Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Army Suspends Search for Buried Munitions

The Army Corps of Engineers has halted its excavation for World War I chemical weapons in the Spring Valley neighborhood of Northwest Washington while it assesses whether its safety procedures are adequate for the munitions that are being uncovered, officials said yesterday.

The review was prompted by preliminary analysis of an artillery round discovered about three weeks ago in a pit in the 4800 block of Glenbrook Road. In October, the Corps launched its latest excavation, searching for chemical weapons buried by the Army when it closed a testing facility at American University at the end of World War I.

The Army's safety procedures for the excavation assume a worst-case scenario involving the release of arsine, a toxic chemical agent from a 75mm artillery round that was not configured to explode. Corps officials said they do not know whether the artillery round recently discovered is explosively configured.

"We're making an assessment of that situation now," said Ed Hughes, the Corps' Spring Valley program manager. The round is being analyzed at a Corps facility on federal land near Sibley Hospital.

None of the munitions excavated in Spring Valley since chemical weapons were discovered in the neighborhood in 1993 has been configured to explode, said Dan Noble, a Corps official overseeing the excavation.

-- Steve Vogel


Events Commemorate 'Refusenik' Movement

U.S. and Israeli officials will appear today at events marking the 40th anniversary of the "refusenik movement," in which Soviet Jews began speaking out for their right to emigrate to Israel and for freedom of religious expression within the Soviet Union.

A million Soviet Jews left for Israel as a result of the movement, which raised awareness around the world of religious persecution.

Yuli Edelstein, deputy speaker of Israel's parliament and a former refusenik, will be among speakers at a symposium from 1 to 3 p.m. today at 2020 K St. NW, Suite 7800. From 5 to 7:30 p.m., there will be a reception with members of Congress, including Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), and the opening of a photo exhibit in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building. Events are free and open to the public.

-- Michelle Boorstein


Session Set for Next Week on School Issues

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) has called a special meeting for next Tuesday to vote on legislation concerning D.C. public schools.

The council had been scheduled to vote today on a bill that would give Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee the authority to terminate nonunion, central-office employees at will and on a measure that would provide $81 million in supplemental funds to carry out the proposed closings of 23 schools and partially cover a projected schools deficit.

Gray said he decided to move the school personnel bill to next week because the council is awaiting more information on how Rhee would reduce the deficit. He said he is delaying the vote on the supplemental budget because Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi released estimates last week that the city will have $50 million in additional revenue to add to the supplemental funds.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has proposed spending that money on affordable housing, but Gray said the council needs details.

Council members Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) are requesting that $300,000 of the supplemental funds be used to pay the malpractice insurance for Developing Families Center in Northeast, which provides maternity care to low-income families.

The city's plan to create a program that would cover such insurance has been delayed, and the center needs insurance for at least another six months, according to a news release issued by the council members.

-- Nikita Stewart


Former Official Pleads Guilty in Theft

A former director of internal audits for D.C public schools pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing about $46,000 from the account of a charter school he was auditing.

Eugene P. Smith, 46, formerly of Odenton,admitted in federal court that in October 2001 he transferred $518,125 from the account of the New Vistas Preparatory Public Charter School into a bank account he controlled. At the time, Smith was closing the books of the New Vistas school after the D.C. Board of Education revoked its charter.

Many of the New Vistas vendors were eventually paid from the funds. But when Smith was terminated by school officials in July 2002, he did not tell school authorities that about $52,000 remained in the account and later spent $46,000 of the funds.

Smith began working for D.C. public schools in January 1997 and became director of internal audits two years later. Sentencing guidelines call for a 12- to 18-month prison term.

-- Carol D. Leonnig


Man Is Struck at Fort Totten Station

A Green Line train struck a man at the Fort Totten Metro station yesterday, causing major delays during the evening rush, officials said.

The incident took place at 4:40 p.m. when a six-car train struck the man. He was treated by emergency medical personnel and taken to an area hospital.

-- Lena H. Sun

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