ANY TIME the Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG), the Prince George's County Council, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Tony Williams, the D.C. Council and the Sierra Club unite in opposition to a single congressional action, you can bet someone on Capitol Hill has gone off half-cocked. In this case, all eyes are on Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle.
In the dead of night, and without a word to local officials, the South Dakota senator tacked a rider on the D.C. appropriations bill that short-circuits federal procedures for locating cellular antennas in Rock Creek Park. It was done, the senator says, because there had been too much delay in erecting antennas needed there for security by U.S. Park Police, joggers and bikers.
But Sen. Daschle did more than pave the way for Bell Atlantic Mobile, and possibly others, to build transmission towers in the park. In one fell swoop, his measure -- which was quickly adopted by a nearly empty Senate -- trampled on local, regional and federal laws and regulations that support local control of land-use decisions.
The Daschle add-on ignores the objections of a phalanx of city leaders, shuts the National Capital Planning Commission out of the approval process, precludes judicial review of the Park Service's actions and overrides pertinent federal laws. The amendment also prevents all metropolitan area governments from exercising authority to review and modify the installation of cell towers on federal property, according to the Sierra Club.
Apparently it matters not to Sen. Daschle that the proposed towers are incompatible with Park Police equipment for calls; or that alternative sites such as apartment buildings lining the park would also accommodate towers (though Bell might have to shell out more money). When it comes to voteless Washington, what the Senate Democratic leader wants, he gets. Unless the House, which thus far has chosen not to follow his lead, holds firm.