Emancipation Day means headaches for D.C. nonprofit

April 15, 2013

Holiday permitting snafus have vexed the Rhode Island Avenue nonprofit that serves disabled city residents. (Art Enables)

Tuesday is Emancipation Day, D.C.’s own local commemoration of President Lincoln’s April 16, 1862, signature of a bill freeing slaves in the District. Non-essential city employees have the day off, street-sweeping and garbage collection is suspended, and most parking restrictions are lifted. City leaders are scheduled to gather for an 11 a.m. parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to Freedom Plaza, followed by a gospel concert and fireworks.

But the holiday has turned into a massive inconvenience for a local nonprofit, Art Enables, that has seen its operations disrupted by a Pepco utility project outside its studio on Rhode Island Avenue NE.

As a part of the work, a Pepco contractor informed the nonprofit it would have to shut its power off for a time on Monday. For Art Enables, executive director Mary Liniger explained in an e-mail, even a brief power loss is significant:

The work doesn’t take that long, but they have a five hour window when your power will potentially be out. I wasn’t happy about it – unlike other businesses, we can’t just have everyone wait or come back once the power is returned, as we can’t be open without power ([D.C. Department on Disability Services] regulations), and most of our artists with disabilities use MetroAccess to get to and from the studio. So we made arrangements to be closed on Monday: notified group homes, family contacts, MetroAccess, etc. Closing for a day costs us about $1500 in lost fees, but what can you do.

Then, on Saturday, the contractor notified Liniger that the Monday outage wouldn’t be happening after all, blaming the upcoming Emancipation Day festivities, leaving her “upset and frustrated” at the prospect she’d have to close up for a second day.

But wait: Emancipation Day isn’t until Tuesday? Why would Monday work be a problem?

The city generally bans construction on Sundays and government holidays, when no building inspectors are on duty. But a spokesman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs said there was no ban on for Monday. Pepco said it did not learn until Thursday, from the District Department of Transportation, that work would have to cease by noon Monday. “Unfortunately, Pepco did not have enough advance notice to reschedule a planned outage of this size scope and rectification,” said Pepco spokeswoman Courtney A. Nogas.

So what accounts for DDOT’s no-work-after-noon-before-a-holiday rule? It’s “standard operating procedure,” said agency spokeswoman Monica Hernandez. She did not detail the reasons for such procedure, but said that utility contractors are free to ask for a waiver. “We, in some cases, may be able to do something different,” Hernandez said.

But it’s now too late for a waiver for Art Enables, and Liniger is resigned to having to make arrangements for another day. “It’s frustrating,” she said, “but we’ll get over it.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | April 15, 2013