Document Causes Roosevelt Island Uproar

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Imagine Theodore Roosevelt Island filled with strip malls and hundreds of luxury townhouses, all with breathtaking views of the Potomac River and the monuments. A new bridge would connect the newly developed island with George Washington Memorial Parkway.

That vision of the island's future is contained in a House Resources Committee "brainstorming" document that was inadvertently released to the public. The committee's chairman, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) is looking for ways to raise $2.4 billion in new federal revenue.

The document suggests as options selling Roosevelt Island, in the Potomac between Washington and Arlington, to residential or commercial developers, and selling 15 other national parks across the county for "energy or commercial development."

"Imagine taking the island named after the greatest conservation president of all time and turning it into condo developments?'' said Craig Obey, spokesman for the National Parks Conservation Association. "I don't know what even to say about that.''

The 15 other parks and historic sites that made the House committee's list include the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House in Northwest Washington, which commemorates the educator and the National Council of Negro Women, and the Thomas Stone National Historic Site in Charles County.

A spokeswoman for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said that although the list "is only a proposal," Norton's office is taking it with "dead seriousness."

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr., a Democrat who represents Arlington, said a number of Democrats view the threat to close parks as a ploy by Pombo and other committee Republicans to gain support for their real plan: to authorize drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for Pombo, said the list was compiled for the Congressional Budget Office to estimate how much each proposal would raise. Kennedy said the list should not have become public. Now that it has, he said, it should be considered less a proposal than a theoretical exercise.

"I'm sure the Pentagon has on the shelf plans to invade Canada or Mexico, but they don't have any plans to do so," Kennedy said. "It's very safe to say the chairman has no interest in, and no intention of, introducing legislation that would sell national parks."

Kennedy said Pombo instead favors raising the needed revenue by opening 2,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling. "That would get us $2.5 billion.''

Moran said Congress will never allow Theodore Roosevelt Island to be sold to developers.

"It's probably a scare tactic, but if [Pombo] could get away with it he would," Moran said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company