The Dernogalizer

February 24, 2010

UMD and College Park come to Agreement over Washington Post Plant, Hillock Saved

I had a post a couple of weeks ago about whether the University of Maryland and the City of College Park could reach consensus on the university’s purchase of the Washington Post Plant.

Here is what I wrote: “The environmental community in College Park has been on the edge of its seat since it was brought to light that the University of Maryland had made a bid for the abandoned Washington Post Plant in College Park.  The point of the purchase was for UMD to relocate its facilities from East Campus to the plant, so they could do their East Campus development.  This move would mean that the fight to save the Wooded Hillock, 9 acres of forest, would be won by the environmental activists advocating for its preservation.  However, the City is upset about this decision because of the lack of transparency that led up to it, along with the fact that College Park would lose tax revenue from UMD owning the plan since they’re a state institution, and thus tax exempt.  The Maryland Board of Public Works has to approve the purchase, and the approval is likely contingent on the support of the city.

So the question is, can UMD and the city agree to a PILOT(payment in lieu of taxes) where the university would compensate the city for some of all of its lost revenue?  I think that answer is yes because both parties badly want to see the East Campus development completed, and they won’t let something as petty as a few hundred thousand dollars get in the way of a 900 million dollar development that would generate a lot of tax revenue for the city, and graduate housing for the university.

The following is the letter the city council sent to the university after their meeting on Tuesday, and the response the university recently sent back.  It looks like they’re moving towards an agreement.

Dr. Mote Washing Post Letter

President_Mote_Feb_7_letter

I recently received a new letter the city sent to the board of public works supporting the purchase.  The two parties came to an agreement.  Here is the letter.

The noteworthy environmental excerpt from the letter: “We are also pleased that UMCP has confirmed that, with the purchase of the Post Plant, the University has no plans to use any part of the wooded hillock area on campus for building sites, and is currently studying the best uses for this area that meet the expectations of the academic community”

Game

Set

and Match

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February 7, 2010

Will UMD and College Park come to an Agreement over the Washington Post Plant?

The environmental community in College Park has been on the edge of its seat since it was brought to light that the University of Maryland had made a bid for the abandoned Washington Post Plant in College Park.  The point of the purchase was for UMD to relocate its facilities from East Campus to the plant, so they could do their East Campus development.  This move would mean that the fight to save the Wooded Hillock, 9 acres of forest, would be won by the environmental activists advocating for its preservation.  However, the City is upset about this decision because of the lack of transparency that led up to it, along with the fact that College Park would lose tax revenue from UMD owning the plan since they’re a state institution, and thus tax exempt.  The Maryland Board of Public Works has to approve the purchase, and the approval is likely contingent on the support of the city.

So the question is, can UMD and the city agree to a PILOT(payment in lieu of taxes) where the university would compensate the city for some of all of its lost revenue?  I think that answer is yes because both parties badly want to see the East Campus development completed, and they won’t let something as petty as a few hundred thousand dollars get in the way of a 900 million dollar development that would generate a lot of tax revenue for the city, and graduate housing for the university.

The following is the letter the city council sent to the university after their meeting on Tuesday, and the response the university recently sent back.  It looks like they’re moving towards an agreement.

Dr. Mote Washing Post Letter

President_Mote_Feb_7_letter

January 7, 2010

Letter in the Gazette on Wooded Hillock

Filed under: environment,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 6:36 pm
Tags: ,

Former College Park City Councilwoman Mary Cook has a letter in the Prince Georges Gazette questioning the University of Maryland’s intent to relocate facilities onto the Wooded Hillock.  For more information about this ongoing issue, please see my past blog posts.  Mary does a good job of explaining the issue, and I’m grateful that she has added to the already mounting pressure for the university to announce a change of course.  I am hopeful that they are headed in that direction.  Below is the letter.

In an age when an institution’s green image has become increasingly important, you would think that the University of Maryland, College Park, would not want to tarnish its own with the razing of nearly nine acres of forestland for the relocation of some of its facilities as the precursor to the start of construction of the East Campus development.

The state legislature earmarked $5 million this year to start the process, leaving the university with its hand out for the remaining $20 million necessary to complete the move. There is a caveat, however: the university’s spending budget must be approved by the College Park City Council per the legislature’s mandate. If the monies are authorized, albeit in the form of bonds, what toll will the environmental costs be for the university and College Park?

