Friday, May 7, 2010

Watershed protection should be written into code-enforcement ordinance

Since 2003 when the first mobile homes and single-family houses were removed from the 30-acre Aspen Ridge site, I have waited for someone to make something on that property look better. Recently, the nonnative grass seeded on the undeveleoped portion near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and a scattering of native plants have risen to stop the erosion of soil and offset the ugly fill dirt and incredibly noisy student apartments built on most of the acres.
I can't imagine who would have complained aboout the grass finally growing after seeing the mud run down Hill Avenue and into the Town Branch at 11th Street for so long. But suddenly I spot a sign on Hill Avenue from the Code Enforcement Department requiring the destruction of the vegetation that has finally stopped the erosion from up near MLK and brought back a bit of health to the land along that stretch of former 6th Street.

I fumed for weeks last year about the Code Enforcement Department's requirement that Robert Williams' son-in-law remove some fine vegetation from a lot on Hill Avenue adjacent to the National Cemetery. I must apologize to Robert for not speaking out about that.
But now I have to step up and ask why would Code Enforcement require Hank Broyles, burdened with threats of foreclosures during this economic downturn, to pay someone to mow a bit of land that FINALLY is vegetated enough to control its erosion after all these years? I never saw a single Code Enforcement sign demanding that the erosion stop from 2003 to 2008. The ordinances that code enforcement is required to enforce simply do not include truly harmful situations such as massive, uncontrolled erosion.
The big question is "why have a department dedicated to enforcing grass height regulations but no department dedicated to protecting our precious drinking-water supply?"
The city ought to encourage people to let their grass grow tall.
That would help protect our watershed and help our city meet the newly strengthened EPA water-quality standards.
Tall grass and any plants that grow help reduce air and water pollution and global climate change while offering habitat for wildlife.
The ordinance that mandates the responsibilities of code enforcement officials needs to be rewritten to make it have relevance to reality. Requiring people to mow and deforest land is the very opposite of sustainablility and low-impact development policies.
Yes, there are people who prefer a heavy-handed approach to managing the earth.
However, it may be only a matter of sharing information about the value of healthy vegetation to convince them that less is better in such matters.
Mowing requirements sometimes result in mowing to the edge of ditches, stream banks and steep breaks in terrain, allowing bare dirt to be eroded. And many people mow so that the clippings fly onto sidewalks and into streets. Some even use leaf-blowers to send clippings and leaves into storm drains. If mowing is required, why not teach people how to do it responsibly?

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