Report on Burke’s Spring Branch

As noted in prior Newsletters, periodic e-mails from National Realty Partners (NRP), discussions at the annual meeting, and monthly discussion at several Board meetings over the past few years, the Board has been addressing erosion in Burke’s Spring Branch (BSB), the small intermittent stream that runs inside the woods along the eastern edge of our property.  Several areas of the stream bank are eroding the common area and undercutting trees and tree roots along the stream bank at a noticeable and measureable rate – a potential safety issue for adjacent homes, as well as for the sanitary sewer line that runs underground between the streambank and the patios of the row of homes in lower Van Tuyl. 

In March we tackled one of these so-called “hot spots” – the first of several on our radar – and the one most visible, which has been encroaching on the turf next to the streambank.  Our concern there was that the streambank was moving ever closer to the rear patio of the closest homes – not an immediate threat, but still a concern.  We addressed the tree hazard by cutting and removing one large tree and pruning two large “leaders” from an even larger tree in that area.  We addressed the streambank erosion in that small area by having a contractor install “rip-rap” (large, irregularly shaped rocks that help “armor” the streambank and help slow the flow of water by their disruptive, irregular shapes). The work undertaken to-date addresses about 25 feet of streambank.  Tree work – cutting, pruning, and removal of debris ran about $2,000 and rip-rap installation was $7,900, amounting to about $10,000 in total for all 25 feet.  It would have been even more, except that we didn’t need a detailed plan and design for that work or permits from Fairfax County or other agencies. 
The total length of Burke’s Spring Branch in our HOA’s Common Areas is around 750 feet – or about 30 times the length of the first “hot spot” – and much of it would apparently require a detailed plan and design, along with construction permits. Clearly, we cannot afford to do the same level of remediation along the entire stretch of BSB. Luckily, the entire streambed does not present the same challenges or need for remediation as the initial hot spot, so the same level of remediation shouldn’t be necessary for all of BSB.  Nonetheless, based on visits and proposals from multiple engineering firms, it appears that the total amount of work required would still be somewhere in the range of six figures.

At this point, the County has asked us to put our remediation efforts on hold pending its further review and feedback from the Fairfax County Storm Water Planning Division.  To assist the County in its review, we have provided it with photos and videos of BSB taken shortly after some of the recent heavy rainfall in April.  We have also provided photos of the rip-rap installation that was completed in March.  

Given that the remaining streambed area is significantly larger than the first project, it seems likely that we would need a plan/design for the entire stretch of BSB on our property, plus the County’s approval of them.  It’s also likely that we would need some as yet unknown number and variety of permits to allow construction to be undertaken in the remaining areas that would need such work.

The work undertaken to-date has been funded by the Capital Reserves Budget, which has a current balance at around $160K.  Work in BSB has been anticipated for a number of years, and there is a line item in the Association’s 2015 Reserve Study that earmarks a certain portion as a “Storm Water Drainage Allowance” and includes “a stream erosion control project”. But until we have a better understanding of how much of the streambed we’ll need to remediate and the associated design, plan and constructions costs, we cannot rule out the possibility of eventual transfers from operating funds to Capital Reserves, increases in the annual assessments, or even special assessments as needed to ensure that we maintain an appropriate level of Capital Reserves for the Association.

So, where are we now and what can we expect for the remainder of 2018 and the next year or two?  For now, we are on hold, pending feedback from the County.  We have proposals from two engineering firms for strategic planning and design, to include steering us through the permitting process with FXCO and possibly with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The scope of work in the two proposals differs in level of effort and the portion of the streambed proposed to be addressed. Upon receipt of feedback from the County, those proposals will be amended to address a comparable level of effort so that the Board can make a fair evaluation and comparison.  The planning/design/permitting process will likely require six months (most of which will be in “wait mode”) pending county (or other) review of the plan/design.

At such point as any plans/designs are approved and accepted by the cognizant agencies, we currently anticipate that actual construction/remediation would be undertaken over a period two years, 2019 and 2020 at the earliest.  The first phase of the remaining remediation would likely address the portion of BSB (about 250 feet) below the concrete weir/crossing area at the foot of the steps coming down from Van Tuyl place and leading to the path in the park on the other side of the stream.  The second phase of remediation would address the portion of BSB upstream from that crossing area.  The upstream portion is longer/larger, but less problematic.

Finally, looking for more leverage with FXCO, we have approached our upstream neighbor (McLean Greens) about jointly lobbying the County.  The intent would be trying to pursue an arrangement where the County would weigh in with some resources if we present a coherent plan for addressing not just the McLean Province portion of BSB, but a larger portion that might include McLean Greens and possibly Stockwell Manor, which is where Burke’s Spring emerges from underground and starts the flow into the streambed.  To date, response has been underwhelming but we will continue to make that pitch.

For some photos of BSB after recent rainfall and to see how the rip-rap looks in the stream bed, please take a look at the last page of this Newsletter.