Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, January 18, 2019

Breaking: Local ANC commissioners criticize Army Corps of Engineers munition destruction

The Army Corps of Engineers began its munitions destruction operations today on federal property behind Sibley Hospital, prompting condemnation from several local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners.

ANC 3D Commissioners Tom Smith and Nan Wells wrote a letter to D.C. Council members Mary Cheh and Phil Mendelson criticizing the lack of a public safety plan.

The two commissioners called on Cheh and Mendelson to seek an explanation from the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and the District Department of the Environment. In the letter Smith and Wells said they were “astonished at the lack of meaningful response” by the local agencies in the face of the Corps’ efforts to push forward with its scheduled munitions destruction.

“It would seem appropriate to us that you send DDOE and HSEMA a letter seeking an explanation for their failure to follow through with the public commitments [they] made, including [consultation] with the ANC and the distribution of a contingency protection plan for the public,” they wrote.

Last Tuesday, James Sweeney, the DDOE representative to the Spring Valley Restoration Advisory Board, told The Eagle that the Corps’ destruction plan had been approved by all necessary agencies except the DDOE, which was waiting for the HSEMA to establish a public protection plan.

“[The DDOE] would not sign off on the [Explosive Destruction System] until a public protection plan was done. The public protection plan has not been done yet — that’s the only reason,” he said.

In a separate letter to the directors of HSEMA and DDOE, Smith said the DDOE had apparently signed off on the Corps’ destruction plan, even without a public safety plan in place.

“Despite public assurances that the DDOE would not sign off on this plan until a contingency public safety plan had been put in place and communicated to the public, the destruction is moving forward … but without the contingency public safety plan,” Smith wrote.

Smith also condemned the agencies for not consulting ANC 3D more.

“It is particularly shameful that neither DDOE nor HSEMA had even the courtesy to inform the ANC Commissioners that they were bowing to the wishes of the USACE apparently after a last-minute visit on Thursday by the Corps to city officials,” the letter continued.

At a March 29 D.C. Council hearing regarding the scheduled destruction, the Corps’ Spring Valley project manager Todd Beckwith said existing safety measures were sufficient.

“We were not planning on taking additional safety measures beyond federal property,” he told council members Cheh and Mendelson, who chaired the hearing.

But on April 10, HSEMA and the Corps’ outreach teams partnered to inform nearby residents of what to do should the munitions destruction go awry. Beckwith said at a RAB meeting last Tuesday that this included distributing information about precautionary measures, including taking shelter in residents’ homes, to 19 nearby residences.

“This hardly constitutes a contingency public safety plan,” Smith told The Eagle. “The community constitutes more than the 19 homes that may have been visited last week.”

“Moreover, the Army Corps’ community outreach team has been quite disingenuous in its public characterizations of the plan,” Smith said.

Also at the March hearing, HSEMA committed to implementing additional public protection measures for the destruction operations, something that Wells and Smith said has not been done.

“We do not know what the plan is and do not know what they told the residents,” Wells said in an e-mail. “They were supposed to have written [a] plan and [published] that for the residents. They have not ... Furthermore, after two weeks of promising that we would have a plan, there is no plan in place for protection of the public.”

Wells added that emergency plans cannot be communicated solely by talking about them.

“We were told that the police would use a siren, but today in the neighborhood, the police say that the Army will use a siren. However, the Army has said that they will not use a siren,” she said.

“If there is an emergency, no one seems to know who will do what for the neighborhood,” Wells said.

A request for comment from the DDOE, HSEMA and the Corps has not yet been returned.

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