepha Hale, who campaigned for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday to bring the U.S. together and stave off the inevitable Civil War. Unfortunately, though, the turkey and its holiday could not thwart the South’s unrelenting quest to preserve slavery by going to battle with the Union.

Despite the raging war, or perhaps aided by it, warming tales of Native Americans and new generations of European Americans all holding hands and giving thanks have persisted in our textbooks and our culture to this day when we now collectively eat a whopping 46 million turkeys. But gone are the days of turkeys raised on family farms, or even the less palatable forced marches of wild turkeys to slaughter. These birds’ modern place — inside the industrial animal agriculture industry — is now not only the turkey’s tragedy. The production of our Thanksgiving meals is actively harming us, and especially the most marginalized among us, all while masquerading as a badge of national unity and gratitude.

Let’s start by peeling back the fancy “American Humane Certified” and similar labels on brands like Butterball that were designed to win consumers’ trust while obfuscating the injustice, environmental devastation, and cruelty behind their products. For the harrowing reality behind the packaging, we can give thanks to the vertical integration of poultry farming over the past half-century by a handful of these massive corporations, forcing former family farmers into below-poverty wages and mountains of debt. Meanwhile, inside poultry slaughterhouses, workers — the majority of whom are immigrants and people of color — are also low-paid, often needing to rely on food stamps to get by, and, as recently revealed by Oxfam, many even resort to wearing diapers because of being denied bathroom breaks.

Then, as the pandemic gripped the nation earlier this year, fast-paced, dangerous slaughterhouses quickly became hotspots of infection. Forced to continue working by Executive Order despite rising cases, slaughterhouse employees were often denied adequate PPE and the ability to practice social distancing. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, there have now been over 42,000 coronavirus cases and 200 deaths in meatpacking workers. One plant inspector called the slaughterhouse a “ticking time bomb.”

This recent crisis is just the tip of the iceberg of the dismal and oppressive history of factory farms and slaughterhouses. An article in Environmental Health Perspectives explains the mechanism behind a unique form of environmental racism: “Swine CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations] are disproportionately located in black and brown communities and regions of poverty.” These factories host massive open-air lagoons of pig manure, which are then sprayed onto crops as fertilizer. Surrounding communities report high rates of respiratory irritation, depression, and fatigue and lower quality of life. As for turkey farming specifically, says Jeanne Melchior, acting president of environmental nonprofit Protect Our Woods, “The smell of the turkey houses is terrible. … You can see mounds of manure stacked in the fields. They try to spread it or haul it off, but when it rains, it just runs into the rivers.”

And as more than 41 million Americans (again, heavily concentrated in Black and brown communities) struggle with hunger, animal agriculture consumes enormous water and land resources. Over 500 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of turkey, and for beef, this number skyrockets to 1,800 gallons (whereas kidney beans require just a tenth of the latter figure). Collectively, about 27 percent of our global water footprint can be attributed to this industry, which takes up just as great of a proportion of the world’s ice-free land. In the absence of meat, dairy, and egg production, we could free up an area of land as large as the U.S., China, E.U, and Australia combined — while still feeding everyone.

With what, though? When we begin eschewing this harmful menu default, we can start embracing new traditions that foster resilient, healthy, and sustainable communities. Harking back to that old Thanksgiving mythology that largely omits America’s rich, complex, and often tragic indigenous history, many Native American chefs are addressing the lack of cultural representation in standard American holiday cuisine by “decolonizing” their dishes, which, according to Nephi Craig, founder of the Native American Culinary Association, means “to examine what you’ve been taught around food or nutrition and to take a deep look to see if the standard American dietary pyramid reflects you as an individual.” He further elucidates that this “could be a plant-based meal … It comes down to responsibly sourcing your food based on your views on decolonization and food security.”

All Americans can join Nephi in asking ourselves that question: What does our Thanksgiving meal truly mean to us? Already, millions of people are discovering that we can actually live our values of inclusivity, diversity, and justice through a healthy and hearty feast. Last year, nearly a third of Americans were contemplating enjoying a meatless Thanksgiving dinner. And as the holidays creep up, a new ASPCA survey has just found that over 70 percent of people who heard about the dangers behind factory farming during the pandemic have begun moving away from these products.

This holiday, we’ve already been forced to press pause on what we’ve always done. Let’s use this opportunity to start a new Thanksgiving default, one of resilience, one that helps everyone thrive, and one that centers plants on our plates. With endless possibilities like BBQ roasted cabbage with tempeh, butternut pumpkin with lemon tahini, North African spiced carrot and parsnip salad, and even vegan pumpkin pie ice cream, this new tradition will be something everyone (and our taste buds) can be thankful for.

