Trump’s Tree Trunks

More trees cut along Potomac River at Trump National Golf Course.

Environmentalists, conservationists and general river lovers were surprised to learn that more trees were cut last month from the edge of Trump National Golf Course along the Potomac River in Loudoun County, Va.

Steve McKone, a kayaker and group leader with Calleva Outdoors, which has offices on the Maryland side of the river, was the first to notice the change in the shoreline.

“I was out there on the G.W. Canal and on the way I noticed there weren’t as many trees as there used to be,” McKone said. “The trees were in the water; the river level was low, and they had not washed down.”

McCone said he got off the river and called Potomac River Keepers to tell them about the trees. He also put notice on a paddlers’ Internet message board alerting them of the possible danger as the trees washed down the river.

“It’s a shame,” he said. “These are big, full grown trees.”

In 2010 the golf club cut down between 400 and 500 trees along the river. One story reported the trees were diseased and had to go, another, that they were felled to improve the view of the river from the golf course. There was no penalty for the cutting that time, as club officials first consulted with Loudoun County officials.

This time, they did not, and on March 6 Loudoun County issued a Notice of Violation for Tree Removal at Golf Course. A press release from Loudoun County reports that the county issued the following: “Loudoun County has issued a Notice of Violation of the county’s zoning ordinance to the Trump National Golf Course located at 20391 Lowes Island Boulevard in Sterling following the improper removal of trees from a floodplain without a permit.”

On Feb. 28, 2019, Loudoun County inspected the golf course property, which borders the Potomac River. In its Notice of Violation, the county noted three violations of the Revised 1993 Loudoun County Zoning Ordinance:

“General Prohibition, Section: 1-103(C): Inspectors observed approximately 31,000 square feet of land had been altered within the Floodplain Overlay District (FOD), commonly called the ‘major floodplain.’ Any man-made change to real estate in the major floodplain without first obtaining the required county approvals is a violation.

“Floodplain Alterations, Section: 4-1508(B): Inspectors observed development on the property, as defined in Section 4-1503(G), that includes the cutting/removal and clearing of trees located within the major floodplain resulting in an alteration to the characteristics of the major floodplain. This development, without first obtaining the required county approval of a ‘Declaration of No Impact to Floodplain’ or ‘Floodplain Alteration,’ is a violation.

“Zoning Permit Required, Section: 4-1508(C): Alteration of the major floodplain that resulted from the cutting/removal and clearing of trees without first obtaining the required zoning permit approval is a violation.”

When Loudoun County issues a zoning violation notice, it includes specific measures the property owner must take to correct the situation. In accordance with Section 6-502 of the Revised 1993 Loudoun County Zoning Ordinance, the county notified Trump National Golf Course of correction actions that include:

  • Discontinuing all development activities within the major floodplain on the property until all required approvals from the county are obtained; and submitting all required applications for review and approval by the county for the development that has occurred on the property within the major floodplain.

  • Obtaining the approval of, and being in compliance with, a floodplain alteration (FPAL) application. Each development/alteration within the major floodplain requires the approval of a FPAL application in accordance with Section 4-1508(B) of the ordinance.

  • Obtaining the approval of, and being in compliance with, a zoning permit application. Each development/alteration within the major floodplain requires the approval of a zoning permit application in accordance with Section 4-1508(C) of the ordinance.

The county’s ordinance regarding the major floodplain is in place to protect property and public safety. Alterations to land in the major floodplain may impact the property on which the alterations occur as well as other properties located nearby or downstream. The required permits for alteration in the major floodplain include a review of plans prior to any changes in the major floodplain to ensure they do not have adverse effects.

The property owner has the option to appeal the county’s Notice of Violation to the Board of Zoning Appeals within 30 days, during which time any enforcement actions are put on hold pending the outcome of the appeal.

If the corrective actions are not taken, an initial fine of $200 for each offense will be issued. Loudoun County will continue to inspect the property in 10-day increments. Fines in the amount of $500 for each subsequent offense may be issued every 10 days if the county determines that a violation still exists after the appeal date has expired.

More information about the administration and enforcement of the Loudoun County Zoning Ordinance is online at www.loudoun.gov/zoning.

“The follow up now for us is to get Maryland to take action for unlawfully dumping wood and debris into the river,” said Dean Naujoks, from Potomac Riverkeepers. “Though the trees were dumped in Virginia, the river is Maryland jurisdiction. Maryland must step up and take enforcement.”

Naujoks said he believes the recent tree cutting and dumping the trees may have been done to save the money it would cost to have the trees cut up and hauled away.

“It is cheaper for them to pay a fine than pay a company,” he said.

Gregg Bortz, media relations manager for Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said Natural Resource did send a boat patrol to investigate when the February tree cutting was reported and there were no obstructions in the water.

On March 11 he sent the following email: “Maryland Natural Resources Police completed a check of the Potomac River last weekend and found no current hazards. Anyone who does see significant debris or navigation hazards in Maryland waters should report it immediately to Natural Resources Police at 410-260-8888.”

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