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Students, Environmentalists Get Dirty in $400K Parking Lot Renovation

"The environment has suffered a death of 1,000 cuts, and this is one way to heal those cuts," an EPA spokesman said.

Students from nearby Eastport Elementary school also pitched in with the planting. Mel Wilkins, right, teaches them the basics. (Photo by D. Frank Smith)
Students from nearby Eastport Elementary school also pitched in with the planting. Mel Wilkins, right, teaches them the basics. (Photo by D. Frank Smith)
EASTPORT—Dozens of green-thumbed volunteers and a few students lent a hand digging and planting native species around the outskirts of the former Rockfish's renovated parking lot on a cold, wet Friday morning.

The new parking lot has been engineered with the guiding light of the Spa Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit that guards the nearby waters.

The conservancy started the massive project totaling $400,000 more than five years ago, with the goal to design the parking lot with "zero runoff." This means water doesn't roll off the impervious surface into nearby Spa Creek, but instead is collected, filtered and redistributed underground using natural means like a buffer of rain gardens and pervious surfaces.

Friday's planting was the project's culminating moment, and also a celebration for the years of planning and hard work that went into developing the site.

The fact that the Rockfish has changed ownership, soon to become Blackwall Hitch, is merely a coincidence that happened to take place at the end of the long project's development, a spokesperson said. The new restaurant is in the process of renovating and awaiting the final permits to begin construction work.

Mel Wilkins, founder of the conservancy, said with more than 50 percent of the surrounding Spa Creek land already built out, much of its duties revolve around retrofitting existing sites with work that benefits the creek and the environment. 

Nick Dipasquale, of the Environmental Protection Agency, said at the planting that projects like these help the environment heal from a near mortal wound.

"The environment has suffered a death of 1,000 cuts, and this is one way to heal those cuts," he said.

Students from nearby Eastport Elementary school also pitched in with the planting. Though some were shivering from the cold, they were all enthusiastic about learning how to plant after being shown the basics by Wilkins.

The new parking lot is expected to be open by the end of the month.

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