Laura Lee Cascada
Front Royal, VA 22630

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Opinion

Thank you for volunteering

Published

on

During this COVID-19 crisis, our entire community faces many challenges. This difficult period revealed more than ever the indispensable role of volunteers. We realize that without their dedication and generosity, the consequences of this pandemic would have been much worse.

We’re privileged to have an abundance of community heroes in our region that are willing to pitch in when needed.

To all our local volunteers, THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Royal Examiner.

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Opinion

Historic Election?

Published

on

historically speaking

“In this historic election.” How many times have you heard this over the past two weeks? In truth, there are some historic elements. This election had the greatest number of votes cast in history. Is that historic or population growth? It’s also a higher voter percentage than we have seen in some time, but nowhere close to the highest. A woman on the winning ticket is most definitely historic, so much in fact that I am stumped on how to make a comparison. This past week most of the attention seems to be on Trump’s refusal to admit defeat. But that is not historic either. Many have called this the most important election in our lives, whereas, in fact, it is just the most recent.

First, let’s tackle the voter turnout. At 67% voting at last count, the 2020 election is impressive for modern elections. The last time we cleared 60% was 1968. Historically, however, between 1840 and 1904 voting was always over 70% with the elections of 1856 and 1860 going over 80% and the highest election percentage of all time was 1876 with 81.8%. The elections of 1860, 1876 and 2020 have some similarities; they had either controversial figures or voting irregularities.

The increase in voting percentage is also impressive in 2020. Four years ago, 59% of the population voted, an 8% growth in 2020, one of the highest of all time. Much of this has been attributed to hatred of Trump more than fondness of Biden. Yet, when we look historically, there is not a clear pattern of controversial presidents being the reason for large differences between votes. There was a 10% jump between 1872 and 1876. Though 1876 is one of the most controversial elections, the controversy was the outcome, not the candidates. There was also a 10% jump between 1948 and 1952. Again, nothing controversial; in fact, Eisenhower was popular with both sides in 1952. Finally, the greatest difference between elections was 1836 and 1840 with a 22% increase of voter turnout. In this case it was the economic Panic of 1837 had hurt the incumbent Martin Van Buren, not anything controversial.

As for Trump’s attitude towards conceding, while annoying for the Democrats, this also is not new. Historically speaking, we do not even have to go back very far, only to 2000. Anyone old enough to have gone through this election probably remembers too well the annoyingness of new vocabulary words like “hanging chads.” The Election of 2000 saw two new candidates but with familiar names, Vice President Al Gore versus George Bush. As with 2020, it was a close election on election night and whoever won Florida would win the game.  As election night came to a close and it looked as if Bush had won Florida, Gore made the concession call to Bush. However, by the next day Democrats had come out with claims of voter fraud and voter suppression in Florida, and Gore called Bush back to recant his concession. Democrats demanded a recount, which was done, but after the recount did not change the outcome, Gore demanded a recount by hand instead of by machines. The issue was that on some punch cards, the wrong names were accidently hit or were not punched properly. The recount took weeks, this time to the annoyance of Republicans. In the end, it took the Supreme Court to force the recount to end and declare Bush the winner.

Another example is the election of 1876. The election that tells us the importance of one vote. It looked as if Democrat Samuel Tilden would win the election. He had more popular votes and only needed one of the four remaining states to win, as with Biden in 2020. However, there were voting irregularities in those four remaining states. For instance, South Carolina had 101% voter turnout. Of the four states, three were southern, Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Why is it always Florida? Why that is important is that the Democratic Party dominated southern states so it was expected Democrats would win all three, let alone just the one needed to win. To solve the issue, Congress was forced to get involved and create a 15-man board to determine the winner. There were five congressmen, five senators, and five judges. Seven of these were Democrats and seven were Republicans with one independent. Perfectly fair, until the one independent judge resigned his position and a new judge had to be appointed. The only judges left on the court were Republicans, resulting in Republican Rutherford Hayes winning the presidency by one vote. Democrats claimed foul play but eventually agreed to the ruling when the Republicans promised to end Reconstruction in the South.

It is always good to see democracy in action and that so many took part of the election process. This was an important election in that all elections are important, However, historically speaking, neither the percentages voting nor the squabbling after the fact are anything new.

With the election past us now, I hope everyone can put politics aside for a day and enjoy your Thanksgiving. I for one am grateful I live in a country where we can have this fight about elections. Not all nations get to do this.

Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Opinion

A one-man and his merry band’s show of destruction and decimation

Published

on

Our Interim Town Manager (ITM) Matt Tederick is a very tricky individual. He is also a great manipulator. He also knows and unfortunately used the action of firing people to create fear and loyalty. He believes giving away plaques will create a picture of employer/employee love and togetherness. He also shows a keen ability to cover his tracks when necessary.

