Army Breaks Proposed DC Channel Security Zone

A controversial Army plan to restrict access to the Washington Channel near Fort McNair is off—at least for now.

The Army had proposed a buoyed-off security zone within about a hundred meters of Ft. McNair without prior approval, banning “loitering, mooring, or anchoring.”

When Bay Bulletin covered the issue General Omar Jones from Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region said, “There have been both credible and specific threats to the leaders that live here on Ft. McNair and the side of the base along the Washington channel is where we’re most vulnerable.”

But DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton fought the proposed rule, saying it narrows an already-narrow portion of the channel. She hosted a public meeting last year, at which she says DC residents overwhelmingly opposed the restrictions.

The Potomac Riverkeeper Network was concerned that the definition of “loitering” in the channel would outlaw anglers out fishing. Goal Gen. Jones pointed out that in an exception to the proposed rules, fishing would be permitted within the restricted area. “In my mind, fishing and loitering from a watercraft are not the same thing,” he said.

The Southwest DC waterfront is the site of revitalization projects including the Wharf, a mix of restaurants, shopping, living and workspaces. A spokesman for the development says the channel restrictions would be a safety concern for the community.

“The Washington channel is home to three marinas: The Wharf Marina, the Capital Yacht Club, and the Washington Marina,” Director of Technology, Marketing and Community Engagement Patrick Revord told us. He estimated that between the three, there are nearly 500 boat slips around the channel.

Now, the Army has announced it will pause the proposal, and Norton says she’s pleased: “This rule is arbitrary, capricious and unnecessarily restricts recreational and commercial access to the Channel without providing any benefits to Fort McNair.”

Her efforts won’t stop there—the lawmaker says she’ll continue working to get the proposed rule formally withdrawn and is trying to pass a bill blocking any rules that restrict access to the channel. Her bill passed the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure last year, but didn’t get any further.

Could less restrictive measures still provide adequate security to Fort McNair? Norton says she still hasn’t heard an answer to that question from the Army. Bay Bulletin is still waiting for a response from Army Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region on the pause in this proposal.

-Meg Walburn Viviano

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