Call it a watershed moment for the Town of Ashland.
April 19, town officials gathered to cut the ribbon to Ashland’s municipal parking lot, completed last November and among the first of its kind to utilize a new type of construction to keep stormwater runoff pollution from entering local waterways.
“If someone would have told me a decade ago that one of the things I’d be proudest of for being mayor of the Town of Ashland would be a parking lot, that might have seemed a pretty underwhelming goal,” said Mayor Faye Prichard. “But when you think about what this parking lot represents and what has gone into it, I would be really proud to have this be one of the icons for the work that, not just I, but council, has accomplished in the last few years.”
According to Ingrid Stenbjorn, town engineer, the town needed to rehabilitate the parking lot, which connects Hanover Avenue and South Center Street. Some stormwater improvements had already been completed there, but the town wanted to figure out a more long-term solution. That’s when town officials decided to pursue a low-impact design, meaning that the project has a small impact on the environment.
While easy on the environment, low-impact designs are not as soft on town budgets. Overall, the parking lot improvements cost approximately $200,000, roughly four times what a traditional, asphalt paving would have cost.
“I think everybody always thought that it was a nice idea, but you make decisions like this when you do your budget, and people were thinking, ‘This is a great idea, but can we afford it?’” Prichard said.
Town council decided to begin putting away money in the town’s capital improvement program “so that if we could afford it, we’d be prepared with our own part.”
Coinciding with the town’s decision-making process was the pending “Total Maximum Daily Load” regulations, which address the amount of pollution that enters local waterways from sources such as stormwater runoff.
“We knew more and more that we’d have to account for that every year, and this seemed like a really good way to accomplish that and some nice economic development goals, and then I think everybody was 100 percent on board,” Prichard said.
Stenbjorn said the town originally applied for grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 2010, but was turned down. Town council set aside $100,000 that year for the parking lot in the town’s capital improvement fund, and added another $100,000 a year later.
The town was eventually awarded a grant through the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which was enough to cover the design work, completed by engineering firm A. Morton Thomas & Associates, Inc. The town’s go-to contractor, Tally & Armstrong, carried out the construction phase. Helping keep the project affordable was a donation by the company Filterra of the bio-media used in the bio-retention area. Eagle Bay also provided paver blocks to the town at cost.
How it works:
During heavy rain events, the sudden rush of water running off of paved surfaces or rooftops can be more than natural waterways can take, according to
Stenbjorn. Stormwater also introduces any contaminates that might be on a paved surface into the watershed.
To curb the effects of stormwater runoff, the town installed permeable paving stones in place of asphalt or another, more traditional surface. Gaps between the pavers allow stormwater to infiltrate the surface, similar to how rainwater is absorbed into the natural environment.
“The reason we want to do this is to slow down the runoff from the parking lot before it gets into the natural waters,” Stenbjorn said.
Below the surface stones is a bioretention area that stores the stormwater and then slowly releases it into the ground. Biomedia inside of the reservoir filters the runoff, which either soaks into the ground or is collected by a perforated pipe and discharged into the existing storm sewer.
“But by this time the water will have been cleaned by the bioretention area and will have slowed down a lot and it will mimic more of what happens when it rains in a natural environment like a forest,” Stenbjorn said.
She added that the project reflects “more of where we’re going” in terms of stormwater management. A series of laws handed down from the federal level and passed through the state’s water control board as part of a sweeping Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan take effect July 2014. Projects like this one help the town stay ahead of that legislative curve.
Among the requirements is to clean up stormwater before it enters waterways.
“So, since we had to do a renovation on the parking lot anyway, we thought that this would be a good opportunity to retrofit one of these improved stormwater management systems,” Stenbjorn said.
As a way to cut costs, only one side of the municipal lot uses the permeable paver system; the other side is asphalt. Stenbjorn said the town hopes to one day pave the other half of the lot with the eco-friendly pavers, but that there is currently no set schedule to complete that work. The paver system is, however, being utilized in a streetscaping project in the College Park neighborhood, where the town has invested $853,332 to resolve drainage issues and revamp town streets and sidewalks.
As a result of its work, Ashland received the 2013 Dave Pearson Watershed Excellence Award from the Virginia Lakes and Watersheds Association, recognizing the town’s contribution to protecting the environment.
“We were thrilled, we were so happy,” Stenbjorn said. “We felt like we had really done a cutting edge project and we felt like it was really the right thing to do as far as being good environmental stewards and it just really feels good to know that we weren’t the only ones that thought that.”
The town also received some local recognition. Tom Wulf, executive director of the Ashland Main Street Association, presented the town with the “You’ve Been Noticed” award, for the town’s part in improving the streetscape of Ashland.
He said the award was also a way for his organization to “properly thank” the town for completing the project in time for Train Day, Main Street’s signature event held annually on the municipal lot.
“The town just jumped through hoops to get this parking lot ready by Train Day,” he said. “Nobody thought it could be done in time.
“This was our opportunity to say thank you, not only for a nice, green, sustainable parking lot, but for the speed in which they got it done,” Wulf added.
He also said the project fits in with Main Street’s goals of making Ashland a destination location.
“Main Street Associations are all about tourism, it’s all about pulling people back into the downtown, residents and visitors alike, so if we can kind of stir economic activity by pursuing historic preservation and enhancements like the town parking lot and generally promoting downtown Ashland, it’s good for the entire regional economy as well,” Wulf said.
With Ashland’s commitment to protecting the watershed literally set in stone, Prichard emphasized the town, with its population of 7,256 citizens, as a “forward-thinking” locality.
“We are a small town and we’ve got that whole Mayberry thing going on, but it’s exactly the spirit of Ashland that we like to be forward thinking, and do things ahead of the curve and be admired rather than be behind the pack,” she said.