D.C. Tries to Stop Drug Initiative Lawyers for the District government will go to court next week in a bid to prevent the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics from certifying a drug treatment initiative that voters passed overwhelmingly Tuesday.

Initiative 62 would give certain nonviolent drug offenders the option to have their criminal cases dismissed by entering drug treatment programs. D.C. officials have expressed concern that the initiative would generate huge costs and jeopardize the future of a drug court that has operated in D.C. Superior Court for nine years.

The D.C. corporation counsel's office filed suit Sept. 20 to void the measure, contending that the District's Home Rule Charter bars ballot initiatives from appropriating funds. A hearing on the matter, put off until after the election, is scheduled for Wednesday. The initiative's supporters have said they plan to collect private donations and lobby Congress to fund treatment programs.


Warner Announces Extra Days Off Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) announced yesterday that state workers will have several extra days off around the November and December holidays.

Warner said employees will have a holiday on Friday, Nov. 29, attached to the Thanksgiving Day holiday. They also will have Tuesday, Dec. 24, along with the Christmas Day holiday and New Year's Day.

Development on Battlefield Supported A proposal to build a planned community on a privately owned piece of the Chancellorsville Battlefield near Fredericksburg moved forward yesterday when the Spotsylvania County Planning Commission voted 5 to 2 to support a plan presented by the Dogwood Development Group, according to commission manager Raymond Utz.

Utz said the proposal will be presented to the county Board of Supervisors, which has the final say on the plan. No hearing date has been set.

The proposed development, called the Village of Chancellorsville, would have nearly 2,000 houses and about 500,000 square feet of commercial space and be built on about 800 acres of farmland where troops clashed on May 1, 1863.

Virginia to Help With Dry Wells Virginia is creating a $1.5 million program to help low-income residents whose wells have gone dry during the continuing drought.

"The severity of Virginia's drought has left more than 6,200 households across Virginia with dry wells," Gov. Mark R. Warner said in a statement yesterday. "That's compared to about a dozen well failures in a typical year in Virginia."

The Virginia Dry Well Replacement Program is expected to distribute an additional $1 million from a Community Development Block Grant in 2003. Residents must be at or earn below 80 percent of the average area income. Projects are limited to $5,000 each, with funding on a first come, first serve basis.

Applications are being accepted, with the first new wells to be drilled late this month. For more information, contact the Department of Housing and Community Development at 804-371-7000.

Suit Over Miscarriage Can Proceed A woman who says contaminated city water caused her to miscarry can go ahead with her lawsuit against the city of Chesapeake.

A Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that the city cannot claim sovereign immunity from Helen Cunningham's suit and said he will hear evidence on her four fraud allegations early next year.

Nearly 170 other women also have sued the city, seeking a total of $1 billion in damages. They allege that Chesapeake officials misled them about high levels of trihalomethanes, which the women believe caused their miscarriages.

Trihalomethanes form when chlorine used to disinfect drinking water mixes with organic material such as algae, twigs and leaf particles. Attorneys argued yesterday that city officials knew about the problem when the first water plant was built in the early 1980s. Research showed the contaminated water placed women who used it at greater risk of miscarriages and other problems. Trihalomethanes came under federal regulation about the same time.


Case Argued on Escort Service's Records

The city of Frederick's fight to keep secret "black book" records from an escort service raid turns the state's public information act "upside down," judges of Maryland's second-highest court were told yesterday.

Attorney Henry Abrams said the act favors disclosure of agency records. The argument that releasing records would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy "clearly shifts the burden" to the public for proving why the records should be released, said Abrams, who is representing the Frederick News-Post in the case.

The city is appealing a lower court ruling allowing the release, which several media outlets have sought because of allegations police used a client's list to blackmail elected officials.

Howard Schulman, who is representing the city of Frederick, said releasing the records could provide information on individuals who may only be tangentially related to the case, jeopardizing their right to privacy. Under the act, release of the records can be refused if it's not in the public interest or if the records are part of an investigation, Schulman told the three judges.

The judges did not indicate when the court would rule on the appeal.

Construction Begins in Silver Spring Construction has begun on a movie theater, home furnishings shop and bookstore that make up the final retail phase of the $400 million redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring.

The 20-screen megaplex theater, Pier 1 Imports and Borders bookstore will be located on Fenton Street, near the Silver Spring Metro, and are scheduled to open in spring 2004.

Discovery Communications Inc. is moving from Bethesda to a new, 550,000-square-foot headquarters at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. County officials have attracted the businesses with tax incentives and services, saying that the new downtown will in turn create jobs and spur more business growth.

"I think we've got a workable bid here. I think we're in the financial parameters of affordability."

-- Parker Williams, head of the Maryland State Highway Administration, after the lowest bid to build the draw spans of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge came in $18 million over engineers' $168 million estimates. -- Page B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Phuong Ly and Linda Wheeler and the Associated Press.