Residents living in rural western Loudoun near Catoctin Creek may have noticed a change to the creek’s landscape in recent months—350 tons of rock have been dumped along hundreds of feet of its banks.
In August last year, VDOT dropped the rock along nearly 1,000 feet of the creek’s banks next to Downey Mill Road. The rock ranges in size anywhere from gravel-sized stones to large boulders and, when dumped, stripped the bark off of numerous trees and generally damaged the creek’s banks. To many residents, the rocks are eyesores that came out of nowhere for no apparent reason.
VDOT Senior Public Affairs Officer Ellen Kamilakis said that the rocks were dumped to stabilize the embankment during a time of heavy rain when the road was being washed out more frequently than normal.
“They were seeing a lot of erosion,” Kamilakis said. “It was to preserve the condition of the road.”
Loudoun received record-breaking rain in 2018 of 66.75 inches—26 inches more than 2017, according to the National Weather Service.
However, Patrick Huge, a Downey Mill Road resident whose property abuts the creek bank where the rock was dumped, says erosion isn’t a problem there. He said that when the road does flood, VDOT normally makes prompt repairs.
Aimee Curl, a Downey Mill Road resident, said that the road actually seemed to be more prone to flooding after the rock was dumped, since some of it had blocked a drainage culvert. “I am confused and displeased by VDOT’s action here,” she said.
Residents are now upset about the rock’s impact on the creek’s banks and trees.
While Eleanor Adams, a member of the Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Committee, described the scene as “unsightly,” Huge described it as a “commercial wasteland” where the rocks ruined the banks and girdled many trees. “You can’t do that here,” he said.
Aside from what the rock did to the natural landscape, it’s the way in which VDOT dumped it that has enraged many residents—without any formal notification.
“Nobody got any notice—they just decided to do it,” Adams said. “It’s a serious concern.”
Huge said that when he called VDOT to get some answers when the rocks were dumped, Jim Betz, VDOT’s Loudoun maintenance administrator, was unaware of the operation and traveled to the creek about an hour later to halt the process. “He was as shocked as I was,” Huge said. “This was a bootleg, bulls— project.”
Kamilakis said the operation was handled by one of VDOT’s internal groups and that it commenced when a construction crew reached out with an offer for free rock. She said that the construction crew, which may have been working on a county project off Sycolin Road, had an overage of rock that it needed to offload. “It was a donation,” she said.
With no answers in the last five months, residents are still asking why exactly the rock was dumped in the first place and how VDOT plans to fix the damage.
Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said that he’s waiting to hear back from VDOT to set up a meeting with residents and members of the Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Committee and the Loudoun County Rural Roads Committee to get some answers. “We’ll try to get to the bottom of [the issue],” he said.
Kamilakis said VDOT is working to make that happen soon.
“We’re not opposed to anything that we need to do to remedy whatever happened,” she said. “This is definitely going to be a learning experience for us.”
She said that VDOT is also arranging a training course for its maintenance workers to learn how to appropriately handle stream restoration and environmental projects.