Metro Sues Md. Company Over Damage to Tracks

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009

Metro is suing one of its neighbors in federal court for $11 million, alleging that dirt piled up on the edge of its property caused "significant damage" to a section of Orange Line track between the Cheverly and Deanwood stations.

The transit agency accused Jemal's Fairfield Farms, which is connected with Douglas Jemal's development company, of negligence in piling the soil there.

"The excessive stockpiling of material overburdened the slope and displaced soil from Defendant's property onto [Metro's] property," Metro's attorneys said in the lawsuit filed Sept. 25 in U.S. District Court. Saying scientists back up their claims, they contend that the soil from the property, at 4800 Addison Rd. in Prince George's County, caused damage to the bridge abutment and aerial structures that support the tracks.

Trains traditionally travel along that track at 55 mph, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said, but they have slowed to about 40 mph through the section for nearly two years as a precaution. Officials say, however, that the area is safe to run trains through.

Prince George's property assessment records show that Jemal's Fairfield Farms, the company listed as owning that parcel of land, shares an address with Douglas Development. The land is zoned for industrial use.

A phone call to Douglas Development was not returned. Lane H. Potkin, the registered agent for Jemal's Fairfield Farms, a Bethesda-based limited liability company, did not return a phone message left at his law office or an e-mail. Potkin is also an attorney for Douglas Development.

The dispute has escalated since Metro discovered the problem in December 2007. In November 2008, according to the lawsuit, the agency sent the company a geotechnical report that blamed the damage on the dirt. The company never responded to it, the lawsuit alleges. Then, on March 26, Metro's board authorized nearly $10 million in emergency repairs to the damaged tracks.

Metro officials have been in talks with the developer's representatives since then, Taubenkibel said. Unable to reach an agreement, the agency took legal action.

"It has been on our radar," Taubenkibel said. "We are still in discussions with the owners about the most cost-effective means of fixing the problem with the understanding that the responsibility for paying to fix it will be resolved in court."

Crews haven't started work yet, he said, pending the resolution of who should pay.

Jemal, the president of Douglas Development, was convicted of defrauding a mortgage company in 2006; a federal judge sentenced him to probation and ordered him to pay a $175,000 fine.

Staff researcher Meg Smith and staff writer Maria Glod contributed to this report.

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