National Harbor

State and Prince George's Both Claim Jurisdiction Over Waters

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 28, 2007

For the past six months, there has been a little tug of war going on along the Potomac River.

That's because the Prince George's County Police Department thought it had jurisdiction over not just the 300 acres of waterfront property that makes up National Harbor but also the waters off its shores.

Prince George's officials said the Maryland Natural Resources Police told the county that because of a lack of staffing, they would not be able to provide patrols at National Harbor.

"So, we would be the primary law enforcement agency and fire department for National Harbor," Vernon Herron, the county's director of public safety, said this week.

But the Maryland Natural Resources Police say the waterway is the state's territory, not the county's.

"They may be [in charge] on the land side," said Capt. William Bates, commander of the southern region for the Natural Resources Police. "But on the water we are the principal law enforcement agency."

All of the confusion appears to have been based on outdated information.

Prince George's was told a year ago, Herron said, that the state would not provide patrols on the Potomac River and that it would cede responsibility to the county.

"I should have checked since the new governor was elected," Herron said yesterday.

The massive nature of the development -- with its 7.3 million square feet of mixed-use community space, 4,000 hotel rooms, 2,500 homes, restaurants, two piers and two marinas -- is requiring the county and state to beef up security -- on land and on the river.

Bates said National Harbor will pose no more of a security risk than any other dense commercial area abutting the water, such as Baltimore's Inner Harbor. He said the state Natural Resources Police work in conjunction with a marine unit in Baltimore to patrol the Inner Harbor area.

"Right now there is no marine unit set up in Prince George's," Bates said. "They have no marine patrol. If they don't have a marine patrol tomorrow, it is still the state's responsibility."

The marine units are designed to watch out for drunken boaters, handle accidents and provide a police presence on the water.

Despite the confusion surrounding the water patrols, Herron said the county has met with the state to discuss possible emergency situations. He said policing and security at the development will be in order.

For example, he said, if National Harbor needed to evacuate because of a terrorist attack, state police would be responsible for the interstate highways, and county police would handle things inside National Harbor.

On the water, Natural Resources Police have already started to patrol the area 16 hours a day with two-man crews.

Herron said the county has bought a half-million-dollar fire boat to handle suppression calls. It also plans to buy three patrol boats, which will allow for 24-hour patrols when National Harbor opens next year.

In addition to the patrols on the water, the county will add 50 officers to a police district in the south part of Prince George's to cover National Harbor.

"It's almost like a brand new city down there," Herron said.

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