The university, which has been awarded second place for America’s Greenest Campus, continues to look at what is referred to as “the wooded hillock” as the prime location for the relocation of its campus mail facility, motor pool operations and Facilities Management Building despite great concerns expressed by students, faculty and the City Council.

The destruction of this precious ecosystem — which is currently used as a valuable classroom field tool [and] is home to dozens of tree species and rare plants as well as wildlife — would be a travesty. Other sites have been proposed, each with its own environmental benefits and concerns, but none are being considered as viable options at this time. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking with plans to break ground in January.

We should all ask ourselves: What is the price of progress? Is it only additional monies with the state budget’s already in the red? Or is it the devastation of a unique, local environmental treasure and an environmental image tarnished? Or is it much more?

Mary C. Cook, former

College Park council member

December 14, 2009

The Wooded Hillock: Our Tipping Point

My last column of the semester is out today, and it’s about why environmental protection is important for protecting communities, and the prospects for saving part of a forest known as The Wooded Hillock, which the university wants to bulldoze so it can relocate facilities onto it.  This is my second column on the issue, I had one out back in February.  If you want to learn more about the issues surrounding the Wooded Hillock, please see here, and scroll down, or go to www.savethehillock.com.

Wooded Hillock: Our tipping point

A couple of months ago, I heard a speech from Adam Ortiz, the mayor of a town a few miles south of here called Edmonston. As Ortiz jokingly put it, Edmonston is a diverse town in every way, except there are no rich people.

Ortiz talked about how Edmonston had been hit with flooding for years, including a 2006 flood in which homes were left partially submerged and people lost everything. Ortiz said this flooding occurred not because Edmonston is located near the Anacostia River but because of its parking lots, shopping centers, highways and roofs. Edmonston flooded because of irresponsible development decisions made upstream that destroyed the natural environment and caused storm water runoff to be redirected rather than absorbed. It settled in Edmonston.

Typically, when there are disputes over developments between environmental groups and developers, the ecosystem advocates are trying to protect is seen as having aesthetic value. The argument is framed as, “We should protect it because we want to be able to enjoy it and know it’s there.” What is severely missing from the conversation, and what Ortiz’s experience exemplifies is that environmental protection is actually about protecting communities. Even if we can’t see it, someone always pays for the destruction, often disproportionately those who lack a political voice.

Fortunately, Ortiz and his community were able to get Prince George’s County to build them pumping stations to mitigate the impact of flooding. When environmentalists talk about tipping points, they refer to a problem getting so bad there’s no way to solve it. Another kind of tipping point is when an issue gets so bad it begins to impact people, and the resulting awareness builds until the politics of the issue suddenly shift in favor of one side to the other.

The dispute about the Wooded Hillock, a forest the university proposed bulldozing so it could relocate facilities there to make way for the East Campus development, is a sign a tipping point is nearing on how we make development decisions. In just the past year since the motion to destroy the hillock was made public, students, faculty, media and local College Park politicians have spoken out against this decision and pushed for an alternative. What once would have been socially acceptable is now socially horrifying.

Now, despite the developer backing out of East Campus, the university says it plans to relocate its facilities to as early as January. I don’t think they can afford to do it. If the university wants East Campus, they need the City Council to approve $5 million in relocation money from the state for the facilities, the Prince George’s County Council to approve the development and our state legislators to fight for more state assistance for the project. Based on conversations I’ve had with all three, that’s a trifecta from hell if the trees go.

Edmonston found its voice. Hillock advocates have echoed the lesson from that story. They’re still having trouble breaching through the thick walls of the administration building. But keep up the volume — the tipping point where that threshold is crossed is right around the corner. When next semester starts, the hillock will stand.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

December 11, 2009

UMD Senate Votes 61-12 to Save the Hillock

Filed under: environment,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 12:30 am
Tags: ,

This is a great sign in the fight to Save the Hillock, 9 acres of forest on the campus that the University of Maryland is seeking to develop.  The University Senate is not the final authoritative body on this matter, the issue now goes to the president of the university, Dan Mote.  Still, this is very good for momentum and media coverage.  I have a column coming out this Monday in the Diamondback where I make another argument for why the trees should stay.

