CLINTON, Maryland – After six years of project partnership, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District and Joint Base Andrews have secured a wetlands mitigation site to restore, conserve and create environmental sanctuary right outside of the installation's door.
“This is setting an example for the Department of Defense,” said Col. Ed Chamberlayne, commander, Baltimore District at a groundbreaking event for the wetlands mitigation work on June 30, 2016. “The history that this represents and the opportunity to put another area into environmental easement is incredible.”
With the assistance of Baltimore District’s Planning Division, the United States Air Force has partnered with Green Trust Alliance and the Walton Foundation to yield a win-win situation for Joint Base Andrews and the John M. and Sara R. Walton Foundation through the enhancement, restoration, and preservation of 63 acres of wetlands located on Walton Farm.
In 2010, Joint Base Andrews began work to completely replace its failing west runway as a part of the “Rebuilding America’s Airfields” initiative. The 50-year-old runway was originally built with a 25-year lifespan and supports the National Capital Region’s presidential airlift mission, aeromedical evacuation flights, and contingency response scenarios.
“As the world continues to grow, infrastructure gets improved,” Doug Lashley, director and general counsel of Green Trust Alliance, said. “We have to provide replacement values for the resources that we damage.”
The west runway improvement plan entailed grading and hardening the runway that proposed to impact 12.5 acres of wetlands. When a project includes filling existing wetlands, a wetland permit is required. This involves the design of a compensatory wetland mitigation project at an alternate site to create, restore or enhance wetlands to compensate for the environmental impact of the construction project.
“When we do something like this project we have to look at how we are impacting the environment,” Chamberlayne said. “If we can, we avoid affecting it but if we can’t, we find a way to minimize or remedy the impact.”
Joint Base Andrews initially reached out to the Corps to assist with environmental support for the West Runway Improvement project, such as National Environmental Policy Act documentation and natural resource surveys.
The Corps’ assistance swiftly grew to providing technical services beyond regulatory means to help the installation investigate potential areas to perform this wetland mitigation.
Finding an easement site in a highly urbanized area like Middle Potomac is not an easy task. Not only is it difficult to find enough land, but many landowners are not willing to sell or place a permanent easement on their land.
After the investigation of 30 sites, 63 acres of the Walton Farm proved to be the perfect fit. According to Board Member John M. Walton Jr., the Walton Foundation has owned the property since 1995 and has a purpose towards the dedication of open space, wetlands, and forests.
The easement project is located within a few miles of Joint Base Andrews and will restore 9.2 acres of non-tidal wetlands, enhance 1.4 acres of non-tidal agricultural wetlands, restore 1.6 acres of uplands as wetland buffer, and preserve 50.7 acres of floodplain forest habitat that is of historical, cultural and environmental significance.
“This has bred a tremendous amount of new life into our foundation,” Walton said. “We are really grateful that Joint Base Andrews had a need and that we had (Doug Lashley's) people to help facilitate that need and of course with the Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Department of the Environment.”
“We are planting over 8,000 trees,” Lashley said. “Based on our projections, with the amount of forest we are preserving and new forest cover, we are going to be sequestering as much as 6 million pounds of carbon after year 20.”