Six large oak trees are killed by Fort Myer Construction Company

By Mike Goodman

These six heritage trees along Maine Ave., SW were irreparably damaged by a DDOT contractor and face removal; Courtesy of Gail Fast

On March 17, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) alerted Southwest community leaders that Fort Myer Construction Company had killed six massive oak trees on the north side of Maine Ave., SW between Arena Stage and The Banks. Fort Myer had been contracted by the DDOT Street Light Division to install a light in that area.

According to a DDOT spokesperson, “While doing work on a streetlight upgrade project, a DDOT contractor erroneously excavated roots from six oak trees along Maine Avenue SW. DDOT’s Urban Forestry team was immediately engaged to prevent further harm and assess existing damage. DDOT is working with the contractor to recoup costs associated with the trees’ removal and replacement. DDOT has also modified the permit requiring additional notice and approvals from DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division before any additional digging takes place.”

Southwest leaders immediately began speaking out, and questions arose about whether DDOT was properly supervising the project and following proper protocol. “This work within the public way was improperly supervised—if at all—by both Ft. Myer and DDOT. Even though DDOT now states that they will have inspectors on site until the project is completed, it’s too little, too late,” says Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andy Litsky. “DDOT’s incredible lack of oversight regarding this contract begs credulity.”

In emails obtained by The Southwester, a DDOT official states that Fort Myer Construction Company did not follow the standards set out in their contract. This has raised questions about what punitive measures will be taken against Fort Myer, and how the Southwest community will be compensated for this loss.

“The tree canopy in Southwest is one of our most treasured community resources,” states Litsky. “The damage caused by Fort Myer Construction requires a very large fine—per each heritage tree that they have destroyed—and those funds need to be reserved specifically to restore the tree canopy in Southwest and not stashed in the General Fund. What they’ve destroyed in Southwest they are going to fix in Southwest.”

As the news broke, Councilmember Charles Allen sent a letter to DDOT’s Interim Director, Everett Lott, with four requests related to the incident. He asked for an immediate investigation, including “whether Fort Myer or DDOT failed to employ any particular controls that could have prevented the damage in this situation…” Second, Allen requested a report on similar destruction of Special Trees and Heritage Trees covering the last three years. Third, Allen requested that DDOT pursue a monetary fine to the fullest extent allowed under the law, and prioritize planting trees in Southwest. Fourth, in the event of removal of these trees, Allen requested that the wood from these Heritage trees be donated for uses in the Southwest community.

“If these trees must be replaced, neither of us will live to see their replacement reach the size of the current trees,” the letter states. “The likely loss of these trees is of tremendous concern to the Southwest community, where they have been treasured for generations for their size, age, beauty, and ecological value. I look forward to continued discussion with you and your staff on this issue.”

The Southwester will continue to follow this story, as many of these questions remain unanswered. “For far too long, politically connected Fort Myer Construction has run rings around District agencies—especially DDOT,” says Litsky. “The Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment needs to step up and exercise some oversight. It’s high time that the District stops allowing the fox to guard the hen house.”

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