Photography courtesy of Kristi Kerr Leonard.

East Dallas neighbors have organized to advocate for the replanting of Ash Creek after it was clear-cut in late February during construction work at Bryan Adams High School.

Neighbor and Texas Master Naturalist Kristi Kerr Leonard witnessed the clear-cutting Feb. 25 when she walked into her home office overlooking the creek and saw two backhoes dragging trees and vegetation out of the creek’s banks. She ran to the site, where she discovered that no silt fencing had been installed to prevent sediment runoff into the creek.

She asked construction workers to stop, but they continued. A supervisor told her that removing vegetation was necessary to raise the soil level so a teachers’ parking lot and fire lane could be installed on the site.

“They took out everything — every single little living plant,” Leonard said. “They didn’t need to knock out everything all the way down to the creek bottom. They could have just trimmed the trees.”

Leonard now represents about 45 neighbors who say Dallas ISD never informed them about possible construction work on the creek bank. The group has rallied to save the water source and ensure Dallas ISD follows through on its promise to replant the area.

“Neighbors bought this property because of the creek,” Leonard said. “We were naturally screened from the school’s activity, but DISD took that all away. If we hadn’t raised our hands, they never would have been held accountable.”

District officials have since offered a formal apology.

“We appreciate you reaching out to us about your concerns, and I want to ensure you it is not our intention to disappoint our neighbors,” said Brent Alfred, deputy chief of DISD Construction Services, in a letter to residents. “As a district, we pride ourselves on being a good neighbor, in partnership with our community, while we seek to enhance aging learning environments for students. In doing so, there is always room for improvement and better communication. We stand by ready to work with you at the completion of the project if your concerns have not been addressed. We are also willing to provide additional landscaping along the impacted area to help restore the disturbed habitat.”

Bryan Adams is receiving a $69.28 million renovation from the 2015 bond. The renovation will include new administration offices, a fine arts addition, auditorium upgrades and a new gym that doubles as a storm shelter. Leonard says her neighbors voted for the 2015 bond and support the community school. However, they think the design was planned too close to the creek.

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School board trustee Dan Micciche connected Leonard with Alfred after learning about the creek bank’s destruction. He and Alfred attended neighborhood meetings on the subject and pledged to press the district to restore the waterway.

“This is a tragedy and needs to be fixed,” Micciche said. “It is a beautiful creek, and DISD needs to fix the damage to it and rebuild trust with the neighborhood.”

Two environmental experts visited Ash Creek to evaluate the impact of construction. The machinery used resulted in alterations of the bank structure and slope, said Fouad Jaber, professor and extension specialist in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department at Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service. The slope was severely steepened, and natural bedrock structures on the bank were broken. Large rocks detached from the bank and fell into the stream channel.

To stabilize the bank, Jaber recommends that it be regraded at the same slope as the upstream and downstream sections. The bank will also need to be replanted with native riparian vegetation that will have a higher chance of survival and will hold the bank together.

Riparian zones are located along water sources and are characterized by unique soil and vegetation that prevent erosion, slow water flow to reduce floods and filter pollutants before they enter the waterway.

Restoration of the creek bank should begin as soon as possible, said North Texas Master Naturalist Ricky Lenix.

Brian Adams, principal at SMR Landscape Architects, designed the school’s landscaping plan and has been charged with reviving the damaged environment. His team is working on a remediation plan and will present it to the City of Dallas for approval. The City has agreed to expedite the project so restoration work can begin quickly, District 9 Councilwoman Paula Blackmon said.

I live on a creek, and I understand how it feels,” Blackmon said. “I’m happy to hear the district is working with [neighbors] and City staff is ready to help where we can so it doesn’t stay in this state very long.”

Neighbors will have the chance to review the plans before they are approved. The best way to see them when they are available is to join the Ash Creek Dallas Facebook page, Leonard said.

Community members are still concerned that the retaining wall will be installed too close to the edge of the bank, which is now very fragile. Without riparian vegetation to slow spring rains, they also fear increased mudslides, erosion and pollution in the creek.

Although, residents say they are grateful for the district’s willingness to right the situation, they are worried they will have to monitor the remediation process to ensure that it gets done and done correctly.

“We are all very supportive of DISD and Bryan Adams as our community school,” Leonard says. “Our taxpayers paid for this bond, and DISD hired subcontractors that didn’t do their job. It will take 20 or 30 years to get trees  the size of what they tore down.”

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