By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005
Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder will pay Montgomery County $37,000 as part of a settlement for his removal of 130 mature trees from his Potomac riverfront estate, according to an agreement announced late yesterday.
The money will be placed in a fund used to protect forestland in other parts of the county. Snyder also is required to post a $45,000 bond with the county to guarantee that he replants 55,000 square feet of land near the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal that he deforested last fall without county permission.
But controversy and contention continued to surround the issue. The agreement, signed last month by Snyder, his wife, Tanya, and Trudye Johnson, executive director of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, was not announced until early yesterday evening by the commission and the Montgomery County Planning Board.
Snyder's representatives vehemently disputed the statement describing the accord, which said Snyder would pay more than $40,000 in fines for violating the county's forest conservation law. The news release also said the commission was issuing Snyder the "highest fine in the organization's history."
"We simply don't tolerate the willful destruction of forestland," Derick Berlage, Planning Board chairman, said in the statement.
Snyder's representatives insisted that no fine has been agreed to and that the Planning Board is merely repackaging concessions Snyder made long ago to the National Park Service.
"I find it all to be a thinly disguised attempt to deflect criticism from Berlage and his oversight at Park and Planning from the Clarksburg fiasco," said Wayne Curry, a Snyder attorney, referring to the discovery this summer of widespread building violations in Clarksburg Town Center.
Berlage, reached at home, said he stood by everything in the news release. He said the Snyders would have to pay or spend the $40,000 to replant trees. "You can call it a penalty. You can call it a fine," he said. "It's real money."
A review of the agreement suggests that the two sides are arguing over terminology rather than substance. The document does not specifically mention a "fine." However, he will pay $37,000 to the county's forest conservation bank so three acres can be purchased and protected in another area of the county. He also agrees to replant the deforested land, as well as put an additional five acres of his land in an easement.
To ensure that the replanting occurs, Snyder agrees to post a $45,000 bond, which Curry said the county will have to return in two years if the planting occurs. Snyder said he has completed most that planting, at a cost of more than $100,000.
The agreement also spells out that Snyder or any future property owner cannot build or cut any trees, no matter how small, in the protected area without the approval of the Maryland-National Capital commission.
But Curry noted that the county's forest conservation law already prohibits Snyder from cutting trees or building on the property without the approval of planning officials. And under the agreement Snyder made with the Park Service last fall, he will plant more than 600 saplings and give up his right to cut brush on large swaths of his property.
"I understand Mr. Berlage, in his desperation, is seeking to be viewed as tough, but this goes beyond tough to the standpoint of inaccuracy," Curry said of the planning department's release yesterday.
The county Planning Board and Snyder have for months been negotiating the terms of a settlement over Snyder's failure to get local approval last fall before he removed the trees from a protected area behind his Potomac River estate. By reaching a settlement, the Snyders avoid a public hearing on the matter.
Last night, a Snyder representative called Nancy Lineman, a Planning Board spokeswoman, to demand a retraction. Lineman said that she stood by the news release and that she was surprised by the reaction.
The dispute is the latest twist over Snyder's decision to fell trees.
In November, the Park Service gave him permission to remove the trees, including 20 native species, from an 8.3-acre easement the federal government purchased in the 1970s. Snyder had said he wanted to remove nonnative species.
In exchange, Snyder agreed to plant native saplings and give up his development rights on an additional piece of his property. The agreement, which has since been suspended, also included a provision giving the Park Service a share of the enhanced value of the Snyders' new, less-obstructed view of the Potomac.
The Interior Department's inspector general has launched in investigation into whether Park Service officials were pressured into making the deal.