Answer Man Decodes Those Disarming Signs

Garrett Park was the first township in the country to proclaim its nuclear-free status.
Garrett Park was the first township in the country to proclaim its nuclear-free status. (By John Kelly -- The Washington Post)
By John Kelly
Sunday, March 25, 2007

On Strathmore Avenue in Garrett Park, there are signs proclaiming "Nuclear-Free Zone." Is the rest of the world a nuclear zone? What do these signs mean?

-- Hunter Atkinson, Kensington

They mean that if you have a nuclear weapon in the trunk of your car, you had better avoid Garrett Park.

"You could be fined if we found out about it," Ted Pratt, the town administrator, told Answer Man.

The fine, as spelled out in a 25-year-old ordinance, is $100. Factor that into your budget, Mr. Dirtybomb Evildoer.

Dozens of towns across the United States proudly proclaim themselves "nuclear-free," but Garrett Park was the first. On May 3, 1982, residents voted 245 to 46 to ban the nasty weapons from their 123-acre township.

"No weapon shall be produced, transported, stored, processed, disposed of nor used within Garrett Park," reads the statute. "No facility, equipment, supply or substance for the production, transportation, storage, processing, disposal or use of nuclear weapons shall be allowed in Garrett Park."

It was a largely symbolic act -- the town didn't spring for any nuclear bomb-sniffing dogs -- born at a time when nuclear proliferation was front-page news.

"It is a gesture, but it is something that a locality can do to send a direct message to our national leaders that it just doesn't make sense to keep going, going and going with the nuclear arms race," the vice president of the town's civic association told a Washington Post reporter in 1982.

Garrett Park may have been the first, but another Park -- Takoma -- probably got more attention. That town's statute, passed in 1983, has sharper teeth. It stipulates that the town of 17,000 may not purchase anything -- light bulbs, paper clips -- from a company that manufactures nuclear weapons, components or delivery systems. Nor may the town invest in such a company.

"It's a fairly strict law," said Jay J. Levy, chairperson of a seven-member committee that meets at least four times a year to make sure the ordinance is working smoothly.

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