Loudoun County officials and representatives of Trump National Golf Club in Sterling have concluded there was no impact to the floodplain along the Potomac River after several trees were removed from the property in March.
The conclusion clears the property owner of any penalties or fines.
Shortly after Loudoun County issued a Notice of Violation detailing three violations in March, Trump National's engineering firm submitted a declaration of no impact, stating there was no disruption to the floodplain. County staff made the same determination after a review of the firm's plan to address the violation notice.
“The Potomac River drainage shed is over 14,000 square miles, and the limited amount of disturbance would not impact the enormous breadth of water associated with the size of the drainage shed,” engineering firm Christopher Consultants, which represents Trump National, stated in the letter to Loudoun County.
The zoning permit required prior to any disturbance within the floodplain will be issued retroactively, according to Loudoun County Public Affairs and Communications Officer Glen Barbour. These actions were consistent with the corrective measures contained in the Notice of Violation issued, and no fines have been imposed, Barbour said.
In 2016, the Board of Supervisors amended the county Zoning Ordinance floodplain regulations based on a FEMA directive, requiring any disturbance or construction within floodplain areas – including cutting, removing or planting trees – be reviewed prior to any work being done. Loudoun County issued the Notice of Violation to Trump National Golf Club because the owner did not seek approval prior to completing the work. In March, the owner was found in violation of operating without a zoning permit, altering the floodplain and removing trees without county approval. Inspectors observed approximately 31,000 square feet of land had been altered during removal.
“Trees are beneficial to water quality, and removing them from the floodplain in many localities is prohibited,” Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks said in an interview with the Times-Mirror. He said it was “inappropriate” to operate without a permit and allow the trees, waste and debris to flow in the river. Naujoks encouraged the county to consider stronger penalties and require violators to replant vegetation areas in Zoning Ordinance floodplains.
Conservation Advocacy Chairwoman Cheri Conca of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy similarly described the report as disturbing.
“Even though the county determined there wasn't any impact to the floodplain – again, after the fact – maybe the bigger problem is that the county's zoning ordinance isn't comprehensive enough," Conca said. “Cutting down those trees may or may not have affected the floodplain, but [it] does affect air and water quality and biodiversity. The community would benefit from zoning ordinance that provides more thorough protection for riparian buffers, in addition to floodplains.”
The Potomac Riverkeeper Network environmental group earlier this year urged the Board of Supervisors to adopt the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and enact regulations that prohibit similar action in the future.
The petition notes, “This tree clearing will result in increased sediment runoff and erosion of the streambank, degrading the river’s water quality and adding to the pollution that continues to degrade Chesapeake Bay downstream. Loudoun County needs to follow the example of counties in tidal areas of the Bay Watershed, which have taken action to protect our rivers and Bay from harmful actions like these."
Trump National Golf Course, located at 20391 Lowes Island Blvd., sits in the Algonkian election district and a mile outside of the Sterling District.
"County staff handled this complaint in accordance with standard procedures," Algonkian Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R) said. "This particular complaint attracted attention due to the ownership of the property."
While Volpe praised the work by county staff, her Sterling colleague called for trees to be replanted.
“I would like to see Trump National replace the trees they have cut down and work with county staff to right this wrong,” Sterling Supervisor Koran Saines (D) said. “A healthy environment is a priority of mine and trees on riverbanks are crucial to the Potomac’s water quality and reducing erosion. I plan on speaking with county staff about this.”
Trump National Golf Club in Loudoun has a history of removing trees following Donald Trump's purchase of the 800-acre property in 2009. Trump Organization officials said the trees—which were under stress and eroding— threatened the shoreline, according to The Washington Post. More than 400 trees have been removed from the property.