Sacrificing a tree for long term gain
During Monday's quarterly town hall meeting APG Garrison Commander Col. Orlando W. Ortiz explains to Garrison employees why a 250-year-old oak tree must be removed from the Enhanced Use Lease development area. The plan developed between APG and St. John Properties balanced environmental and cultural heritage with the goal to support the missions and defense contractors by building laboratory space, stores and restaurants.

Recently, some members of the Aberdeen Proving Ground community voiced their concern about the impending loss of a large oak tree on a part of APG scheduled for development. APG has a history of working with the community to be good stewards of the beautiful piece of Maryland we have been entrusted with to accomplish our missions. We learned long ago that partnering with on-post and off-post communities before we make decisions leads not only to better relations, but to better decisions.

For example, in this instance we submitted the plans we had developed for public and regulatory scrutiny. The State and Federal guidelines we had to follow are designed to ensure environmental and other requirements are addressed. As part of that process we held five public meetings so the community could hear the plans and voice their concerns. The loss of the oak tree was not raised during this process.

Once the issue was raised, staff members and leaders from APG met with our partners in the Enhanced Use Lease, St. John Properties. We discussed ways to save the tree. Unfortunately, development is not a two-dimensional process in which it's possible to move landmarks and facilities around to avoid each other. It's a complicated three-dimensional process that must take into account elevation, changes in grades, utilities, constraints because of wetlands areas, the management of storm water run-off, and other factors. An oak tree of this size has a root system so large that saving it was not feasible. It simply impacted on too many other parts of the equation.

Both APG and St. John Properties would like to be able to save the tree. It adds beauty and history to the area, and it would obviously make people happy. But part of achieving the kind of balance we need at APG is knowing when a sacrifice has to be made.

While this tree will be missed, APG will remain an environmental showcase. We have increased the number of acres covered by forest from 3,000 to 17,000 since 1917. We have found four more trees that are more than 60 inches in diameter in the last two weeks alone. We spent more than $250,000 on forest management in Fiscal Year2010 and in the last two weeks have embarked on a thorough review of our forest management so we can develop a long-term plan. Add to that one of the largest thriving eagle populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and our shoreline stabilization and water purification efforts, and you can see we are serious about being good stewards of the environment.

We are also serious about being able to support the needs of the organizations on APG as they support America's Army. That's what our partnership with St. John Properties is all about. They will develop an area that includes more than 400 acres at the edge of the installation near the two main gates of the Aberdeen area. This will result in more than two million square feet of office and laboratory space, as well as an area for stores and restaurants.

This development is vital to the many missions that take place on APG. Defense contractors who support our technology missions are building state-of-the-art facilities close to the Army organizations they support. Like a work force at any industrial park, the people in these facilities will need places to eat and shop.

We knew from the very beginning that serving the two goals of supporting our organizations and preserving the environment would take careful balancing. APG and St. John Properties developed a plan that took into consideration environmental and cultural heritage,wetlands, streams and ponds, force protection and anti-terrorism issues, wildlife habitat, runoff and spill ponds, as well as financial and business concerns. We did it all with guidance and consultation from the Army Corps of Engineers and Federal and State regulators.

The project features Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings. St. John Properties has not only gone to great lengths to preserve many of the existing trees, it will plant nearly 10,000 trees as it reforests 21.5 acres and landscapes the 66-acre retail and office area. It will also improve existing and create new wetlands and buffers, as well as linking forested areas to improve their chances of surviving and thriving. That's the kind of balance we need to bring together the military and industrial organizations that make things happen on APG. It is not a perfect solution, but we believe it is a balanced solution.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16