**Update** The Diamondback article that covered this is here.

University Senate embraces sustainability and votes to preserve 9 acres of campus

forest

Students, faculty, and staff vote in opposition to University administrators to prevent environmental harm and the loss of a ‘living classroom’

College Park, MD – The University of Maryland campus senate voted overwhelmingly today to halt the development of 9 acres of campus forest to relocate facilities displaced by the East Campus Redevelopment Project. The vote comes amidst the University’s search for new firms to develop East Campus.

The vote, a victory for the campus community and residents of College Park comes after 11 months of organizing by concerned students, staff, and faculty.  The resolution requests that the campus forest, known as the Wooded Hillock, be preserved in its entirety for its value to the educational and research mission of the University. It was adopted by a vote of 61 in favor, 12 opposed, and 5 abstentions.

University President C. Dan Mote will have two weeks to respond to the senate’s resolution.

Ann Wylie, the University’s Vice President for Administrative Affairs, who did not speak until after vote, said that she would have advised members against voting for the resolution. Wylie promised that she would not touch a single tree until after a full inventory of teaching and research activity relating to the Hillock was conducted and conceded that using the Hillock as a relocation site was, “a bad solution.”

The University had approved plans last year to grade and clear-cut approximately 9 out of 24 acres of the Wooded Hillock in order to relocate campus motor pool vehicles and services, facilities management work and office space; and add 423 new parking spaces. That decision was made without considering significance of the Wooded Hillock to the research and educational missions of the University. Despite recent setbacks in the East Campus Redevelopment Project, University administrators say that they are still pursuing facility relocation to the Wooded Hillock.

The Wooded Hillock, located near the North Campus dormitories, the Comcast Center and directly upstream from Campus Creek, contains the only remaining native upland forest on campus, providing a rare and valuable resource for teaching and research within a metropolitan campus.

The Wooded Hillock is used for hands-on learning by 8 undergraduate programs within four Colleges and the Honors Program. Twenty undergraduate and three graduate courses (total student enrollment – 1355) are use the Wooded Hillock as a living classroom. Four additional courses (estimated total enrollment – 852) are planning to integrate the Hillock into laboratory exercises.

The Graduate Student Government, the Student Government Association and dozens of individual faculty, staff and students have all voiced formal opposition to the development of the Wooded Hillock.

Marla McIntosh, a professor of urban forestry and former director of Arboretum and Botanical Garden at the University of Maryland said, “This is the beginning of a new way of viewing campus facilities in that we need to look at the role the environment plays in the education of our students and the research mission of University.” McIntosh, who has spearheaded the faculty effort to preserve the Hillock, said, “Through this process we have discovered the true value of the hillock which was lost in the original decision.”

Joanna Calabrese a senior at University of Maryland and a Udall Scholar, a national award given to rising young, environmental leaders, said “This is an incredible step towards the preservation of the Hillock and a model for serious deliberation and decision making involving all of the stakeholders.”

Matt Dernoga, a senior at the University of Maryland and the Campaign Director for UMD for Clean Energy said, “I am very pleased to see that the University senate has agreed with other students, faculty, and staff, the Student Government Association and the Graduate Student Government that the University must make sustainable development decisions.”

Alex Weissman, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, said, “Today’s senate vote reflects a value shift among the academic community towards sustainable growth and development.”

The campus senate is the University of Maryland’s top deliberative body. It advises the University President on policy issues and is composed of top administrators and elected members of the campus community.

###

The campaign to save the wooded hillock is collaboration between concerned faculty, students, and staff. Bob Hayes is a junior at the University of Maryland and an organizer with the College Park chapter of Students for Democratic Society.

For more information contact Bob Hayes or go to savethehillock.org

December 2, 2009

Can the University of Maryland afford to Relocate Facilities to the Hillock?

Filed under: environment,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 6:54 pm
Tags: ,

I don’t think they can.  This Diamondback article “Doubts Arise about Crucial East Campus Funding”, spells out the difficulty over the University of Maryland acquiring the necessary funds from governments to relocate the facilities.  They didn’t mention the fact that the original plan for relocating the facilities to the Hillock, has drawn concern many times over.  Nevermind the difficulty of getting the necessary funding from the state government, but that the stipulation for the $5 million dollars the state has already authorized, and the stipulation for continued funding involved approval by the College Park City Council.

“But a provision in the state budget mandates the university OK its spending plan with the City of College Park. Administrators have yet to approach the city about where it will direct the first $5 million dollars, and Vice President for Administrative Affairs Ann Wylie — the top official focusing on the project — said she didn’t know how the university will pay for the relocation costs FP-Argo planned to cover.”

