To Barge, or Not to Barge? That is the Question! | From: Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet

Dear Editors,

For over a year, the Old Town community has been suggesting the use of barges on the Potomac River (rather than trucks on our historic streets) to haul out the debris and contaminated soil from each of the four projected development sites on the waterfront. Many months ago, prior to the issuance of any Development Special Use Permits (DSUPs), an alternative river haul route by barge was proposed by citizens. The City’s initial response was that the barge alternative would indeed be discussed and considered before any concrete decisions regarding haul routes were made. However, this did not come to pass. It was not until the developer Carr held its citizen on-site briefing for it’s 120 room hotel, did we learn that Carr had not considered and would not consider the use of barges as a haul route.   In effect, has the City once again misled its citizens, or shall we just chalk this up to another incompetent bureaucratic fiasco?

A few months ago, at the urging of the citizens, the Mayor appointed an Ad Hoc Waterfront Monitoring Group to provide a forum in which the citizens could register their complaints and concerns about the construction at all of the projected sites on the waterfront. From the beginning, I have stated in print and in person before the City Council that the Ad Hoc group should not just “monitor,” but it should be a proactive body to provide the Council timely and important advice on all facets of construction on Old Town’s waterfront.

Needless to say, this suggestion was not accepted by the Mayor.   What this has led to is that the Director of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) is acting as a sole decision maker and the filter of information to the City Council.   In fact, the Director of T&ES stated during the last meeting of this body that the citizen members of the Ad Hoc group are not appointed to advise the City Council, but only to relay information to the affected community.

The City Attorney has also jumped on this particular “band wagon,” and has actually refused to allow his staff to discuss this matter in open meetings with the monitoring group.   In a letter to me as president of Old Town Civic Association, he stated that he did not work for the citizens, but only for the Mayor and City Council for whom he must observe “attorney client confidentially,” which implies that the Ad Hoc group’s interests are adversarial to the Mayor and City Council.   Thus, this group is really a waste of time for both Citizen Members and City Staff, since it is the job of the City Staff to keep the citizens informed, (or so I have been told). In this particular situation, “Ad Hoc” really means “Nihil Curantes,” (Pay no Attention).

To date, only one of four commercial development sites that have been approved is the Carr hotel.   No decision has been made by the Director of T&ES as to any haul routes for the hotel, or for any of the other three developments. Section 5-2-27 of the City Code states that the Director of T&ES is: “authorized to issue permits to haul such materials, supplies or equipment over the streets within the City, subject to such conditions and restrictions specifying the time and route for such hauling, and such addition conditions and restrictions, as the Director may deem appropriate to promote traffic safety and to minimize disruption to established residential, commercial, institutional and other areas in the City”.

I spelled all this out to the T&ES Director at the last meeting.   I also stated that he cannot continue to say that barges won’t be considered, just because a DSUP has been issued on the Carr property. The fact is that no haul routes have been designated as of this date, therefore when that discussion does actually take place, barges need to be included as one of the alternative haul routes.   Getting a Federal permit for barging is necessary, but not difficult. The Potomac River Boat Company sails on the river at very regular intervals. Anything short of considering every available option is a total miscarriage of justice, and once again, a shameful and telling indicator of no real representation of citizen’s interests and concerns by any appointed or elected body.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet


February 25, 2015 at 9:59 pm

Rumor has it that the following letter caused a lot of “conversation” when Van presented this to the Council last Saturday!

March 3, 2015 at 5:30 am

Admittedly, this is the first I have weighed in (given my two cents) on any City issue. Van raises a valid point. Why not barge “stuff” as opposed to hauling it over the City streets – makes a lot of common sense. Perhaps there are contracts or things the general public is unaware but still common sense dictates to take the most expeditious cost efficient means to haul away debris. Haul away debris via city street corridors which are already jammed or haul away debris via barge on the on the open Potomac – you decide.

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