Case in point – now remember, he is the Town Manager who has total control of what goes on within the Town, not a single major item ever gets by him, he has the last and almighty say over everything, even the Town Council – questioned about the environmental carnage along Happy Creek he stated no tree over a four-inch diameter was cut down on the banks of Happy Creek between South and Prospect Streets. As complaints started coming in about these trees being cut down, he goes into self-preservation mode and turns the situation around to make himself look clueless.

At Mondays November 9th Town Council meeting, Mr. Tederick calls a Town employee whose department is responsible for the work up to the table or should I say, witness stand, and proceeds to say to the Town employee, “There haven’t been any trees over a four-inch diameter cut down, isn’t that right? The Town employee, perhaps with a pre-meeting briefing by the ITM says, “No, except the larger ones that were (on the shelf or level ground above the creek’s bank). The ITM looks like he is clueless about these larger trees that were cut down.

But isn’t the ITM the one that worked with the consultant on the drawings for the deeply flawed permit applications and all that went into this environmental and wildlife catastrophe?

Now for the truth. As I walked through the war zone, I measured stumps of cut trees anywhere from eight to thirteen inches on the bank and on the shelf. So, it is not difficult to see through this little self-preservation show by the ITM. Our Town Council, which was pointed to by the ITM as approving every move toward this bank side clear-cutting that “isn’t clear-cutting” says or does nothing about any of this. If it was the ITM’s idea that we approved, we do not care what you, the citizens think or say about it.

So, thank you, Mr. Interim Town Manager and Town Council for showing us your true feelings about the environment, the ecosystem, the birds and animals that depend on the trees you have cut down and the creek bank you have steamrolled, because that is what this council and its puppet master wanted, no matter what we citizens thought. Your “cut down all native vegetation and throw some rocks down in its place” attitude speaks worlds about all of you and your carelessness towards the environment we all share, and which some town citizens live adjacent to who were given little if any heads up on your plans to decimate their natural buffer to heavily traveled Commerce Avenue.

Paul Gabbert
Front Royal

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Opinion

A little tribute to Happy Creek, Front Royal VA

Published

on

Unplanned, as we took our morning walk to Happy Creek, musician Richard Lockhart was singing on a picnic table with his guitar.  He agreed to shoot a little music video with the creek!  Just thought it would be fun.

I am not a political person. However, I recently became aware of some problems currently happening to our creek.  I don’t know all the details and don’t claim to be an expert.  But, I do feel moved to share how very important and special the creek is to many people.

Every day I walk to the creek. I see lots of action or sometimes zero action.  People of all ages come to the creek to enjoy time to play, relax, draw, exercise, and sing!  This summer my son learned how to catch trout from a neighbor at the creek.  I cooked up the trout and had a glorious meal from the trout my child caught from Happy Creek.  We also had a blast floating in the water with friends and looking in the water with goggles to see what we could see.

Often I see a group of senior citizens gathering at the shelters to play cards during the day and couples holding hands at sunset during an evening stroll.  People come to the creek for family portrait shoots or kids splash and play to cool down in the creek on a hot day.

What does the creek mean to you?  Have you enjoyed swimming or catching fish in the creek?  Did you go to the creek to hang out with your grandparents or just skip rocks?  I sure hope that we keep the creek safe and healthy for many more years to come.

Jen Avery
Front Royal

Share the News:
Continue Reading

Opinion

Local Housing Market and Short-Term Rentals – An Open Letter to the BOS

Published

on

I frequently read about and see with regularity the volume of CUPs (Conditional Use Permits) requested for short term rentals. These seem to be a primary focus of many public hearings. While precedents have been set with the legality of such and the common nature of these occurring in this region, I would ask each one of you to pause for a moment and consider the possible negative extraneous factors. Housing in Warren County, including Front Royal, is at a very low stock in the trifecta of quality, quantity, and affordability. When residences are sold to people whose sole intent is to lease them for recreational purposes and financial gain, it further exacerbates the level of reasonably affordable housing units for local families seeking shelter for a longer-term basis.

These permits essentially remove housing from the local market when the original intent was for less transient use. Air B&B, like other virtual leasing services, is not an old technology or platform and is showing the ability to disrupt conventional and more affordable housing markets. In my opinion, the highest and best use for homes in this region is for housing our workforce and not as playgrounds for more affluent suburban users.

Perhaps a density, usage, or housing stock formula can be created and implemented that would legally limit and provide a mechanism for the government to restrict these licenses. In the purest sense, a CUP is essentially a license to deviate from the norm. Such licenses would provide a mechanism for control without unduly burdening our local and more permanent population. Vacation homes, temporary retreats, and transient use have a place in our local economy, but perhaps it should be evaluated at a higher level to ensure that parity is maintained.

Gregory A Harold, MBA, Class A Contractor, OSHA 30
Project Manager, ERDMAN

(Editor’s note: Mr. Harold is also a current member of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors.)

Share the News:
Continue Reading