Community Transformation is Possible through Eastern Panhandle Planning, Cacapon and NFWF
by Mike Smith, The GreenSmith Columnist
In Charles Town, West Virginia, a plan is underway that will provide the area with a lot more green – and a lot less brown – through the planting of native vegetation grown in a unique, “portable” greenhouse nursery.
Matt Pennington, Chesapeake Bay program coordinator at the Eastern Panhandle Planning and Development Council, said the idea for the native nursery was born from a conversation with a local engineer who proposed using wastewater effluent for irrigation in an agricultural capacity.
Pennington believed in the concept and recalled other conversations with local officials, wastewater operators, landscape professionals, and volunteer groups regarding their particular needs.
“A local nursery appeared to be an ideal option for reaching their goals, while putting this unique practice to work,” he said.
The disparate pieces of the puzzle came together in “Branching in Native Nursery,” a project that was awarded an $81,500 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Pennington said there are two sites involved. The first is the nearby water treatment plant, and the second is an old brownfield site. “Brownfield” is a term used in urban planning to describe land previously used for industrial purposes or other commercial uses.
“We will be installing a ‘pop-up’ greenhouse on the site that will ultimately be a self-sustaining business, as well as a way to impact stormwater remediation in Charles Town,” Pennington said.
Charles Town City Manager David Mills said: “this project gives us a chance to plant more native species, which is important as they are more tolerant of climate and insects that are indigenous to the area. We are excited to see cleanup in an area that was previously unusable and that gives us a long-term use we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Some of the trees that will be cultivated include redbud and dogwood, and large shade trees such as maple, oak, sycamore and sweet gum.
The trees and plants will serve as stock for the city to maintain existing bio-retention areas and future green initatives. They will replenish regional inventory so landscapers won’t have to incur costs travelling to obtain supply. Pennington is confident that a market for these plants exists, just based on the tree planting program in the region, “CommuniTree,” administered by the Cacapon Institute.
Cacapon brings volunteers together to plant tree canopy along riparian buffers and implement new urban tree installations.
The unique way these plants will be irrigated is as exciting for Pennington as production of the trees themselves. “Water will be taken from a nearby wastewater treatment plant at the secondary treated effluent phase,” he said. “This water was originally discharged into streams, as it is safe biologically, but contains higher nutrient (phosphorus and nitrogen) levels. These are the very nutrients that plants love and it helps them thrive.”
Collecting water prior to the final “tertiary” phase of filtering out extra nutrients also saves the plant and the community additional cost.
“Our local wastewater plants have incurred extreme costs for chemical treatment and electricity, as they have had to face upgrades associated with producing tertiary treated water that removes the extra nutrients,” Pennington said.
The savings for the water treatment plant is passed on to the community, and the nutrients end up residing in “excellent places,” he said: In roots, leaves and trunks of trees as opposed to streams, where they cause problems like algae blooms in the summer.
“Originally, the plan was to install a permanent infrastructure of conduit pipe to pump water to the nursery, but we decided to use 500-gallon buffalo tanks to transfer the water the mile or two to the nursery instead. The tanks will then be hooked up to an irrigation drip system that works on timers, so there is no loss at all,” said Pennington.
This approach also allows the city to use the area later on, should needs change. Pennington estimates that the greenhouses will be set up by fall of this year. The grant will allow the project to get underway but “ultimately we want to make sure we have a good business plan so we will be sustainable after the grant funding.”
Citizens of Charles Town will be able to see and interact with this high-visibility project, providing an ongoing educational benefit.
“We are trying to do so many things to find overlaps in benefits for projects like this,” Pennington said. “Green infrastructure improves the environment, increases the shelf life of existing amenities and improves the level of services so the community is safe, healthy and vibrant.”
Cheryl Vosburg contributed to this interview with Mr. Pennington. Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute