- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Republican member of Congress wants the Interior Department to explain whether politics played into the decision to let Occupy D.C. illegally “damage or destroy” a downtown park recently rehabilitated with $400,000 in stimulus funds.

In a Dec. 12 letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, criticized the Park Service for not taking any action against the hundreds of protesters who have illegally camped in McPherson Square for two months.

The Park Service’s apparent lack of action, stated Mr. Issa, “raises questions about why those decisions were made, who participated in making them, and whether political judgments played a role in not enforcing the law.”

“The NPS allowed the protesters to camp in McPherson Square and kill newly planted grass that had been funded by the stimulus,” Mr. Issa stated in his letter. “Now much of the grass has been destroyed, wasting much of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money used to rehabilitate McPherson Square.”

Mr. Issa asked Interior for, among other things, answers as to when, if ever, the Occupy protesters would be forced to leave the park, whether the Park Service or Interior plans to ask for reimbursement for the damages to the park, and all communications between the Park Service or Interior and the White House regarding Occupy D.C. protests in McPherson Square.

In a statement from the Department of the Interior, spokesman Adam Fetcher said the Park Service and U.S. Park Police are working closely with the city “to ensure that demonstrations associated with the ‘Occupy’ movement are conducted safely and in compliance with the law.”

“We are reviewing the letter from Chairman Issa and will respond accordingly,” Mr. Fetcher said.

A National Park Service spokeswoman said they have not seen a copy of the letter but noted that a permit is not required at McPherson Square unless a gathering exceeds 500 people. She said the $400,00 rehabilitation paid for new grass, 12 new trash cans, light poles, water fountains, fencing and new paint.

The grass itself only cost between $20,000 and $30,000 she said.

The Northwest park has been the site of Occupy D.C. protest since October and has grown from a few supplies set on a park bench to nearly the entire park being covered in makeshift tents and lean-tos.

Camping is not permitted in the park but U.S. Park Police have largely looked the other way. Occupy protesters have enjoyed a civil relationship with police in the time they’ve been encamped in the city, but recent events have prompted comments that hint at a growing impatience with the movement.

Last week D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said the city would “not tolerate” disruptions such as one last week in which police arrested more than 60 people for blocking traffic along a major street. Days earlier, 31 people were arrested for building a wooden structure in the park after a 12-hour standoff between protesters and police.

Last week D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray told NBC4 said the city would “not tolerate” disruptions such as one last week in which police arrested more than 60 people for blocking traffic along a major street. Days earlier, 31 people were arrested for building a wooden structure in the park after a 12-hour standoff between protesters and police.

Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, described the condition of the park Friday on WAMU’s Politics Hour as “a toxic waste dump.”