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Arlington County Board Knows How to Spend Windfall Money, Too

A story in Sunday's Richmond Times-Dispatch detailing the efforts of NASCAR driver Ward Burton in conserving 1,143 acres of forestland along the Staunton River brought to mind similar efforts by the Arlington County Board three years ago. Not quite similar, but both stories involve trees. According to Burton, his effort is "to teach young people stewardship" of the land. Back to Arlington County. Three years ago, the County Board used $700,000 of taxpayer money "to improve the County's 'green infrastructure," the Manager told Arlington residents in his cover letter to the Fiscal Year 2003 Adopted Budget. He told residents the County Board's budget included an additional $500,000 (for a total of $700,000) and 3.5 additional positions "to preserve, protect and restore the County's tree canopy through development of a tree master plan . . . (and) increase the annual planting of trees on County property from 880 to 1,280 trees." Let's be clear. In no way are we opposed to planting more trees; afterall, trees are good things. Recall, however, the County Board has been intimately involved in clear-cutting many trees as a result of their desire to add to the county's tax base through denser construction, especially in the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. The spending of $700,000 three years ago to enable the planting of 400 additional trees has obviously been a burr under our saddle, and recently we learned from Virginia's Department of Forestry that forests comprise a larger percentage of acreage in the Commonwealth today (15.9 million acres, 62%) than in 1940 (14.4 million acres, 56%). The bottom line, the County Board's spending of $700,000 on their so-called 'tree initiative' was nothing but pure symbolism, and would not measurably add to the Commonwealth's forestlands. Put another way, the spending three years ago did nothing but fulfill Board members 'anointed visions.'