It’s a good thing UMD for Clean Energy was been actively engaged with our City Council candidates over environmental issues during the recent elections.  See endorsements, our march to the polls, a reaction, and our recent presentation over tax breaks for green businesses.

Having spoken with the incoming City Council members on multiple occasions during the election and gauging their views, I can say with a high confidence that this city council will not agree to the relocation funding if it involves destruction of the Wooded Hillock.  I’m trying to use my imagination hard to see how the University gets around this, because they have an active one.

November 18, 2009

Wooded Hillock Concerns Continue

Filed under: University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 12:00 pm
Tags: ,

Another article about how activists at the University of Maryland are concerned about the pending destruction of 9 acres of forest on the campus, which the university administration is indicating will occur at the start of 2010.  For more information, see my recent post about the attention the issue received in the Washington Post.  Notable excerpts from the article are posted below.

“Environmental activists who have been fighting to preserve the Wooded Hillock expressed shock and confusion after East Campus’ primary developer Foulger-Pratt/Argo Investment pulled out of the project late last week, because no one seems to know what impact this turn of events will have on the forest.”

“At its meeting yesterday, the Senate Executive Committee, which sets the agenda for the rest of the University Senate, drafted a letter to Wylie urging her to investigate ways to reduce the development’s environmental impact on the hillock and to consider the hillock’s value for educational purposes. But Jonathan Sachs, an undergraduate senator from the school of behavioral and social sciences, said the letter wasn’t strong enough. The selection to develop the hillock, Sachs said after the meeting, “warrants and needs a second look.”

“This isn’t going to satisfy the people who I represent,” Sachs said.

The project — billed as the largest redevelopment in College Park in at least 50 years — had been stalled since earlier this year, but Wylie said the university will continue working on relocating the mail building, greenhouses and other facilities on the East Campus site that the university had planned to move to the hillock area. Because of community outcry, Wylie said the university is working with the community to find other areas to move the facilities to but noted no area large enough to accommodate them will be perfect.”

“Some activists, like Weissman, say this course of events was the worst thing to happen to the hillock.

“It is clear that Dr. Wylie wants to start bulldozing as soon as possible in a mad rush to put an end to the controversy,” Weissman said.  “Whether or not they can start building afterwards is immaterial to her.”

“Hillock activists intended to pass a motion during last week’s senate meeting but ran out of time and had to postpone until the next meeting on Dec. 10. Calabrese said they may change the motion and demand more transparency in the development process because it’s important students understand the timeline of events.

“Our goal is still to preserve the hillock, and this doesn’t change our effort,” undergraduate senator and student activist Bob Hayes said. “We’re working as hard as we can to fight this and reaching out across the state.”

November 15, 2009

Endangered Wooded Hillock Story in the Washington Post

Filed under: environment,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 1:43 pm
Tags: ,

The fight to save the last remaining acres of forest on the University of Maryland campus has been going on for quite some time now.  When it surfaced that the University was planning to develop on the woodlands by relocating some facilities there to make room for our East Campus development, students and staff reacted, which led to the unanimous passage of an SGA resolution opposing the development.  You can read the SGA resolution here.  There were many columns written in the Diamondback regarding the Wooded Hillock, including one by myself, which can be read here.  The issue got even bigger with an article and editorial in the Baltimore Sun supporting the student’s defense of the forest.  But even as things have escalated the University has refused to budge, insisting that it will develop on the Wooded Hillock.  Myself and some students also got the City of College Park to write a letter to the University administration asking for reconsideration.  The only thing that had appeared to be holding back the destruction is the bad economy, which slowed the East Campus development, and has resulted in the developer pulling out of the project.  Although this might seem good, the University is now looking to do the development in pieces with different parties, and I’ve been reading they plan to have the facilities relocated(which means the deadline for the Hillock), by the beginning of next year.

This means that time is quite short, and students and faculty trying to save this need all the help they can get.  For more information on how to help, check out the website.  Below is an article from the Metro Section of the Washington Post by Robert McCartney that’s out today, defending the Wooded Hillock, and making the case for it’s preservation.

U-Md. shouldn’t sacrifice ideals during hard times

Now, after prolonged but apparently insufficient study, the school wants to bulldoze nine acres of the hillock’s 22 to make room for equipment sheds, a parking lot and other maintenance facilities. Administrators say it’s the only affordable site for those operations, and the move is critical to the school’s ambitious (although stalled) East Campus redevelopment plan aimed at making College Park a more fun, cool place to go to school.

