Park Stroll

Forest Glen Park Community Stroll

Hosted by Barbara Schubert on September 24, 2011

Forest Glen Park in Silver Spring is surrounded by Montgomery County’s Rock Creek Park has a country-lane aura with hilly and tree-lined streets nestled in the woods. The community was established in 1887 as a real estate venture which became part of the historic National Park Seminary. The land itself was owned in 1774 by pre-Revolution founding families. Strollers came and found secret trails in this Woodstock Avenue canyon, a bird-lovers’ delight. They emerged at the end of the stroll into the Historic National Park Seminary for a walk past the Pagoda and other unusual structures. They witnessed the community’s “trouble-in-paradise”: missing shade trees killed by leaking natural gas pipes. They learned how this happened and what residents in the area are trying to do about it. Host and stroll leader Barbara Schubert (pictured below in the left photo wearing a black shirt) is president of the Forest Glen Park Citizens’ Association, an avid gardener and advocate for parks, trails and trees. A volunteer community organizer and political activist for more than 30 years, Barbara is now focused on stopping natural gas pipe leaks. Her story is below with photos from the stroll through beautiful Forest Glen Park neighborhood in Silver Spring.

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Chronology of events regarding gas leaks destroying trees in Forest Glen Park

I am advocating in defense of trees and air quality. Natural gas (methane) pipes are leaking throughout Montgomery County because they are often very old. The Public Service Commission (PSC) is not able to prevent this damage because Maryland law has too few regulations and little independent oversight. As a result, methane (natural gas) is escaping in amounts we do not know and is trespassing onto public and private property to damage vegetation.and trees like the ones in my neighborhood. The county and the public have no means to know this proximate cause nor the extent of damage to their valuable trees.

My interest began in June, 2010. Over time I noticed that many mature shade trees along the streets were dying until on several streets we had no tree canopy. By chance, I learned that in Boston, MA environmental advocates had been working for five years to document the damage, to get compensation for the loss, and to pass state legislation to hold their utility responsible for stopping the leaks and for damage caused by their product. FGP has had a history of gas leaks going back for 20 years or more.

use 04On August 31, 2010, DOT arborists inspected our sick and dead trees. They described several possible causes for their decline, but did not attribute the cause to gas leaks. Nor did they have any means to test for the presence of gas. In September, 2010, I invited an expert gas leaks inspector (Gas Safety USA) to test for gas in Forest Glen Park and randomly in other parts of Silver Spring and DC. He documented many leaks and resultant damaged and dead trees. Having scientific evidence, I requested a meeting with our government representatives. Meanwhile, FGP residents reported smelling gas every day they smelled it. As a result of my advocacy combined with customer complaints, Washington Gas decided to replace all the pipes in FGP. I am unsure of the exact date that work began, but I believe it was in September, 2010. Today, the work is not yet complete.

County Council President Valerie Ervin’s aid, Rich Romer, held a meeting for me on October 6, 2010 with Laura Miller, tree conservationist for the county DEP and with Brett Linkletter the county’s arborist with DOT. They all told me that they had no ability to influence Washington Gas and they listed all the other ways that trees are damaged. I was advised to file a formal complaint with the PSC. I filed a formal complaint with the PSC in October, 2010, ( MPSC# 910130028) describing the loss of 14 trees that were coincident with gas leaks at their roots. I also stated that on September 27, 2010 the WG leak inspector refused to look at leaks that we had found independently. The PSC conclusion was that Washington Gas had done nothing wrong according to the regulations that the PSC is charged to protect.

The Gazette Newspaper published an article in December, 2010:
“Forest Glen woman fights to protect trees from natural gas. Community activist believes leaks are responsible for damage throughout neighborhood” Washington Gardener Magazine published an article in their 2011 Winter issue. Since that time, I continue to advocate awareness of the science that confirms the fact that natural gas does harm vegetation and that the public has the right to know and for compensation for damage to their property.

MD Delegate Al Carr is in the process of writing legislation modeled on a bill from Massachusetts that would ensure such safeguards. On September 27, 2011, I testified against a rate increase in the PSC/Washington Gas Light case #9267 because, though I appreciate that replacing pipes requires an increase of money, the PSC has not adequately assessed the extent of the unaccounted for gas which the customer pays for, nor has it studied the effect of the methane on the environment, nor has it the ability to oversee the accomplishment of the work. And there is insufficient transparency to allow the public knowledge of the leaks in general nor whether there might be gas trespassing onto their property.

To strengthen my advocacy, in October, 2011, FGP sponsored the return of the expert gas leak inspector. This time he had the use of an instrument on loan from Boston University that measures the amount of ambient methane. By combining those measurements with the traditional means of locating leaks which is, in fact, looking for signs of damage to vegetation, he again found ambient methane from leaks in randomly selected parts of Montgomery County and DC that were accompanied by damaged trees. I continue to seek means to create awareness through partnerships with conservation organizations and through outreach to arborists and government representatives.

— Barbara Schubert, Forest Glen Park, Silver Spring