A July 11 Close to Home commentary by environmentalist Caroline Park, "Before National Harbor Gets a Green Light," suggested that the project had been inadequately reviewed by the appropriate regulatory agencies and implied that the environmental impact statement submitted by the National Capital Planning Commission was deficient.
As chairman of the Prince George's County Council, I am compelled to provide a more accurate explanation of how the review process works and how it is being applied to the National Harbor project.
Smoot Bay on the Potomac River is a strategic gateway to Prince George's County. Access from the Capital Beltway and Oxon Hill Road offers immense opportunity for a first-class business and entertainment development there to benefit the county and the region.
For most of a decade, the original Port America proposal for the site went through the permit process at all levels of government. Prince George's subjected Port America to planning, zoning, subdivision, site plan, building code and wetlands review. Maryland conducted wetlands and other environmental reviews. Federal government agencies, especially the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, imposed far-reaching environmental review on all aspects of the proposed development.
Port America failed, but not because any of the reviewing agencies decided it was poorly sited or badly planned. It fell victim to bad timing, loss of private financing and the recession of the late '80s. Not one regulatory agency rejected the proposal.
The National Capital Planning Commission has continued its efforts on Port America's successor, the National Harbor project, but the significance of the commission's environmental impact statement, while important, is of far less consequence than the land-use, environmental and transportation decisions that remain the primary responsibility of Prince George's County, Maryland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Last year, the Prince George's County Council, in consultation with the county planning board and with the counsel of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission staff, approved a site plan for the waterfront tract at National Harbor. That process involved demonstrations and exhibits, detailed traffic and environmental studies, hours of public hearings, staff review and reporting, and crucial decision-making by the council and the planning board. The site plan for National Harbor, like the Port America proposal that preceded it, was approved after many conditions were imposed on the developer to safeguard the community, citizens and the local and regional environment.
In her Close to Home article, Park alleged that the National Capital Planning Commission has not demonstrated that "low-income or minority residents would benefit from training, job search and development activities related to National Harbor." Fiscal impact is not the issue in the case of National Harbor, but the scope and design of the development nonetheless should have a profound and positive effect on economic growth and development.
Park also said that National Harbor would "dramatically" reduce public access to the Potomac River shoreline. In actuality, Smoot Bay has never been open to the public. National Harbor will open it to millions of local residents and national visitors each year.
Park's commentary was wrong about both the project and the process, but in conclusion she made a statement with which I agree. Of the controversy surrounding National Harbor, she wrote, "It is a debate about what kind of development would most benefit the county." That development is National Harbor.
-- M. H. Jim Estepp
a Democrat representing Upper Marlboro, is chairman of the Prince George's County Council.