Planning Commission Approves Monument Security

Dear Coalition Friends:

1. The federal review agencies have approved a memorial inscription to mark the spot on the Lincoln Memorial steps where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The 7-by-20 inch memorial will be etched into the step, as reported by Jon Ward in today’s Washington Times, “Memorial to mark King’s speech”.

Several months ago, Coalition Vice-President Charles I. Cassell, who participated in the 1963 March on Washington, testified in favor of a plaque at that historic location, and against the location at the foot of the steps chosen by the National Park Service. Rev. King understood the Mall’s Constitutional symbolism when he chose that spot to invoke the Founding Fathers’ words on liberty and civil rights. Like the words of that speech, the memorial reinforces the Mall’s historic meaning and modernizes it to include the 20th century gains for civil rights.

2. On the Washington Monument Security Improvement Plan, partially approved on January 9th by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC): Our earlier updates included media commentary (Marc Fisher) and a news article (reporter Monte Reel) in the Washington Post. Reporter Elizabeth Wiener’s articles in the Northwest Current and Georgetown Current are, unfortunately, not available online.

WHAT HAPPENED AT NCPC? We are still trying to figure it out. What is clear is that the National Park Service (NPS) representatives maneuvered NCPC staff and Commissioners to give NPS MORE than NCPC intended or wanted to.

The 5-4 vote (with Commissioner John Parsons of the NPS casting the decisive vote for his own project, after refusing to recuse himself) gave approval to the walled walkways. That means NPS can move ahead with this part of the plan. The NCPC also “reaffirmed” the “Revised Development Concept” for the underground visitor center and tunnel. This happened after Commissioner Parsons in essence took over the meeting from Chairman Cogbill and pushed through his alternative motion, with the help of Commissioners representing federal agencies (GSA, Defense). This is where things get tricky. Transcripts of earlier meetings indicate that NCPC never DID give unconditional concept approval to the visitor center, Lodge addition, and tunnel. Does this mean that in “reaffirming” approvals never before given, that NPS has in effect been given approval? It is important to note that Commissioners never even saw the “revised” design for the Lodge addition until the day before the meeting, although NCPC rules and procedures require several weeks notice. But the majority accepted the Park Service’s substitute motion on this.

Commissioners who refused to go along with the NPS and who raised important questions about the project, voting “no,” are: Vice Chairman Pat Elwood and Commissioners Ellen McCarthy (DC Office of Planning), Rob Miller (DC City Council), and Jason Yanussi (Senate Gvt. Affairs Committee, Sen. Lieberman’s office). Thank you!

NO MENTION OF THE TUNNEL: The Commissioners did not even discuss the most controversial element of the project, as reported by Marc Fisher and Margaret Wiener — the tunnel. They ignored it even though MUCH of the strong public testimony, from engineers, historians, economists, architects, and citizens, focused on precisely that controversial element. Why are the dangers of a tunnel to visitors and the potential threat of excavations to the stability of the Monument being passed over without comment?

LODGE ADDITION: NCPC discussion concentrated, instead, on another element: the aesthetics, style, and size of the proposed greenhouse addition to the Monument Lodge. This addition is supposed to house security screening and the entrance to the 500 foot tunnel leading to the Monument. NPS’s latest design is about twice the size of the Lodge. This was of major concern to NCPC staff and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, since they have been asking for a smaller design more in keeping with the historic Lodge and that does not overpower the Lodge. Commissioner John Parsons of the NPS (whose project this is) in essence took over the meeting at this point and pushed through a motion that weakens the NCPC staff’s recommendation. It is important to note that if the tunnel does not get approved, the necessity of the Lodge addition would be gone. Security screening could take place at any number of locations.


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