Two Maryland congressmen are working to strip a federal review panel of its authority to decide the fate of the proposed National Harbor resort in Prince George's County, arguing that the scrutiny is excessive.
Without oversight from the 12-member National Capital Planning Commission, which is conducting an environmental review of the 534-acre development on the Potomac River, plans for the resort could go forward under prior county approval.
Reps. Steny H. Hoyer and Albert R. Wynn have drafted an amendment removing the commission's authority, said Elena Temple, a spokeswoman for Wynn. Their language is likely to be attached to a water resources bill as early as next week.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry urged Hoyer and Wynn to find a way to remove the commission from the review process, according to sources. The four Democrats signed a letter sent to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) in which they argued that federal review of the resort was no longer appropriate.
"There is nothing intrinsic to . . . the National Harbor project that warrants this extra and unusual level of federal review," the letter stated. "We believe that the NCPC review will not add significantly to the environmental review and quality of the project."
Hoyer declined to comment, said his spokeswoman, Debra DeShong. Wynn left the office before returning two telephone calls seeking comment.
Frank Fox, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, questioned why the elected officials were trying to stop the federal review of the project.
"It is strange to us that the two Maryland representatives are trying to short-circuit this process," Fox said.
The National Capital Planning Commission, the central planning agency for federal projects in the Washington area, had been expected to have made a decision by now on whether construction can begin on development just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. A vote is now expected sometime this fall.
The plans were delayed because of a disagreement between federal agencies over the potential harm to the environment.
Both the draft and final versions of an NCPC environmental study concluded that the resort would be no more harmful than a previous development approved for the site.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency objected, finding that the analysis was incomplete and that there would be significant impact to air quality and aquatic life.
The National Capital Planning Commission was directed by Congress 14 years ago to review any private development on the National Harbor site as part of a land swap between a former developer and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
As a result, National Harbor developer Milton V. Peterson has had to win approval from the commission to construct an elaborate riverfront resort that would include first-class hotels, a gated entertainment complex, movie theaters, offices, upscale shops, a marina and promenade modeled after the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. "Other developments along the waterfront don't have federal oversight, and we'd essentially like to be in the same position," said Andre Gingles, a lawyer who represents Peterson.
Gingles noted that the project still faces federal oversight even without the commission's involvement because it has had to seek construction permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Environmentalists and others who oppose the project have threatened to file a lawsuit if the commission approves plans for the resort. Sources said removing the commission from the review process removes the basis for a federal lawsuit, which could significantly delay, if not stop the development.