Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) yesterday accused two Northern Virginia lawmakers of trying to "steal" $6.7 million from the District's road-building fund to speed up the conversion of the federally owned Lorton prison property in Fairfax County to a public park and residential area.
Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R) and James P. Moran Jr. (D) acknowledged that they are proposing to borrow the money from the city's budget to help pay for an environmental cleanup at Lorton, but they said the District would not lose any money intended for its road and bridge repairs.
Still, Norton said she was livid that neither congressman told her in advance of the plan. Davis and Moran "both know it's absolutely unconscionable for one of the richest counties in the country to rip off the District's infrastructure fund," Norton said, noting that the city needs hundreds of millions of dollars to repair streets and bridges damaged in part by Northern Virginia commuters who do not pay taxes to the city.
Fairfax leaders have said the U.S. government, not the county, should pay for cleaning contaminated soil at Lorton.
The tension between the lawmakers, who usually work together on D.C. matters, comes as Congress and the Clinton administration are in last-minute talks on budget bills, including the District's $4.7 billion spending plan for fiscal 2000.
Davis, stressing that "we're not trying to start a regional war," said that other funding options for the Lorton cleanup are being pursued and that in any case, any money taken from city funds would be returned. The D.C. road-building fund holds about $50 million that is unassigned, an inviting target for GOP budget writers scrambling to balance spending plans.
"Our goal is to hold the city harmless and protect the city's infrastructure fund," Davis said. "If the money is borrowed for a short time, it would get restored."
The 3,200-acre prison complex, one of the largest undeveloped parcels in the Washington area, is scheduled to close in 2001. After the prison closes, about 2,500 acres would be set aside as open space or parkland. A mix of 1,450 houses and apartments, along with retail stores, would be built on about 200 acres on the north end of the property.
Davis, chairman of the House Government Oversight subcommittee on the District, and Moran, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, usually defend the city's interests before Congress..
But Davis and Moran look out for their own districts first. About 98 acres of the Lorton site are being reserved for elementary, middle and high schools. The Lorton site is in Moran's district, which includes Alexandria, Arlington County and parts of eastern Fairfax. However, schoolchildren who would attend any facilities at Lorton would be drawn overwhelmingly from Fairfax precincts that Davis represents.
"In Fairfax, we have run out of space for our students, space in our classrooms and land to build schools on," Moran said. "The Lorton site is an obvious opportunity."
Davis said lawmakers are working with the office of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) "to make sure they don't feel they're paying for Fairfax schools. That's not the way we do business."
Norton, however, was adamant.
"If one cent of this comes out of the District at this time," she said, "that's an out-and-out steal."
CAPTION: A guard tower at Lorton overlooks 3,200 acres of the prison complex and a section of Fairfax County where development is adding to the demand for new parks and schools.