- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' dream of having a Grand Prix car race in the District was nearly dealt a blow yesterday when the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs shut down construction of the racetrack.

The department's Building and Land Regulation Administration issued a stop-work order at 12:45 p.m. to workers constructing a racetrack for the District's first Cadillac Grand Prix on the parking lots of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Northeast.

"There was a work stoppage for two hours, but the problem was resolved, and everyone was available to go back to work," said Brian Bishop, spokesman for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which oversees the operation of the stadium.

National Grand Prix Holdings Chairman Chris Lencheski said, "The stoppage was minor, and the workers soon went back to work finishing the track."

But during a Washington Times inspection of the site at 3 p.m., it was abandoned and several pieces of equipment were lying on the ground.

Mr. Bishop said there was an issue with paperwork between the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the promoters of the race.

The land on which the racetrack is being built belongs to the federal government and is usually exempt from regulation by the DCRA. But because of the media coverage and opposition from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, DCRA decided to take a closer look.

The site was exempted from zoning regulations, but it was not exempted from permit and health regulations, said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams.

"There was discussion a month or so ago about whether or not permits were needed," said Gina Douglas, spokeswoman for DCRA.

She said the agency determined after lengthy discussion between its general counsel and the race organizer's attorneys that the land would be subject to D.C. regulatory laws.

"Because the sports commission manages the land, they will have to apply for the appropriate permits," Mrs. Douglas said.

She said the work stoppage was lifted, but the permits had still not been issued.

"What we saw happen today was DCRA doing its job, and the mayor wants all of this done properly," Mr. Bullock said.

He said a permit was needed from the D.C. Department of Health to improve the drainage system on the track.

In the past, all of the water runoff drained into the Anacostia River, adjacent to the stadium. But Grand Prix has created a system to capture the water and filter the salts, oils and other minerals into the ground, Mr. Bullock said.

Mr. Lencheski said National Grand Prix has complied with the regulations, completed the paperwork, received the permits and that the race is still on.

Some members of the D.C. Council and residents close to the race grounds have complained about the race's noise pollution, environmental hazards and the costs to D.C. residents.

Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, sent a letter dated July 6 asking Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Economic Development Committee to conduct an "an official investigation into the public financing of the Grand Prix auto race, including the construction of the racetrack."

Mr. Fenty said he wanted to avoid problems like the one that occurred in Denver a decade ago when the "taxpayers were left with a bill in subsidies for $500,000."

The Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C., will include races of four sanctioning bodies: American LeMans, Trans-Am, World Challenge and Star Mazda, Mr. Bishop said.

It also will include a stunt jump by motorcyclist Robbie Knievel, and many celebrities will participate in the event.

It will be the first major auto-racing event in the D.C. metropolitan area in more than 80 years. The LeMans race will be televised live on NBC. CBS will air the Trans-Am race.

The 10-year contract the city has signed with the promoters is estimated to have an economic effect of $350 million for the city.

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