Why did the salamander cross the road? To get to the vernal pool breeding grounds, of course.
Most people wouldn’t laugh at that, but the joke might have killed at Thursday’s salamander patrol training session at Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center.
The nature center holds yearly salamander training sessions to educate volunteers on the dangers that salamanders and other vernal-pool-dwelling amphibians face during the annual migration.
Amphibians generally live in ponds but some, like the spotted salamander or wood frog, only live in vernal pools — watering holes that dry up in the fall. These are ideal spots for the critters to thrive in, because predators like fish and other amphibians prefer year-round pools.
But because only two or three vernal pools remain in the increasingly urbanized county, hundreds of salamanders and wood frogs have no choice but to cross the pool-adjacent driveways and sidewalks, according to Jennifer Soles, an Arlington County naturalist and long-time Arlington resident.
Soles began the salamander squad program in 2013 after attending a master naturalist training the year prior. As Long Branch Nature Center volunteers were leaving the class, salamanders and frogs began their breeding ground migration — across the parking lot, and under a lot of car tires.
“They’re all there because they love nature and it’s their master naturalist training,” said Soles. “And everyone is running over the frogs and salamanders.”
Soles grabbed a flashlight and began escorting the unhurried salamanders off of the pavement, joined by other horrified naturalists.
Arlington’s naturalists have since tried to prevent further amphibian annihilation through the salamander training sessions. At the Feb. 8 training session, at least 16 community members learned how to protect their local croakers from another Arlington County naturalist, Rachael Tolman.
The session focused on frog and salamander biology and breeding habits, and taught volunteers safe handling practices. Tolman walked volunteers through filling out scientific forms that allow on-site naturalists to predict travel patterns.
“If it’s a little squish, it’s a [spring] peeper, if it’s a medium squish, it’s a wood frog,” said Tolman, explaining how to fill out the alive-or-dead count portion of the form for the rundown animals. “If it’s kind of a spotted, long squish, it’s probably a spotted salamander.”
A salamander patrolman is nothing without his or her tool kit, which includes a reflective vest, headlamps, pens — and a garden spade for scraping squished salamanders off of the road.
While the event was intended to be for ages 13 or older, few teenagers were in attendance. Most volunteers were much older with a more developed environmental interest.
Peter Hansen, a Federal Reserve Board researcher, is a 24-year-old Arlington resident and one of the county’s master naturalists.
“I saw the email blast about the salamander patrol, and it sounded really hype,” said Hansen, noting that several of his friends are nature enthusiasts that he admires for their vast knowledge of the environment.
“I can add a lot of color to my experience in nature,” said Hansen. Most likely, he’ll be returning to serve on the salamander squad.
Arlington County is the first community in the country to win a top award for its environmentally-friendly policies from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The county was named a Platinum level community by USGBC under its new LEED for Communities program.
USGBC said the certification recognizes the county’s creation of a “sustainable and resilient urban environment that has long-proven success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, managing stormwater, ensuring economic prosperity and focusing on education, affordable housing, health and safety for residents and businesses.”
LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is a rating system by USGBC that evaluates how environmentally-friendly buildings are.
“It is truly an honor, and a validation of Arlington’s commitment to sustainability, to be the first to earn LEED for Communities Platinum certification,” County Board chair Jay Fisette said in a statement. “This has been a community effort, achieved by having a vision of combating climate change and promoting energy efficiency on a local level, and putting in place innovative policies and practices to achieve it. Now, more than ever, the responsibility for progress on climate change rests with local and state governments and with the private sector.”
The award honors communities that have set goals for environmental sustainability and then met them. It tracks energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience (education, prosperity, equitability and health and safety) before awarding certification.
“Arlington County understands the value of LEED and its ability to help set goals and deploy strategies that can improve the quality of life for residents across the community,” Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of USGBC, said in a statement. “Arlington’s LEED for Communities Platinum certification demonstrates a commitment to improving performance and creating a more resilient and sustainable future.”
More details from a press release after the jump:
Arlington Public Schools plans to add solar panels to five school buildings, including the soon-to-be-built Alice West Fleet Elementary School.
