Allan Robertson never intended to become a community leader.
The former litigator became president of the Ravensworth Farm Civic Association when asked about two years ago after the previous president stepped down to focus on family.
Similarly, when he joined a group of residents from the Springfield neighborhood in creating Save Lake Accotink in February, Robertson did not expect to wind up as the new nonprofit’s president.
Even though he landed in a leadership role, Robertson’s decision to join Save Lake Accotink, whose mission is to protect the 55-acre expanse of water, stemmed from the same impulse as his work with the civic association: a desire to serve the community where he lives.
“I love the lake,” Robertson said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the lake [and] love seeing my neighbors around the lake, but it’s really my love and concern for the community that motivated me.”
The Fairfax County Park Authority has been working on a massive revision of its master plan for Springfield’s Lake Accotink Park since the county board of supervisors approved funds for a site analysis and recommendation study in September 2014.
The first public information meeting on the project, which aims to update the county’s long-term vision for the park to accommodate changes to the surrounding community and to improve sustainability, took place on Mar. 14, 2016.
Fairfax County has experienced rapid growth in population and development over the past few decades since Lake Accotink Park first opened in 1960, placing more of a burden on the park’s facilities and resources.
According to the park authority, the growth in development around the county has created more runoff. The subsequent streambank erosion dilutes the water quality in the Accotink Creek watershed while pushing more silt and pollutants into the lake, reducing a lake that was 23 feet deep when originally created in 1943 to less than four feet.
In the past, Fairfax County addressed sedimentation, which is the natural process where loose materials like stones and sand accumulate to form a solid layer at the bottom of a body of water, by dredging Lake Accotink and removing the sediment.
The county has conducted three dredging operations at Accotink, with the most recent starting in 2005 and ending in 2008, since it is usually a roughly two-year process.
However, the park authority says dredging is a costly, time-consuming, and disruptive project that provides only a temporary fix, so part of the agency’s goal in revising Lake Accotink Park’s master plan is to develop a more long-term, sustainable approach to managing the lake.
The Fairfax County Park Authority first presented potential options for Lake Accotink’s future in a public sustainability meeting on May 16, 2016, but the agency received only a “smattering” of comments from residents, according to its webpage for the Lake Accotink Park master plan revision.
It was not until the park authority held a community meeting at North Springfield Elementary School in Springfield on Jan. 22 that the public apparently started to take real notice of the project.
More than 100 people attended that meeting, and the park authority has since received more than 400 responses to its online survey about the master plan revision, along with about 50 individual emails from citizens.
The amount of feedback prompted the park authority to announce on Feb. 15 that it had extended the public comment period for the project, which is normally open for about 30 days, to May 28.
“It seemed a natural move that since there was so much community interest, to extend that deadline,” Fairfax County Park Authority public information officer Judy Pederson said. “The team has been out everywhere. We think it’s just so important that people have an opportunity to share their concerns, which one they like best, all of that in this particular process.”
In addition to pushing back the deadline for public input, the park authority posted a list of all the public comments it received between Feb. 26, 2016 and Feb. 26, 2018 online.
Robertson says that, while he has been aware of the Lake Accotink Park master plan revision for a while, he did not comprehend the full scope of the project or realize that eliminating the lake was a genuine possibility until he attended the Jan. 22 community meeting.
The park authority has put forth six possible management options for Lake Accotink:
• doing nothing, which would render the lake unusable recreationally by 2025;
• continuing to dredge the lake approximately every 15 years;
• conducting an initial drudge and constructing a forebay, followed by smaller annual drudges;
• installing upstream “beaver dams”;
• eliminating the existing dam and transforming the lake into a stream that would cut through restored wetland habitat;
• or modifying the existing dam to create a single stream that would run alongside a smaller 20-acre, 8-foot-deep lake
While the beaver dam option was presented as part of the study at the Jan. 22 meeting, the park authority has already removed it from consideration, since it has extensive impacts with limited benefits and would not ultimately solve Lake Accotink’s sediment issues.
The community meeting concerned Robertson in part because he felt that the park authority staff seemed to favor the two options that would involve getting rid of the lake.
“It became quite apparent to everyone there that there was a very good chance that the lake might disappear,” Robertson said.
Andrea Dorlester, the planning branch manager for the Fairfax County Parks Authority’s planning and development division, denies that the agency has any particular preference among the available options.
“We have all these options out there for the public to learn about and consider and let us know what they think,” Dorlester said. “We really haven’t selected one or another, and I apologize if there’s a perception that there was a bias toward any particular option.”
After the Jan. 22 community meeting, the Ravensworth Farm Civic Association convened an emergency meeting on Feb. 6 to discuss the park authority’s master plan revision and potentially organize around saving Lake Accotink Park, which borders the neighborhood.
A suggestion from Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, who was present at the meeting, inspired Robertson and a handful of other civic association members to start Save Lake Accotink as a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the master plan revision and mobilize support for preserving the lake.
Led by a seven-member board comprised of Shane Shroeder, Tyler Small, Mike Field, Vikram Shrivastava, Phil Baxter, and Scott Houghton, the nonprofit held its first public meeting on Feb. 28 at the Community of Christ Church in Springfield.
Many of the approximately 50 attendees signed up as volunteers to canvas neighborhoods or otherwise help the organization’s efforts. Organizers made 100 yard signs to give out at the meeting, and all of them were gone by the end of the night.
Save Lake Accotink has come out in support of the park authority’s “Option C,” which involves removing 350,000 cubic yards of sediment from the lake along with an additional 150,000 cubic yards that will be used to create a forebay at the lake’s upper end.
According to the Fairfax County Park Authority, the sediment removal process would require about 50,000 truck trips to haul the material through adjacent neighborhoods.
After the initial dredge and forebay construction, smaller dredges would remove about 12,000 cubic yards of sediment from the forebay every one or two years, requiring an additional 1,200 truck trips through the community.
The county has not identified a disposal site for the sediment yet, and even with the regular, smaller dredges, a full dredge would still need to be conducted roughly every 35 years.
Robertson argues, however, that when taking into account how the elimination of the lake might affect the watershed as a whole, especially downstream, dredging Lake Accotink and creating a forebay would be the most sustainable and efficient option.
The park authority estimates that the initial dredging would cost just over $45 million with subsequent annual or biennial operations boasting a $776,472 price tag. An additional $13,000 would be needed annually to maintain the dam at the lake, leading up to the $4.7 million required for significant repairs and upgrades in a 30-year cycle.
According to Save Lake Accotink, Option C needs to be funded through a bond that would have to be on the ballot in the fall of 2019.
Cook challenged the group to collect at least 1,000 signatures by May 28. An online petition at savelakeaccotink.org garnered 2,041 signatures as of Mar. 13, according to the website.
“It’s not just a matter of loving the lake and trying to preserve it for my neighbors and my community. It’s not just a matter of the environment,” Robertson said. “It’s also a matter of cost. It’s more cost-effective to keep the lake, and that’s something that all of Fairfax County should care about, not only the people downstream because of the detriment to their water quality and their quality of life, for that matter. It’s something that affects the entire county.”