- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

Specious species claims against bridge project

Logic and fact are the only things endangered by the recent charge that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project is violating the Endangered Species Act ("Government accused of ignoring species law for bridge," Oct. 4; "Endangered Wilson Bridge," Editorials, Oct. 9; "Dredging for new bridge gets project in gear, stirs fish fears," Oct. 21). The claims by the National Wilderness Institute (NWI) and your editorial page that the project is receiving special treatment is belied by our extraordinary efforts to protect short-nose sturgeon, bald eagles and other endangered species.

Contrary to NWI's suggestions of a river teeming with sturgeon, the fish most likely does not even exist anywhere near the Wilson Bridge. Detailed scientific research for the project's biological assessment revealed that in the past century, only two short-nose sturgeons have been documented in the Potomac River, both well downstream from the bridge (32 and 81 miles, respectively).

Moreover, an extensive scientific sampling effort to determine the presence (or lack thereof) of the short-nose sturgeon was recently completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Covering more than 100 miles of the river from above Key Bridge to the Chesapeake Bay, the 16-month survey netted not a single short-nose sturgeon. By contrast, a similar sampling effort in the Delaware Bay caught (and released) hundreds of the endangered sturgeon.

Nevertheless, since potential short-nose sturgeon habitat exists in the bridge corridor, a number of steps are being taken to provide maximum protection. Dredging with a clamshell bucket, rather than the more disruptive but less expensive hydraulic vacuuming technique, will protect sturgeon and other fish. River-disrupting work is limited primarily to winter months, when the sturgeon and other aquatic life are dormant. What's more, during demolition of the existing bridge, a variety of tactics, such as scare charges to frighten away fish, limited-force explosives and the conditional use of physical barriers are intended to minimize the potential impacts.

Regarding bald eagles, the project is investing enormous effort to protect a pair of the majestic birds that nests adjacent to the Wilson Bridge.

Following our biological assessment, in which project biologists spent more than 600 individual hours cataloging the eagles' habits and habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service mandated a series of stringent conditions, including strict seasonal limitations on work near the eagles, extensive tree preservation and the creation of a 10-acre eagle conservation preserve.

But the project's plans to protect the eagles go far beyond Fish and Wildlife Service conditions. Just north of where the bridge touches down in Maryland, the project is buying 32 acres of forested property three times the requirement as well as an additional 51 acres of submerged property to create a permanently protected eagle sanctuary.

A final example of protecting endangered species stems paradoxically from our efforts to improve the environment for several nonendangered fish. For many generations, man-made blockages such as dams and obsolete road crossings in Rock Creek have prevented trout, herring and other fish from returning to original spawning areas. The project is removing several of the fish blockages in the District and Montgomery County to mitigate unavoidable impacts on fish habitat at the construction site.

But the endangered Hay's spring amphipod, a freshwater crustacean, lives in a spring adjacent to Rock Creek. So the project undertook yet another biological assessment and extensive consultations that resulted in modified construction techniques and work restrictions that will altogether avoid the amphipod and its habitat.

Thus, our efforts to do right by the fish will not do wrong by the crustacean.

We agree with NWI in one respect: Complying with the Endangered Species Act is a highly complex, resource intensive undertaking. But as these examples illustrate, the project is putting forth the necessary effort to comply with the letter and spirit of the law.

Unlike the solid foundations of the new Wilson Bridge, the foundation of NWI's charge of special treatment is flimsy and cannot withstand objective scrutiny.

JOHN R. UNDELAND

Public affairs director

MIKE BAKER

Environmental manager

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project

Washington

Second Amendment protects state militias, not personal ownership

In an Oct. 24 editorial, your paper erroneously framed arguments on sensible gun safety legislation in terms of the Second Amendment ("Issues: gun control")individual ownership of firearms is not a Second Amendment issue. No gun control measure ever has been struck down as unconstitutional on Second Amendment grounds.

In a decision upholding a 1981 ban on the possession and sale of handguns in Morton Grove, Ill. the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stated flatly that possession of handguns by individuals is not part of the right to keep and bear arms. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the decision. In 1886, the Supreme Court ruled in Presser vs. that the Second Amendment functions only as a check on the power of the federal government, preventing it from interfering with a state's ability to maintain a militia, and in no way limits the states' powers to regulate firearms.

States, therefore, are not prohibited by the Second Amendment from controlling private ownership of handguns and other categories of firearms. The question becomes to what extent the federal government may regulate the ownership of firearms by citizens.

The Supreme Court dealt directly with this question in a 1939 decision, United States vs. Miller. In Miller, the court upheld a federal law that made it a crime to ship a sawed-off shotgun for interstate sale. The Supreme Court refused to strike down the law on Second Amendment grounds absent any evidence that a sawed-off shotgun had some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia. The court held that the Second Amendment must be interpreted and applied only in the context of safeguarding the continuation and effectiveness of the state militias.

Our Constitution is sacred. Citizens rightly are incensed when they feel their constitutional rights may be infringed. That's why the Second Amendment continues to be used to prop up support for the gun lobby. Those who make the Second Amendment argument in public do not make it in court. They know it is relevant only as a propaganda tool, not as a legal argument.

Your editorial also claimed that gun legislation is a political loser. Survey after survey of voters in this country has shown overwhelming support for sensible measures such as mandating the presence of child safety locks on guns, licensing handgun owners and requiring the registration of handguns, treating guns as consumer products, limiting handgun purchases to one a month and requiring thorough background checks at gun shows. These are not infringements on rights. They are sensible public safety measures.

Texas George W. Bush refuses to support any of these measures. Vice President Al Gore agrees with the majority of Americans who know that the rate of firearm deaths in this country is unacceptably high and our elected leaders have the responsibility to act.

VICKI KING

Silver Spring

Dems' double standard

While Democrats charge that Texas Gov. George W. Bush does not have enough experience to be president, they continue to ask voters in New York and Missouri to cast their ballots for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jean Carnahan (who would take the seat of her recently deceased husband Gov. Mel Carnahan, whose name is on the ballot), two women who have never held elective office at any level.

How can the governor of Texas, one of the most populous states in America, be any less qualified for president than Bill Clinton governor of Arkansas was in 1992? And how can Mrs. Clinton or Mrs. Carnahan be qualified for the Senate with absolutely no legislative experience whatsoever?

JAMES TERPENING

Washington

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