APS issued a Request for Proposals on December 1, calling for companies to bid to install solar panels at Kenmore and Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools, Tuckahoe and Fleet Elementary Schools and Washington-Lee High School.
Fleet Elementary School will be built on the site of Thomas Jefferson, and is projected to be open in September 2019.
In the call for proposals, APS said it is seeking to be increasingly environmentally friendly in construction projects and its existing buildings, and hopes the panels will help it keep up with its schools’ energy demands.
“APS stresses energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in the design of all construction and maintenance projects,” it reads. “APS is aware of the energy and environmental advantages of solar power and has multiple buildings used as schools for all age groups and administrative offices which appear to have design characteristics which make them appropriate for the installation of [solar panels] which will produce electric power to meet, or contribute to meeting, the power needs of APS.”
The successful bidder would install the solar panels, and operate and maintain them under a lease agreement with APS for a minimum of 15 years. APS said the winning company would also be responsible for all installation and maintenance costs, but would pay rent of $1 a year for the panels.
Proposals are due on March 19, 2018. The RFP comes months after Kenmore was one of six sites in Virginia selected to have a solar panel installed on its roof as part of the Solar for Students program, which encourages hands-on learning about clean energy.
Drivers of electric cars now have one less place to charge their vehicles in Arlington County.
A tipster reported the car charging station in the parking lot of the former Walgreens Pharmacy at 2825 Wilson Blvd in Clarendon was removed last week.
Representatives with EVgo did not respond to requests for further comment, but on its website, the Clarendon charging location has been removed. Other EVgo charging stations remain at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall.
Other charging stations from other companies are available in other neighborhoods, including Ballston, Rosslyn, Crystal City, Pentagon City and Shirlington.
A tipster reported calling the Columbia Pike-based company last week, but getting a message on the phone saying they were no longer in service.
Calls to the company this week yielded the same result, while its website is “Temporarily out of service.”
“We are sorry to inform you that this service is no longer in operation. Thank you,” the message said. Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said Envirocab closed on November 1.
The 50-cab service was sold in 2013 to transportation conglomerate Veolia Transportation, which operates more than 2,400 taxicabs around the country. It began in 2008, and back then was the first all-hybrid fleet in the country. Since then, hybrid cabs have become more commonplace among local taxi fleets.
A Yelp review of Envirocab posted last month complained that the “service continues to deteriorate” and that “the last two times I attempted to use Envirocab, they failed to show up.”
Arlington County residents can register now to receive a free tree for their homes.
One tree is available per home in the county’s annual free tree distribution. Anyone who lives in a multi-family property like an apartment building, however, must contact TreeStewards.org for assistance in getting more trees.
“The trees being distributed are generally termed ‘whips’ in the nursery trade and are in two-gallon containers and ranging 2-4 feet in size,” organizers wrote. “You should carefully consider the spot you intend to plant your tree.”
The distribution will take place next month in two places:
- Saturday, October 14, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Arlington County nursery (4240 S. Four Mile Run Drive)
- Wednesday, October 18, 5-8 p.m. at the Quincy Park parking lot (1021 N. Quincy Street)
Photo via Arlington County
A group of local residents have launched a petition against an Arlington County plan to remove more than 80 trees at the Donaldson Run Nature Area.
The nature area, part of Donaldson Run Park at 4020 30th Street N. between Military Road and N. Upton Street, is set to have a section of its stream restored early next year.
The project on Tributary B is designed to help prevent erosion by creating a new natural stream and re-connecting it with the flood plain. Opponents said the project would remove 81 trees, endanger another 52 and remove vegetation along 1,400 feet of Donaldson Run. Work to restore the stream’s Tributary A was completed in 2006.
But a group of residents have launched an online campaign against what it described as the “rapid loss of trees on public and private lands” and urged the county to reconsider.
“The Donaldson Run Tributary B [stream] restoration project, costing taxpayers over $1 million, sacrifices broad local natural environmental benefits for a narrow distant storm water purpose,” the petition reads. “This project must be put on hold until… comprehensive technical and cost/benefit reviews can be completed that include better alternatives that use the money most effectively to meet all the community’s goals.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had received 14 signatures.
