Ky. Voices: Lexington's Cane Run plan could do more damage than good

Julian Campbell, photographed last year at Cane Run, is a plant ecologist who has studied regional flora, vegetation and soils for 40 years and worked for 20 years at The Nature Conservancy.
Julian Campbell, photographed last year at Cane Run, is a plant ecologist who has studied regional flora, vegetation and soils for 40 years and worked for 20 years at The Nature Conservancy. Herald-Leader

The Lexington government, under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has started spending $1 million on plans to create a new floodplain along 4,415 feet of Cane Run between Citation Boulevard and Interstate 75.

This project is part of the consent decree with the EPA, but it has not been reviewed by all stake-holders or the public.

It is misleadingly named: "Coldstream Park Stream Corridor Restoration and Preservation Supplemental Environmental Project." It would not restore or preserve the stream corridor — it would actually do significant damage. There are several flaws and omissions in the plan.

The plan does not have clear prioritized goals, and it offers no quantitative estimates of benefits for water quality, reduced bank erosion or flooding, habitat improvement, recreation or education. But it would destroy the natural stream corridor and most of the woodland that has recovered here since 1999.

At that time, Lexington's first Reforest the Bluegrass project was conducted here, allowing hundreds of volunteers to participate in an important new environmental effort for the community.

Most of those planted trees would be dug out in the project or moved then replanted with risky, expensive methods. It is especially important to avoid the small remnant of original woodland with large bur oaks, cane, native grasses and a rare rue anemone. It is in this section of the project area where the stream largely sinks for most of the year.

Is it reasonable for Lexington to destroy this significant natural portal into the karst system that supplies Royal Spring at Georgetown?

The plan claims that Cane Run "has been degraded due to straightening, stream bank erosion, and downcutting of the stream channel resulting in disconnection from the floodplain."

However, it presents zero evidence. Instead, there is evidence that the stream has cut into limestone sinks (karst) for many millenia, and that soils along it are largely derived from bedrock, not the alluvium of regular flooding.

The plan does not provide any estimate of how much it would improve water quality in Cane Run. Yet the primary objective of the consent decree is "to further the objectives of the Clean Water Act."

Why would we spend $1 million on a project with so much uncertainty and vagueness about desired outcomes? There is some bank erosion along this reach of Cane Run, but it is not a major problem.

How did this project get proposed?

The engineering community of Lexington developed it during negotiations with the EPA. Rather than adopting a clear focus on water quality, the plan claims additional benefits in habitat restoration, recreation, education and "quality of life perceptions."

But there has been rather little input from the full range of public interest groups, including those interested in the natural history of our original landscape and woodland. And there are no standards for what is meant by "native" plants in their plans for so-called "restoration."

Learn more by reading the plan — and trying to understand it. I have posted the documents released by Lexington on my website, www. bluegrasswoodlands.com, plus further text and photos.

All concerned citizens are invited to discuss this project and view the area during the week of Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

On each day, I will be stationed at the parking lot off McGrathiana Parkway, next to the Legacy Trail. I will provide tours into the canebrake and a petition opposing this project as currently designed. Please get involved.

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