Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Residents and others lament loss of trees

Homeowners showed cleared forestland during Intercounty Connector ‘wake’

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Leah L. Jones⁄Special to The Gazette
Residents and anti-ICC activists Dick Lindstrom (from right), Susan Laessig, Pat Labuda, Bill Labuda and T.T. Yeh gather in the Shady Grove Woods neighborhood in Derwood on Saturday for an Irish-style ‘‘wake” and walking tour in protest of the Intercounty Connector, which will go through that community.
In the community of Shady Grove Woods, trees are becoming more and more scarce.

Residents and other anti-Intercounty Connector activists marched through the neighborhood on Saturday, pointing out the trees that were cut down to make way for the six-lane highway.

‘‘It’s just that we didn’t have a say in it in so many ways and we’re not talking about a two-lane road, we’re talking about a major highway running through here,” resident Sam Chim said of the ICC. ‘‘We have a lot of nice, private woods back here and now we’re going to have a highway running through instead. It just kills the whole atmosphere of living in Shady Grove Woods; it’s going to be like Shady Grove Highway after this.”

Chim is one of several residents who has lost a portion of his back yard to the highway, and one of nearly 100 people who attended the weekend ‘‘Irish wake” in the Derwood neighborhood.

The event, called ‘‘Wake-up MoCo,” was organized by Connie McKenna and a group of neighbors in an effort to draw attention to what they say is the devastating impact of the Intercounty Connector on their community, located west of Shady Grove Road along Briardale Road.

A walking tour playfully called ‘‘O’Malley’s March,” the name of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s former Irish rock band, mimicked the processional of an Irish wake as bagpiper Steve Porter led the group to the barren field behind several homes.

‘‘Today we’re here to mourn for what was really a forest six weeks ago,” said McKenna, president of the Shady Grove Woods Homeowners Association.

The ICC, an 18-mile toll road that will connect Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg to Interstate 95 in Laurel, is in the early stages of construction and is expected to cost about $2.4 billion. It is scheduled to open in segments, beginning in late 2010.

Many of the participants wore dark green T-shirts reading ‘‘A Wake for MoCo” and held signs aloft, blaming O’Malley (D) for allowing the project to proceed.

‘‘Is Gov. O’Malley thinking about us,” asked McKenna, who has been involved in lawsuits against the highway. ‘‘I don’t think so. Is he thinking about the 12,000 homes, the 30,000 people who would live within 500 meters of this toxic, poisonous highway? I don’t think he’s thinking about them.”

The event also attracted people from around Georgia Avenue and Layhill and Colesville roads, as well as the communities of Washington Grove and Olney.

Margarita Gonzalez, who lives near Layhill Road, said she is dreading the impending highway construction.

‘‘I came to see what’s going on because it’s going to affect us, too, pretty soon,” she said.

But for some, the construction is already real.

Gazing at the cleared land, Sally Mills said seeing the downed trees has been difficult for her children who told her they ‘‘wanted to move.”

‘‘We used to hike in the woods a lot, so we miss that,” she said. ‘‘We only have a little patch left in our back yard.”

County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park and Del. Saqib Ali (D-Dist. 39) of Gaithersburg spoke to the crowd and said they still think the ICC is a bad idea.

Elrich said the ICC conflicts with the council’s recent pro-environment actions, which included a collection of global warming laws aimed at reducing the county’s greenhouse gas emissions.

‘‘So we take bold steps in one direction, and then we make a huge mistake which we can’t possibly correct going in the other direction,” he said.

But Elrich urged the residents to continue their fight, adding there is still a ‘‘remote possibility this road will crash and burn.”

In addition to harming the environment, opponents say the road will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion, despite what state officials say. A federal court ruled in favor of the ICC in November, but an appeal is pending.

The day ended with the group planting seven trees in the neighborhood.