Opponents of the project will host an event on Sunday, September 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the nature area to hand out free saplings to “expand our urban forest.”
Photo No. 4 via petition, photo No. 5 via Google Maps.
Residents can have their food waste composted by the county as part of a pilot program launched earlier this month.
From 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, any county resident can take their food scraps to the Department of Environmental Services’ Solid Waste Bureau at 4300 29th Street S. in Shirlington, near the Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s headquarters.
There, the scraps are being collected in two green carts at the bottom of the scale house, at the top of the Trades Center hill. Staff will be on hand to assist with disposal.
Per a county fact sheet on the program, the following food scraps are being accepted:
- food soiled paper (paper towels, napkins and paper plates)
- coffee grounds, filters and tea bags
- breads, grains and pasta
- meat and seafood (including bones)
- plate scrapings
Collected scraps are processed at the county’s Earth Products Recycling Yard using a composter. The compost that is produced will then be given to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation to use in landscaping projects and to amend topsoil in public spaces.
DES staff said they launched the pilot program to “address increasing interest from residents to manage food disposal through a more environmentally conscious process.”
A local co-op formed earlier this year to drive down the cost of home solar installation selected two providers to install the panels.
A spokesman for the co-op said the two firms were selected because of their competitive pricing, quality components and warranties available.
According to Solar Power Rocks, a firm that provides guidance on solar power for all 50 states and D.C., installing a 5-kW solar panel system on a house in Virginia can cost homeowners just over $18,000. Over the course of 25 years, the firm estimates it will have produced $16,000 in income from energy savings. Co-op members can save up to 20 percent on installation costs as they buy as a group in bulk.
The chosen installers will now develop personalized proposals for each co-op member, who will then review that proposal and decide if the panels are suitable for them. Being a co-op member does not mean a commitment to buying panels. New members are being accepted until October 1 from Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County.
“We’re are excited to be working with Greater Arlington residents to help them go solar at a great price” Niko Eckart, owner of Independent Solar Solutions, said in a statement.
“We’re incredibly honored to be part of this co-op and are excited to see the solar momentum build in Northern Virginia,” Jonathan Gellings, a solar analyst at Sigora Solar, added.
The group is partnered with Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods, the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy and Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment to help educate and recruit members about going solar. Co-op members can save up to 20 percent off the cost of going solar by doing so in a group.
More than 80 people have already gone solar in similar schemes, and the current cohort said the process of finding providers was helped by working as a group.
“As someone who has considered installing [solar panels] several times over the past few years, I can say with certitude that working through the co-op was far easier than interviewing installers on my own,” said co-op member Jessica Olson in a statement. “The co-op is a great way to make an informed decision on a significant investment. We’re really excited to work with our installer and see how much I can save with my system.”
Kenmore Middle School was one of six sites in Virginia selected to have a solar panel installed on its roof as part of the Solar for Students program, which encourages hands-on learning about clean energy.
A 1.2 kilowatt panel will be installed on the school’s roof to convert sunlight into electricity, with real-time data displays to help classroom learning. It is estimated the panel will generate enough electricity to power 18 desktop computers, or 15 42-inch LED TVs.
In addition to the panel, the program comes with technical support, training for teachers and educational materials that will enable students to monitor, track and learn about solar power production.
In June 2015, Dominion Energy partnered with the nonprofit National Energy Education Development Project to launch the program. The program is for Virginia students, teachers and communities in areas served by Dominion, and gives them hands-on experience with solar power.
Kenmore will share the $150,000 solar panel grant with schools across Virginia and the Children’s Museum in Richmond, having been selected from 35 applicants statewide. Jeff Politzer, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) teacher at Kenmore, helped apply for the grant.
“We started the process months ago and then we had to meet with people form Arlington County,” he said. “We did a site supervise, we did a walk through. We wanted to see what location would be best.”
Around 750 students gathered in the school’s auditorium today to learn about their gift.
Scott Reamy, external affairs manager at Dominion Energy, built up to the announcement by having the students guess what the surprise was.
“I want to see if you all can figure it out,” he said. “It was created in 1958. It’s been to space and back.”
