National Park Service’s Proposed Security Improvement Plan

Dear Coalition Friends:

Now is the time to let the House Appropriations Committee know your opinion about spending $40 million of public funds on the Park Service’s “Security Improvement” plan for the Washington Monument. Last week, the Committee’s Interior Subcommittee marked up the bill authorizing an additional $20 million for the project — on top of the $21 million appropriated in 2002. This coming week it goes before the full committee for further consideration.

The Coalition has been educating Congressional staff about the project and its effects on the Monument and the Mall. We have found that most members of Congress know little about the controversial tunnel component, which will create a new public safety hazard, and erroneously believe that the project has been accepted by the review agencies and so is ready for funding (for more details, see below). The Coalition believes that the Park Service should start over and design a security plan that places security and public safety ahead of its decades-old plan (1973, revised in 1981, 1989, and 1993) for a new visitor center.

The Park Service proposed design includes barrier walls ringing the Monument to repel vehicular attack, a new security screening room (located in a 60′ addition to the stone Lodge at 15th Street a block away), a large underground visitor center, and a 500-foot tunnel leading from the visitor center to the Monument’s elevator. Visitors would enter the Monument through the Lodge, pass into the screening center, descend into the visitor center, then walk through the tunnel to get to the Monument’s elevator. Visitors would exit the Monument through the existing door. Pedestrians would still be permitted to walk up and touch the Monument, they just couldn’t enter through the door.

Please take a moment to contact House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) (202-225-5961; fax 202-225-9764; [email protected]) and Appropriations Committee Staff Director James Dyer at 202-225-2771. Also, Ranking Member David Obey (D-WI) and Staff Director Scott Lilly (202-225-3481; fax 202-225-9476; [email protected])

You can link directly to individual Committee members through http://www.house.gov/appropriations/members.htm

Better still, ask your personal district representative or U.S. senator to contact their Appropriations Committee on our behalf.

Copies of your comments can also go to the Appropriations Interior subcommittee staff: majority clerk, Debbie Weatherly fax 202-225-9069, and the minority staff person, Michael Stephens, fax 202-225-9476.

The Coalition has made the following points:

The tunnel is a dumb idea, a degradation of the visitor experience and the symbolism of the great obelisk, and a waste of scarce public funds. Blast experts have testified that the tunnel will be a PUBLIC SAFETY HAZARD; people could be trapped or killed from an explosion or gas incident (The Coalition sent a letter to Congress last Friday making these points yet again). Excavating into the clay and sand soils and through the 120-year-old foundation could destabilize the Monument (in 1930 Congress rejected as too risky similar plans for excavations at the Monument’s base).

The Lodge could serve as a visitor center, as it does now, and could even have an underground component directly below. However, the proposed 60′ addition would triple the size of the Lodge. It does NOT belong on the east-west Capitol to Washington Monument axis. The proposed skylights and emergency exits for the underground center and tunnel will destroy more of the open landscape. Alternatives to the Lodge addition include continuing to screen visitors in the temporary facility located at the Monument’s door or screening visitors at a remote location and transporting them to the Monument via a small tram (the elevator holds only 28 people at a time). Instead of a visitor center at the Monument (and at the Vietnam Veterans memorial and other individual memorials), there should be one or two visitor centers for the entire Mall.

The proposed 30″ high barrier walls placed in a circle on the open grass surrounding the Monument will divide up the open space, violate the L’Enfant and McMillan plan, interfere with pedestrian traffic, and could force the Park Service to deny permits for large public gatherings, since the walls could be a safety hazard. One alternative is to locate the walls, instead, at sidewalk or street level. That would prevent vehicles from getting onto the open Grounds and would leave the open space OPEN.

See also the Coalition’s recent press release at: www.savethemall.org/press/hout_20030604.html.

There are additional reasons that your comment is crucial. For example:

–Some Congressional representatives don’t like the Park Service’s plan for an underground visitor center and tunnel, and some are worried also about the walls that will ring the Monument and about the costs in a time of fiscal restraint. Until they hear from their constituents, however, they will not have the public backing to oppose the Bush Administration’s authorization of $20 million.

–Congress has come to believe that the federal review agencies have accepted and/or approved the entire design. That is not the case and approvals could be many months away. So far, the National Capital Planning Commission has given neither preliminary nor final approval for the underground visitor center or tunnel. The NCPC gave final approval ONLY to the landscape plan. The Commission of Fine Arts has not even reviewed the plans since early 2002 and has given NO preliminary or final approval to any portions of the plan.

–The Park Service has apparently amplified this misunderstanding by issuing inaccurate and incomplete timelines that suggest that the project is “approved” or very nearly fully approved. In testimony before Congress in March 2003, the Park Service Deputy Director Don Murphy stated — erroneously — that it would be going for final approvals in May 2003. The implication was that if NCPC did not grant immediate approvals, NCPC was to blame — not bad planning and design by the Park Service.

–NCPC feels the heat and is, as usual, reluctant to stand in the way of the Park Service. However, Congress would feel justified in its reluctance to fund the project if the NCPC took a principled stand. Comments can also be sent to NCPC Chairman John Cogbill by fax: 202-482-7272 and to Commission of Fine Arts Chairman David Childs at fax: 202-504-2195.

Best regards,

Judy Scott Feldman

 

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