The university should look again. I’m willing to raze trees when necessary for the sake of smart growth, such as to build the light rail Purple Line linking College Park to Bethesda. But this plan contradicts the university’s numerous, solemn pledges to become a national leader in protecting the environment.

“You can’t tout sustainability and then, behind closed doors, ignore it,” said Joanna Calabrese, a senior from Columbia who is director of environmental affairs for the Student Government Association.

The battle over the hillock illustrates how universities come under pressure to sacrifice their idealistic goals during hard economic times. In another issue on campus that reflects the same stress, the university is under fire for eliminating the office of the top-ranking administrator for diversity just after African American enrollment plunged in the freshman class.

“Ultimately we are left with bad choices,” Nariman Farvardin, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, told a spirited session of the University Senate on Thursday. “How can we cut without hurting some part of the university?”

Farvardin said the university remains committed to diversity but warned that more spending cuts are coming. Budget and diversity issues dominated Thursday’s debate and took so much time that a planned motion to preserve the hillock didn’t reach the floor.

The economic pressures might provide a reprieve for the trees, at least temporarily. That’s because they must go only if it’s necessary to move facilities being displaced by East Campus — and that project’s future is uncertain.

The university announced Friday that it has ended its two-year-old deal with the development team of Foulger-Pratt/Argo Investment to build East Campus. It cited troubles in the financial and real estate markets.

Although the school remains committed to the project in the long run, the delay is a setback. The plan to erect a lively town center with a mix of shops and student housing is designed to help lure good students and faculty, and to be central to President C.D. Mote Jr.’s legacy.

A decision about the hillock might come soon, despite the change in the East Campus plan, as the university said it will decide by Jan. 1 about relocating operations. If the school starts chopping down trees, it will have to explain some of its past statements:

In 2007, the university’s Master Plan said it “will strive to protect and enhance existing natural environments.”

In 2008, the school’s strategic plan set a goal of being “recognized as a national model for a Green University.”

In 2009, a report in March by the university Office of Sustainability acknowledged: “The proposed development of the Wooded Hillock appears to be inconsistent with the [Master Plan’s] environmental conservation goals.”

The university contends that the entire East Campus effort is a boon for the environment, partly because it’s transit-friendly and will reduce students’ reliance on cars. It considered sites other than the hillock but concluded they were unsatisfactory because of cost or environmental harm. It has said the forest is low-quality, apparently referring to damage from a 2001 tornado.

The hillock’s defenders, led by urban forestry Prof. Marla McIntosh, support East Campus but say the university hasn’t looked hard enough for alternatives. They also say the university didn’t do its homework when it concluded the trees were of little value, as trees go.

The hillock is the only example on campus of mature, upland forest trees, free of invasive species. It’s a teaching tool, used for classes attended by 1,300 students a year. It has unusual biological diversity, including eight species of oak and a broad variety of songbirds, and is habitat for the hard-to-find lady slipper orchid.

The damage from the tornado actually made the trees more valuable, McIintosh says, because it offers a chance to observe a long-standing forest grow back. It’s little comfort that most of the trees will remain, she says, because they will be affected significantly by the cutting.

“One of our problems in Maryland is our patches of forest are little. They don’t function well as a result,” McIntosh said.

Hillock activists say the maintenance facilities could supplant one of the numerous, expansive parking lots that dot the campus. One argument against that is it would reduce space available for football tailgaters. As one wit put it, however, the university shouldn’t let the tailgaters wag the dog.

Was This Worth $250,000?

Students and faculty frustrated over budget cuts are especially annoyed that a consultant was paid a quarter-million dollars for marketing help that has led to a new tag line: “Unstoppable Starts Here.” A school spokesman said it “builds upon the success,” rather than replaces, the Terps’ inspired sports slogan, “Fear the Turtle.”

May 14, 2009

More Hillock Coverage

 

Im the guy in the middle

I'm the guy in the middle

There’s already been plenty of media coverage involving the Wooded Hillock issue on the University of Maryland campus.  There was another article in the Prince Georges County Gazette today, and I was fortunate enough to be in the picture the photographer took.  I’m going to post the article below.  Just to give an insider’s update, the current issue is still that the university is open to considering other sites, but right now they are moving forward as if they’re going to develop the Hillock.  I have a feel that will change considering the Prince George’s County Council is going to have a thing or two to say regarding the Hillock before they approve the East Campus development.  If you look at the first link I provided, you’ll find a way to contact the council and influence their decision.  A welcome shift in stance would be the university to start looking for an alternate location site on their own, rather than passing the buck to students that are trying to hold them accountable, but don’t have anywheres near the resources available to do a thorough analysis of alternite sites that the university would seriously consider.