“Solar panels!” shouted a student in the back of the room.
The solar panel has not yet been installed at the school. At the event, officials had no further information on when the school can expect its new panel to be added.
(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) Arlington County just announced that it has joined other counties, cities, businesses and colleges in signing an open letter pledging to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
President Trump announced last week he will withdraw the United States from the pact to help preserve American jobs and avoid placing heavy burdens on the country’s taxpayers. The decision brought swift condemnation from local elected officials.
County leaders joined on Monday (June 5) an open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris Agreement entitled, “We Are Still In.” The letter promises that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will continue, regardless of federal policy.
“Arlington stands with communities across our nation and around the globe who recognize that climate change is real and that we must, both on the local and on the global level, meet its adverse effects with strong, effective action,” said County Board chair Jay Fisette in a statement. “Just as we joined the Compact of Mayors in 2015 and agreed to set goals for reductions in greenhouse gases, so do we join the effort today of local communities that are pledging to uphold the Paris Agreement, even if the federal government does not.”
In light of President Trump’s decision, the County Board will consider a resolution at its June 17 meeting reaffirming Arlington’s commitment to combating climate change.
In a press release, the county touted its efforts already in the fight against climate change:
Arlington County adopted a forward-thinking Community Energy Plan (CEP) in June 2013, as an element of our Comprehensive Plan. The award-winning plan is a long-term vision for transforming how Arlington generates, uses and distributes energy. Its goal-setting and methods of achievement are consistent with the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda and the Paris Accord. Arlington’s CEP aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050, and greenhouse gas emissions already have fallen 18 percent in Arlington between 2007 and 2015.
In 2015, Arlington signed the Global Covenant of Mayors for Energy and Climate, sponsored by the Compact of Mayors – open to any city or town in the world willing to meet a series of requirements culminating in the creation of a full climate action and adaptation plan.
In 2012, Arlington exceeded our goal of reducing government-wide energy usage by 10 percent, using the year 2000 as a baseline. Currently, we’re competing in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge to reduce municipal building energy usage by 20 percent by 2020.
Our Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE) helps our community make smart decisions about energy and supports individual actions that improve and sustain Arlington’s quality of life. County government buys more than 30 percent of its electricity as certified green power and buys carbon offsets against 100 percent of its natural gas use. Arlington is home to Discovery Elementary, the largest “net zero energy” elementary school east of the Mississippi River.
At its meeting in June, the County Board will consider a resolution reaffirming Arlington’s commitment to combating climate change and to the goals of our Community Energy Plan.
Arlington will continue to work to make our County more prosperous, healthful, safe and secure through its efforts to rethink energy and protect the environment.
For more information about Arlington’s environmental initiatives and efforts to reduce energy usage and energy costs, visit the County website.
The Arlington County Board will consider a plan to make a stretch of Williamsburg Blvd a so-called “Green Street” at its meeting Saturday.
The section of Williamsburg Blvd, between 33rd Road N. and 35th Street N., would have new trees added as well as two 1,000-square-foot rain gardens in the median. The project is intended to improve local water quality and address permit requirements as part of the county’s Green Streets project for stormwater management.
County staff estimated that installing the trees and rain gardens will treat runoff from 2.2 acres of impervious surfaces that do not allow rainwater to soak in. That water then runs off into the Little Pimmit Run watershed, which leads to the Chesapeake Bay, with Arlington under instructions along with other jurisdictions to reduce pollution in the bay.
If the County Board approves the plan, a contract worth an initial $1.23 million would be awarded, with $246,000 in contingency.
County staff recommends approval of the project, which is being coordinated with the second phase of improvements to Old Dominion Drive. Construction is set to start in June or July.
A new local co-op has been formed to drive down the cost of home solar installation.
The Greater Arlington Solar Co-op is holding two free information sessions this week, in Arlington and Alexandria, to educate the public about solar and the benefits of joining their group. Co-op members can save up to 20 percent off the cost of going solar by doing so in a group.
“We’re forming this co-op to make saving money with solar energy as simple as possible,” said Chris Somers, community energy specialist at AIRE, in a statement. “Working with the group helps members learn about the technology so they feel confident in their decision to go solar.”
