Another spring and another love affair with the C & O Canal Historical Park! Yes, we may brave the cold for a few winter visits, but there is nothing like springtime on the Canal. We who live here are fortunate to have easy access to this incredibly lush, tranquil treasure of natural, historic and recreational resources.
Thanks to a variety of ecological factors, especially geologic formations and frequent flooding, the Canal is one of the most biologically diverse parks in the National Park System. And within its 184.5-mile length, the Potomac Gorge (Great Falls south to Roosevelt Island) is the Super Star — deemed by the Park Service to be one of the most significant natural areas in the eastern United States. That same spectacular hydrology that elicits awe as we gaze down into the falls also brings together diverse northern, southern, eastern, western, mountain and coastal species, including over 200 rare species and communities in the Gorge area alone.
This National Park at our doorstep creates a wealth of personal Canal love stories — my kids' first kayak bow rolls, trees dripping with warblers, ice skating from Fletcher's Boathouse to Georgetown, identifying skunk cabbage, connecting zebra swallowtails and paw-paws, surviving the Billy Goat, knowing canal families, and hours and hours and hours of bicycling and hiking. Hopefully you have, or soon will have, your own Canal love story.
But with love comes responsibility. As amazing as it may seem, it was within some of our lifetimes that plans were to make the Canal into an interstate highway. It was only because of the efforts of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and other concerned citizens that the highway was halted. Fortunately, there is no current comparable threat. However, the Canal has over four million annual visitors, and there are continuing pressures of all kinds. Ensuring protection of the Canal is an enormous ongoing challenge for the U.S. Park Service.
WMCCA continues to work on a variety of issues to support those efforts. Several years ago Daniel Snyder was caught clear-cutting mature trees along the Canal. Members played key roles in stopping the cutting and ensuring it did not happen again at other sites along the Canal. Our members are currently engaged in efforts to address daunting parking and access issues in the area near Old Anglers Inn. We look forward to hearing from the U.S. Park Service representatives on these and other Canal issues at our April General Meeting.
POTOMAC SWIM AND RECREATION ASSOCIATION TENNIS BUBBLE FACILITIES
At the Board of Appeal’s-required meeting with surrounding neighbors and a WMCCA representative on March 1, the club's representatives were specifically asked about how they were going to implement the Board of Appeals specifications with regard to outside lighting, including the requirement that all lights must be off by 9 p.m. The representatives stated that there would be no problem because, even though they had been approved by the Board of Appeals, no additional outside lighting was going to be installed on the site. Shortly thereafter, the club installed eight new outside lights, including halogen lights that are on all night and shine into neighbors' windows. The neighbors requested assistance from County Council Member Leventhal, and they have now received an email response from Diane Schwartz-Jones, the director of Permitting Services, stating that she has requested an investigation.
BRICKYARD SCHOOL SITE UPDATE
By Ginny Barnes
On March 23, the County Executive announced that Montgomery Soccer, Inc. (MSI) was selected to construct, operate and manage private soccer fields on the Brickyard Road Public School site; MSI was the only bidder. The selection of MSI is the result of more than two years of secret meetings and negotiations between County Executive Ike Leggett, the Board of Education and MSI, followed by a year of public outrage over what has unfolded since — a complete travesty of the Request for Proposal process that ignored every suggestion for public amenities made by our community. There is no dual use as the County Executive promised. This is, pure and simple, a commercial development in the middle of a residential zone. What happened to two fields? What happened to limited hours? This allows 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. for organized play, plus unorganized play beyond that, and players can arrive at 8 a.m.
This is a private sports complex on public land, with four pay-to-play soccer fields, 300 paved parking spaces, rest rooms, concessions, and other facilities. MSI will be allowed to license third-party vendors such as food and ice cream trucks and other service providers to use the facilities. Promises made by the County Executive for no lights or artificial turf are missing from the Sublease to MSI. According to the Executive office, objections to the MSI Lease must be submitted in writing and received no later than 5 p.m. on April 13. Send to: Cynthia Brenneman, Chief Office of Real Estate, DGS Attn: Brickyard Comments, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville, MD 20850.
On March 21, the Brickyard Coalition filed a Maryland Public Information lawsuit in Circuit Court, seeking to compel County Executive Ike Leggett and David Dise, the director of the Department of General Services, to provide all public records relating to the secret Brickyard political deal, which is required by the Maryland Public Information Act. We have run out of patience, since the documents initially requested in November of 2011 continue to be withheld.
COUNTY COUNCIL BILL 11-12
Potomac is not the only one troubled by the County Executive's power to utilize exemptions to dispose of public lands without appropriate oversight. While not specifically aimed at the Brickyard issue, Bill 11-12 would give the County Council some review by modifying the County Code to preclude the broad exemptions found in current regulations. As defined in the bill, “disposition” of property the County owns or controls includes any sale, lease or license for a term of at least three years. The bill has six Council sponsors, though initiated by Councilmembers Leventhal and Berliner. After two sessions of public hearings, it is currently undergoing proposed amendments in the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, and won't be ready for a vote until after spring break. While the provisions of the bill could be applied to the Brickyard case, it is unlikely to pass in time to beat the County Executive's push to sign the MSI Sublease.
GLEN HILLS SEWER STUDY
Glen Hills Sewer Study Citizen Advisory Committee has been established by the Department of Environmental Protection, (DEP) and the first meeting will be held April 2. Susanne Lee, WMCCA president and a Glen Hills resident, has been selected by DEP to serve as a member as WMCCA's representative. Following WMCCA’s March General Meeting, we sent a letter to the speaker Bob Hoyt, director of DEP, requesting that answers to frequently asked questions be posted on the study website. We have not yet received a response.