House Vote Backs WWII Memorial As Planned (The Washington Post)

By Linda Wheeler, The Washington Post

The House of Representatives yesterday overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow construction of the World War II Memorial on the Mall to proceed without further review, nullifying both a lawsuit filed against the project and a federal commission’s plans to reconsider the memorial design.
The measure’s supporters predicted speedy passage in the Senate, possibly as a rider to a defense authorization bill next month.

The House vote of 400 to 15 reflected the growing exasperation of memorial supporters over a review process that has lasted six years — and that was recently extended after the project had seemingly cleared every hurdle. The National Capital Planning Commission, after giving its final approval to the plans last year, voted this month to hold another public hearing because of questions about whether a former member should have been allowed to participate in earlier votes.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Bob Stump (R-Ariz.), co-sponsor of the House bill, said a small group of opponents has managed to drag the memorial back through “a mind-numbing bureaucracy, a bureaucracy at its worst. It’s up to Congress to save the memorial.”

“It has literally taken twice as long . . . as it did to win World War II,” Stump said, noting that a bill first authorizing such a memorial was passed eight years ago.

Stump’s legislation, which he and 19 co-sponsors introduced 13 days ago, was passed during a suspension of the rules and required approval by a two-thirds majority. The measure would make the decision to put the $140 million memorial on a 7.4-acre site between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial “final and conclusive,” and make final all previous design decisions.

Opponents of the current design and location, who have maintained that the structure would block the Mall vista, denounced the bill as a congressional power grab that would strip federal agencies of their oversight.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), speaking against the bill, called it “radically destructive” and said it would “do irrevocable harm to the World War II Memorial itself by eliminating indispensable oversight for the largest and most significant memorial on the Mall since the Lincoln Memorial was constructed 80 years ago.”

Charles Cassell, a co-chair of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, one of the groups that sued in October to block the construction, noted that the House bill would override a 1985 law that authorizes three federal commissions to review and approve all memorials on federal land.

“There must be something terribly wrong with the World War II Memorial if Congress has to nullify federal legislation to get it built,” said Cassell, a World War II veteran.

The opponents’ lawsuit, filed against the federal agencies and commissions that approved the memorial’s location in 1995, alleged various violations of federal law and procedure.

During a hearing on the suit in March — as officials were on the verge of naming a general contractor to oversee the project — the Justice Department revealed that Harvey Gantt, while chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission, had cast votes on the design even though his term had expired and he had not been reappointed. A provision automatically extending members’ terms was inadvertently dropped when the law establishing the panel was updated several years ago.

That legal problem caused the commission to vote this month to hold a public hearing June 13 and 14 to revisit all aspects of the memorial. The commission, the central planning agency for the federal government in the Washington area, also voted to seek advice from a panel of architects and urban experts and to ask for construction of a mock-up of the memorial to better assess the structure’s scale and impact.

The public hearing will be canceled if the Senate passes Stump’s bill, said commission spokeswoman Denise Liebowitz.

Elizabeth Solomon, a spokeswoman for the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, acknowledged that if the Senate passes the bill and the president signs it, “the game is over. There is no lawsuit. There is no oversight.”

A spokesman for Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who has introduced similar legislation, predicted quick Senate action.

Copyright The Washington Post 2001