 

Students to meet with UM officials over East Campus debate

School, critics clash over plan to bulldoze nine acres

by David Hill | Staff Writer

Administration officials at the University of Maryland, College Park will meet Wednesday with students concerning the school’s controversial plan to remove nine acres of on-campus forest to make room for its East Campus project.

The university is scheduled to level nine acres of a 22-acre wooded hillock behind Comcast Center to clear space for mailing and vehicle maintenance facilities that will be displaced by the $900 million project, which will bring housing and retail shops to the area on Route 1, across from the campus’ main entrance.

Students, faculty and environmental groups have criticized the move, calling it contradictory to the university’s environmentally-friendly image. On Friday, about 25 students and faculty picketed an on-campus ceremony honoring the school as an arboretum and botanical garden.

“The university’s really being two-faced,” said Phil Hannam, a 22-year-old senior at the school. “Making a statement like that publicly but then in our own backyard chopping down one of the last remaining spots of forest on campus.”

Three of the students who led the protest, Davey Rogner, Joanna Calabrese and Hannam, two days earlier declined to attend a May 6 meeting with Ann Wylie, the university’s vice president of administrative affairs. The three said they sent her a letter on May 1 voicing their concerns but received no reply.

“We wanted to get a response from them before we went,” said Calabrese, 21, senior vice president of the school’s Student Government Association.

University officials defended the plan, saying they appointed a committee that carefully considered 12 sites from 2005 to 2007 before choosing the hillock, which they said offered the best combination of cost, proximity to campus, low visibility and minimal environmental impact.

“What we have done is try to balance a number of very difficult issues and come up with an optimum solution,” said Frank Brewer, the school’s associate vice president of facilities management.

Some critics argued that the university made its decision with little to no student or faculty input and should re-open the selection process, which they believe was incomplete and too heavily driven by cost.

“I think they need to find an alternative to that site … my suggestion is they find a parking lot on which to build those facilities,” said Jack Sullivan, a professor of landscape architecture at the university who attended the May 6 meeting and Friday’s protest.

When Rogner and Calabrese spoke before the College Park City Council April 28, they proposed a series of compromises that the university could make if it chooses to proceed in bulldozing the hillock. These included restoring 18 acres of forest elsewhere in Prince George’s County, improving water quality in on-campus creeks and protecting the remaining 13 acres of wooded hillock.

Wylie said that while she is “doubtful” that a new site will ultimately be selected, she is still inviting the plan’s critics to offer alternate solutions.

“I’m not going to close the door,” Wylie said. “They have to find something this committee did not find.”

E-mail David Hill at dhill@gazette.net.

May 7, 2009

Save the Wooded Hillock

I’ve made this post, and that post regarding the impending destruction of the Wooded Hillock, which is 9 acres of forest on campus along the Anacostia Watershed.  The reason is that the University is trying to relocate some buildings to make way for East Campus, and they claim this is the only cost-effective way to place the facilities.  I say too bad find someplace else, and a lot of students, faculty, and environmental groups in Prince Georges County agree.  Below is an article in the Baltimore Sun on the controversy.  Also, if you would like to help stop this thing, please do the following.  The Prince George’s County Council has to give the “okay” for East Campus, and if they hear noise about the Hillock issue, they will force the University/developer to consider another relocation site that doesn’t involve environmental destruction.  If you forward this Baltimore Sun article onto each councilmember, they will feel heat.  Here are all their e-mails.  Just copy+paste them to an e-mail, post the article link, say “please take a look at this”, and you’re done.  Even if you don’t live in the county, you will still be making a difference.

tedernoga@co.pg.md.us,wacampos@co.pg.md.us,EOlson@co.pg.md.us,IMTurner@co.pg.md.us,councildistrict5@co.pg.md.us,shdean@co.pg.md.us,caexum@co.pg.md.us,tknotts@co.pg.md.us,mmbland@co.pg.md.us

 Critics question UM plan to bulldoze woods

Green credentials challenged in light of campus building plan

The University of Maryland, College Park aspires to be one of the “greenest” institutions of higher education in the country and plans to celebrate Friday its designation as an arboretum and “tree campus.”

