THE REGION

Columbus Honored as Man With Flaws

The navigator who helped shape the Americas was remembered in Northwest Washington yesterday as an imperfect hero.

Traffic was stopped, a color guard snapped to attention and the U.S. Marine Band played at Columbus Circle outside Union Station for the National Columbus Celebration Association, marking the 513th anniversary of the explorer's historic voyage from Spain to the Americas.

Diplomats from Italy, Spain, the Bahamas and the Organization of American States attended the ceremony at a statue of Columbus, which was dedicated in 1912 and is the only known national monument to the explorer.

The winner of an annual essay contest, Charlottesville 11th-grader Irtefa A. Binte-Farid, presented her entry, "Christopher Columbus -- Imperfect Hero." She was awarded $1,200 for her essay, one of 4,101 received from 676 schools.

A proclamation issued by President Bush and read during the ceremony noted that Columbus's voyage in 1492 "changed the course of history."

Approval of Lincoln Memorial Plan Delayed

Permanent security measures for the Lincoln Memorial failed to gain approval from the National Capital Planning Commission once again last week when the body delayed final endorsement of plans for bollards and fencing around the monument.

The National Park Service submitted plans during the commission's monthly meeting last week for a security design that closes off the east approach to the memorial with rows of bollards and security hedges that extend almost to the Reflecting Pool.

The commissioners wanted the Park Service to consult with the D.C. State Historic Preservation Office and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation before they approved the plan. They also wanted more detailed examples of the dark metal bollards and hedge barriers proposed.

The Park Service has drafted more than a half-dozen plans for the $15 million project to secure the monument. The latest is a variation on a plan that was first proposed to the commission in 2002.

VIRGINIA

Work Begins on Health Education Center

Officials broke ground yesterday on the Claude Moore Health Education Center on the campus of Inova Fairfax Hospital on Gallows Road in Fairfax County. Once built, the center will house medical research labs and a medical school to be run in conjunction with Virginia Commonwealth University. Two dozen third-year VCU medical students are already studying at Inova Fairfax.

The center will also provide continuing education and certification classes for doctors and training for nurses and technicians.

MARYLAND

Duncan Urges Change in Importing Drugs

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan asked the federal government yesterday for permission to allow county residents and employees to import prescription medicine from Canada.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, Duncan (D) said it is "fundamentally unfair" that Canadians pay a fraction of what U.S. citizens pay for the same drugs. He requested that Leavitt waive a provision of Medicare law that bars import of Canadian prescription drugs.

Duncan, who plans to be a candidate for Maryland governor next year, opposed a plan passed by the County Council in 2004 that would have given county employees and retirees the option of obtaining drugs from a Canadian vendor without seeking a federal waiver.

Fuel Spill's Impact on Harbor Called Small

The environmental impact of a fuel spill in Baltimore's Inner Harbor is expected to be negligible because the 9,000 gallons of diesel oil were quickly contained, a spokeswoman for the state Department of the Environment said yesterday.

"We were able to recover the oil quickly enough that it wasn't released far enough into the harbor to harm the environment," Julie Oberg said.

The fuel came from a Constellation Energy power generation plant and traveled through Baltimore's storm drain system into the Inner Harbor on Sunday. Company officials estimated that 8,000 gallons had been cleaned up by yesterday evening.

Heavy rain over the weekend overwhelmed safeguards in the plant's drainage system, helping to send the fuel into the storm drain system, officials said.

2 Boys Rescued From Being Stuck in Mud

Two Baltimore County boys who said they were out looking for frogs ended up getting stuck in mud up to their knees yesterday and had to be rescued by the fire department. Rescuers extended a ladder to get to them.

The boys, 10 and 12, were not seriously hurt, authorities said. One boy was taken to Franklin Square Hospital but was expected to be released last night.

THE DISTRICT

Bill Would Aid Mental Health Agency

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) plans to introduce emergency legislation today to help the Center for Mental Health in Anacostia remain open.

The nonprofit agency, which provides mental-health care to high-risk children, adults and families, suffers from budget shortfalls and debt and failed to meet a recent payroll. Supporters say the problems stem from changes and delays in the city's reimbursement system. Critics question the center's management, costs and record-keeping.

Closure had seemed imminent this summer but was averted when the city allotted $500,000 to the center.

Firefighter Hurt in Blaze at NE Body Shop

A firefighter was injured early yesterday while battling a blaze at an auto body shop in Northeast Washington, authorities said.

The fire started about 3:35 a.m. at the shop in the 1300 block of Kenilworth Avenue NE. The firefighter suffered second-degree burns on his face and was taken to Washington Hospital Center for injuries that were not life-threatening, said Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman.

Two other firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene.

"We would throw one in the cooler, two others would jump out and we'd have to chase them through the woods."

-- Mark Hammond, recalling the run of snakeheads he saw Sunday while fishing a Potomac River tributary near Fort Belvoir. -- B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Petula Dvorak, Susan Levine and Del Quentin Wilber and the Associated Press.