- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

The D.C. government allowed a contractor to plow over a Civil War encampment to create a temporary parking lot for dump trucks on a site it does not own.
The wooded strip of land at the corner of Second and Chesapeake streets SW is part of Fort Greble. It is owned by the National Parks Service and apparently had remained unchanged since Union soldiers used it as a lookout over the Potomac River.
That changed two weeks ago when the District gave permission to Fort Myer Construction Corp. a contractor doing bridge repair on Insterstate 295 to pave an entrance to the area and roll crushed stone over it for the temporary parking lot.
"It was a mistake, and we're trying to correct it," D.C. Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini told The Washington Times yesterday. "When we were informed that it's Parks Service land, we asked the contractor to pull out."
WTTG-TV (Channel 5) reported Tuesday that U.S. Park Police are investigating the incident as a criminal case because the District ignored the legal obligations of work on federally owned land.
Mr. Tangherlini said, "It would be a stretch to say that anyone did anything here with any criminal intent."
"Whenever the Park Police investigates anything, it's under the presumption that it's a criminal matter," he said. "I'm not trying to minimize the fact that we went out there [to build a parking lot]. We should have made a call to them first."
An official close to the matter, who asked not be identified, said: "The District signed off on some property that wasn't theirs to sign off on. That's kind of the long and short of it."
Whether the city will be charged with a felony for desecrating Civil War artifacts was not clear yesterday. The National Parks Service did not return phone calls.
Mr. Tangherlini said his staff has told him an equipment-staging area was already at the corner of Second and Chesapeake streets. "The reason my folks thought it was OK was because, in the past, they had in fact used it as a staging area."
Chris Kerns, vice president and general counsel for Fort Myer Construction Corp., said his company vacated the property more than a week ago after "there was a bit of a brouhaha over who owns it."
It is typical for a city to rent land to a contractor as a staging area for equipment. In this case, Fort Myer Construction told the D.C. Department of Transportation it needed a staging area, and DOT officials identified Second and Chesapeake streets as a suitable location, Mr. Kerns said.
"We were over there working, and all of a sudden, the U.S. Park Police and D.C. police showed up," he said. "At first, they were threatening to arrest our people. Then we showed them that we had permission from the D.C. Department of Transportation, and the District officials also told them they had given permission."
Mr. Tangherlini said it has "become very hard" to find equipment-staging areas in the Distric that do not infringe on federally owned land.
"More than 40 percent of the land in the District is in stewardship of the federal government," he said. "It's kind of hard to do what we do in the District and not cross over jurisdictional lines. We don't ever do it intentionally."
He added that steps have been taken within the DOT to remedy the problem. "The DOT chief engineer will personally approve all staging areas from this point forward," he said.


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