But some students and professors say the administration is missing the forest for the trees by planning to bulldoze nearly 9 acres of woods on the sprawling 1,400-acre campus to make way for maintenance sheds, a mail-handling depot and a parking lot for the university’s buses and trucks.

“The university says they’re going to become carbon neutral by 2050, but they make a decision to cut down 9 acres of forest on the campus,” said Davey Rogner, a senior from Silver Spring who’s majoring in environmental restoration.

He and others plan to stage what one student leader called a “protestabration” Friday at the arboretum festivities, to highlight their concerns about how the loss of the woods conflicts with the university’s commitment to the environment.University officials say they need to use most of the 15-acre wooded hill behind the Comcast Center to relocate support facilities that are to be displaced by the redevelopment on east campus that will bring more stores, eateries, entertainment and graduate student housing. They say putting the maintenance operations anywhere but on the wooded tract would be too costly or pose too many environmental problems.

Anne G. Wylie, vice president for administrative affairs, suggests it’s the critics, not the administration, who might need a refresher class in sustainability.

“This is a very complicated problem,” she said, adding that she sees no conflict between bulldozing woods and the university’s campaign to be rated one of the nation’s greenest schools. The overall aim is to develop a more compact, walkable campus and reduce the amount of driving by students, faculty and staff, she explained. “It’s not just about preserving trees.”

A delegation of students, faculty and outside environmentalists met with Wylie on Wednesday afternoon, and she said afterward that she’s willing to consider any alternatives they suggest. The bulldozer is “many, many months away,” she said, though the university is nearing an agreement with a developer to proceed with the east campus project.

The campus festivities Friday will mark the first year of the college’s arboretum designation, awarded by the American Public Gardens Association, that recognizes commitment to public education about trees and their value; and a “tree campus” designation from the Arbor Day Foundation.

In addition, College Park currently is in second place in a nationwide contest to be declared “America’s Greenest Campus.” The competition, sponsored by a pair of green companies, aims to get students, faculty and staff to reduce their carbon footprint and use less energy.

The east campus redevelopment has been in planning for years, but the fate of the woods became an issue in February, when some students learned of the facility relocation plan and questioned it. The student government association unanimously adopted a resolution calling for an independent review of the issue.

“It’s in our strategic plan, in our climate action plan, in our facilities plan that we will preserve green space and will do everything we can to have carbon-neutral development,” said Joanna Calabrese, student government senior vice president and a junior from Columbia. “This goes against everything we stand for – at least as far as we can tell.”

Some professors and students say the woods are a valuable teaching laboratory as well as a precious natural resource.

Ray Weil, a professor of soil science, said he takes his classes to the woods to study the soil and how it functions in an ecosystem. The university dug him a “soil pit” there a few years ago so students could examine the layers of dirt beneath the surface. The ground contains Sassafras soil, Maryland’s official state soil, Weil said.

“There are very little of the natural woods left,” said Weil. “It does seem like a shame to put yet more paved parking surface on campus when we have so much of it.”

Joe Sullivan, associate professor of plant science and landscape architecture, said he holds class behind Comcast as well to let students see how forests grow and how they recover from natural catastrophes. A tornado that ripped through campus in 2001, killing two students, tore out and damaged trees.

“It’s very nice to have a lab within walking distance where we can go out and see native species, the forest growth pattern and the structure of the [tree] canopy,” he said.

Sullivan said he and other faculty members intend to join students Saturday for a teach-in of sorts about the ecological functions and values of the woods.

Other faculty members are trying to steer clear of the controversy. Marla McIntosh, a professor of urban forestry and director of the university’s arboretum and botanical garden, said she’s focused on researching the thousands of trees on campus and developing them better as a teaching tool. So far, some 7,000 trees have been identified, she said, and school officials are putting up signs to identify 56 different ones along a marked “tree walk.”

McIntosh said she hasn’t become involved in the university’s development plans but doesn’t see a disconnect between leveling the woods and being committed to sustainability.

“As an urban forester, the concept of wanting to keep contiguous space I wholly believe in,” she said. “But sometimes things just don’t work out.”

***Update 5/9/09***  Here is some additional media: Baltimore Sun Editorial, video

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