Delay of WW II Memorial Sought (The Chicago Tribune)

By Michael Kilian, The Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Friday asked a federal court to halt the capital’s controversial World War II Memorial project until legal questions over its approval process and other issues can be resolved.

If the court agrees, the project could be delayed for months and possibly made to go through all or part of the laborious approval process again. As the membership of one of the approving bodies has changed, rejection of the plan remains a possibility.

The American Battlefield Monuments Commission, sponsors of the memorial, had hoped to start construction this month. President Bill Clinton and other dignitaries held a groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial in November. “This is a deeply frustrating delay,” said commission spokesman Mike Conley “Once construction starts, it will take 30 months to complete. To wait until 2004 would be just unconscionable.”

The proposed memorial, which incorporates two four-story towers and a circle of 17-foot-high slabs, has drawn criticism because of its size, design and location at the base of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Opponents organized as the National Coalition to Save Our Mall filed suit to block the project, claiming the National Park Service and two other agencies broke numer-ous laws when they approved the memorial.

The Justice Department’s principal concern is over three votes in fa-vor of the memorial taken by the federal National Capital Planning Commission last year. Chairman Harvey Gantt presided over the votes, though his term on the com-mission had expired. He has since left the agency.

“A question has arisen about the validity of certain [commission] decisions related to the memorial,” the Justice Department said in its motion.

The panel’s final vote to approve the project was 7-5. Since then, Gantt and another commission member have been replaced. In the event of a new vote, a switch in one vote could stop the memorial.

As originally proposed by the Battlefield Monuments Commission, the World War II Memorial was to have been located m woods about 150 yards north of the present site. The location was changed from the middle of the Mall at the suggestion of J. Carter Brown, chairman of the Fine Arts Commission, the third federal agency involved in the project.

Opponents contend proper steps were not followed in making this change and that the Reflecting Poot site would be an illegal incursiojg on the Lincoln Memorial.

Supporters of the memorial argue that the project has been eight years in the making and has going through 22 public hearings.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy granted the opponents a temporary restraining-order against the National Park Service to halt tree root pruning around the site until the legal issues have been resolved.