Joining the group is not a commitment to purchase solar panels. Once the group is large enough, it will solicit bids from local installers and select the best proposal for the group. The chosen installer will then develop personalized proposals for each co-op member, who review the plan.
The information sessions are taking place Wednesday at the Navy League Building (2300 Wilson Blvd Suite 210) and Thursday at The Pavilion at Mark Center (5708 Merton Court) in Alexandria, both starting at 7 p.m.
The organization announced today that it is launching its Ready for 100 energy awareness campaign in Arlington and Alexandria. Fifteen U.S. cities including San Diego have already committed to 100 percent clean energy and Arlington has already vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
“We strongly support a goal of 100% clean energy,” said Elenor Hodges, Executive Director of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, in a press release. “Arlington County has already set a high bar for Virginia, but we can do even better. I think this is an effort many residents will get behind.”
The price of clean energy has dropped significantly over the past few years, with solar energy costs alone dropping by 80 percent, according to the Sierra Club. The solar industry has expanded as well, with over 200,000 people working with solar energy, nearly twice as many as the coal mining industry.
“By transitioning to 100 percent clean energy, our city could prevent thousands of asthma attacks and dozens of premature deaths every year,” said Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, an Alexandria-based pediatrician. “This would be a big step in the right direction toward allowing our kids to breathe easier.”
According to a study by scientists from Stanford, transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy would save the average American family $260 per year in energy costs and an additional $1,500 in health care costs.
The Sierra Club is rallying local residents — including students — to urge local officials “to boost the local economy and save families money by leading the way to 100 percent clean energy.” From the press release:
The electricity sector has embarked on an unstoppable shift from its high-pollution, dirty-fueled past to a safer, cleaner-powered future. The stay issued by the Supreme Court on the Clean Power Plan cannot reverse that trend. Nor can it dampen the overwhelming public support for action on climate change and clean energy.
“Our current dependence on fossil fuels means that my generation will be dealing with the impact of climate change for our entire lives,” said Helene Turvene a junior at Washington-Lee High School. “A commitment now to 100% renewable energy not only will help to begin reversing those impacts, but it will position our community for a more sustainable future. Students want to know that local leaders are acting with us, and future generations, in mind.”
Photo courtesy Sierra Club
The so-called backpack mail for parents of elementary and middle school students is being phased out in favor of an electronic system, following a successful pilot program, according to APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.
The system, called Peachjar, is specifically designed for schools. It sends electronic flyers to parents’ email inboxes, thus cutting costs and staff time that would otherwise be spent making paper copies and distributing them.
The new system is being rolled out to all elementary and middle schools “over the next few weeks,” Bellavia said.
Families can request that they keep receiving paper copies and paper flyers will be posted on school bulletin boards. Otherwise, there are a number of options for electronic delivery.
“Parents can access the flyers via weekly email notifications they receive, by checking the school’s website, or accessing flyers on the APS Mobile App,” said Bellavia. “Families like the Peachjar option because electronic copies stay online for at least 30 days, and are linked directly to the organization’s website where they can access more information or directly sign up for programs electronically, which is more convenient than keeping track of paper copies and following up on advertised services.”
The pilot program took place at six elementary schools and one middle school last fall and of the families surveyed about it, 86 percent said they wanted to keep the new system instead of returning to backpack mail, according to APS. Nonprofit organizations and PTAs also participate in backpack mail and APS received an enthusiastic response from them.
“More than 100 nonprofit organizations who participate in our backpack mail program were surveyed, and only one respondent indicated a desire to return to backpack mail,” said Bellavia. “APS, schools and PTAs can use the service for free, and nonprofit organizations pay a nominal fee that is less costly than making copies, to distribute their flyers electronically to families. Our PTAs are excited about the service because they can use it for free to distribute their flyers, saving time and the expense of printing paper copies.”
“This program supports the APS commitment to its core value of sustainability, and many families, community members and staff have urged APS to find a paperless (environmentally friendly) alternative to backpack mail,” Bellavia noted.
High schools do not have backpack mail and thus are not slated to get the new system. After the jump, a video about Peachjar.