Protecting such natural resources as the tree canopy and stream water quality is on the city’s agenda this year. The Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods is looking for ways that residents can help in their own back yards.
At its March 13 annual meeting, held at Lost Corner Preserve, the coalition of homeowners associations held a panel discussion on the topic. About 40 people attended to hear from the experts, who included: Alan Toney, chairman of the Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District; Jason Ulseth of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group; Gilbert Quinones, the city’s chief engineer; and Jesus Davila, the city’s building and land development manager.
The main ideas: residents can help with even basic tree-planting and maintenance, and volunteer on water-quality testing efforts. Residents had some ideas of their own, too, including tougher protections against clear-cutting of trees for developments.
Another piece of advice: If something appears to be pollution or similar natural resource problem, reporter it to the city or Fulton County government. Ronda Smith, the council’s president, said she recently reported a sewage leak in a creek.
“I like to say, if you smell something, say something,” Smith said.
The city’s 24-hour Call Center is at 770-730-5600 and the county’s sewer leak reporting line for this area is 404-612-3061.
The city is working on an updated and improved tree inventory after concerns that previous mapping of the canopy was inaccurate. That would help with more strategic tree-planting, officials have said, often done in collaboration with such groups as Trees Atlanta.
However, Ulseth said his group works with Trees Atlanta as well, and says they are finding that they can never plant enough trees to make up for the pace of cutting in today’s developments. He said the policy priority has to shift to advocacy to “save the trees we have,” not just plant more, which in any case will take decades to mature.
Ulseth said some cities ban the total bulldozing of a property, regardless of its redevelopment plan. Resident Karen Meinzen McEnerny said Sandy Springs needs a similar policy to “stop the clear-cutting in our community.”
Some residents said they want better advance notice on clear-cutting plans. Davila said the city arborist reviews all plans, but he and Quinones added that the plans often changed – in some cases, perhaps intentionally as a dodge to avoid controversy. Quinones said the city is now requiring more initial engineering on such issues as sewer, stormwater and road systems to avoid such surprises, but that has to balance with the costs to developers who may not gain the zoning or permits they need to recoup the investment.
Bill Cleveland of the Sandy Springs Environmental Project said the city and residents alike could do a better job of removing invasive vines that strangle trees. Smith said residents should plant trees in their yards and hire an arborist – not simply a tree-removal company – to assess their current trees.
Water quality and flooding
Stormwater runoff is a key problem in the city, contributing to both water pollution and flooding. The city reportedly aims to better educate residents this year about runoff mitigation, and to study the Nancy Creek watershed in southeastern Sandy Springs to reduce flooding.
Trees and other plants play a role here, too. Quinones said that big contributors to flooding is people clearing plants in the yards along the creeks, which increases erosion and runoff, and not cleaning up trees and other large debris that fall into the water, damming it and increasing floods. Such problems were seen along Nancy Creek on walk last year organized by the Council of Neighborhoods, he said. Some homeowners don’t realize their property line goes all the way to the center of the stream, making them responsible for cleaning up fallen trees in the water, he said.
A resident of the Huntcliff community in the north end said they did a similar Chattahoochee cleanup that significantly reduced their flooding.
Ulseth said that more development is ultimately the issue, however, as it creates more runoff, which in turn creates erosion that causes the tree falls.
Water quality in the streams and river vary day to day, Ulseth and Toney said. In general, it’s clean enough for swimming, except when it rains and immediately after. Sewage and other polluted runoff then can increase.
There are a couple of volunteer programs that help officials monitor water quality. One is the state’s “Adopt A Stream,” involving a monthly water collection analyzed in a home mini-lab, Ulseth said. More accurate and useful, he said, is the Riverkeeper’s own “Neighborhood Water Watch,” with weekly collections dropped off for full lab analysis and results posted live to the website.
More volunteers are needed for that program, whose duties can be split among several neighbors, Ulseth said.