World War II Memorial Protesters Sue to Halt Construction at Contested Site (Stars and Stripes)

By Dave Eberhart, Stars and Stripes

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall (NCSM), World War II Veterans to Save the Mall, the D.C. Preservation League and others filed suit in Federal District Court for the District of Columbia today for a temporary restraining order to stop the American Battle Monuments Commission from authorizing construction of the World War II Memorial at the Rainbow Pool site on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Judge Henry Kennedy will hear arguments, pro and con, that the proposed project violates federal environmental and historic preservation laws beginning at 2 p.m. on June 6 in courtroom 14 of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse at 3rd St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.

Andrea Ferster, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said at a Rainbow Pool press conference that Justice Department attorneys argued May 29 that a recently enacted bill to expedite the memorial’s construction effectively erased any continuing court jurisdiction to review the controversial design and placement of the memorial.

But congressional legislation, Ferster said, “cannot nullify or repeal” such jurisdiction and “violates the Constitutional principle of separation of powers.”

Despite threats by a dozen World War II veterans May 21 to return their combat medals if the memorial is built on the Rainbow Pool site, the Senate passed a bill that day, and President Bush later signed it, to expedite the memorial’s construction as proposed.

Arsenic Danger Sited

Ferster labeled an agreement by the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency to waive any environmental impact statement regarding the project as an “illegal process.” What makes a restraining order imperative, she said, is the danger of exposing the public to arsenic, a toxic metal that allegedly is in the ground at the memorial site.

Plans call for the memorial to sit in a scalloped-out area about 10 feet below ground level. The Rainbow Pool would be lowered.

“This Mall is taken!” protested George Idelson, a World War II Battle of the Bulge veteran. “It belongs to Abraham Lincoln and to the people. Congress held its nose and closed its eyes.”

Sherman Pratt, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War who was a member of the rifle company that captured Hitler’s mountain refuge at Berchtesgaden, said that a better site for the memorial would the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va., near the Pentagon, which was built as a temporary structure during World War II and is scheduled for demolition.

D-Day veteran George Peabody said that Congress acted “on wrong information–all those so-called public hearings were actually not open to the public, and the decisions were made behind closed doors.”

Judy Scott Feldman of the NCSM dismissed criticism that her organization and others had unduly delayed the memorial.

“Congress took 40 years to come up with the idea of a World War II memorial, then took an additional seven years–from 1987 to 1993–just to pass the legislation authorizing the memorial,” Feldman said. “The sponsor, the American Battle Monuments Commission, then took another seven years to come up with a design, and only after changing it four different times.”

“We could only file our [initial] lawsuit last October. We are still asking for our day in court.”

Feldman’s group wants the memorial located at its original proposed site at Constitution Gardens on the Mall, which she said would preserve the open vista between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

“Just as Pearl Harbor was a wake-up call to American in 1941, Congress’s attack on due process last week has alerted the American public to a hideous memorial proposal that represents everything we fought against in World War II,” said Beth Solomon of World War II Veterans to Save the Mall.

The bill signed by the president called for clarification that the memorial’s plans are consistent with rules and regulations pertaining to the preservation of the National Mall. It also opened a loophole to handle unforeseen issues arising after groundbreaking.