Friday, January 29, 2016

Park Service evades questions about mitigation, commits to nothing

We at the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway knew something was wrong when officials at National Capital Parks-East (NACE), the park's  federal overseer, wouldn't tell us anything about the mitigation funds they would be receiving in compensation for the loss to eight acres of the park to a road  leading to the adjacent U.S. Department of Homeland Security campus.  

It took a Freedom of Information Act request for us to ascertain the amount: $431,000. This is a lot compared to what is spent on Shepherd Parkway in a normal year, but a relative pittance when one considers the millions the land is worth.   

On January 20, members of the Committee meet with Deputy Superintendent Ann Honious and Acting Director of Maintenance Dana Bramble at NACE headquarters in Anacostia Park to discuss the use of these funds. 

We presented them with the same wish list we've been pushing for since we launched the Shepherd Parkway Call to Action in July 2014:
  • The development and execution of a comprehensive signage plan to identify Shepherd Parkway and its boundaries and deter dumping

  • Replacement of the kiosk in the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues
  • A summer youth work crew to assist with trash and invasive species removal and community education

  • A series of free ranger-led programs in the park, including urban wildlife, Civil War history, National Night Out, and concerts
  • Initial research for a possible hiking trail 

To our astonishment, they rebuffed each these ideas and continued to cite lack of funds and bureaucratic obstacles as excuses for inaction.  

In past meetings with the Committee, Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail, Deputy Superintendent Elisa Kunz and Ms. Honious had each in turn expressed conditional support for these projects and promised to at least look into them.   

Those were the good old days. Instead of moving forward, they are now backsliding, saying that they cannot commit to doing anything specific at Shepherd Parkway. 

Ms. Honious stated that a decision had been made -without consulting the Committee- to spend the mitigation funds on improvements to the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues. 

When asked for details on what kinds of improvements were being considered, she became evasive, saying only "Something to make people feel safe." She alluded discussions with of "other stakeholders" but refused to elaborate or explain why the Committee should be kept in the dark.

We do not necessarily object to spending the funds on that area which, unlike the vast wooded areas of park, is heavily used by residents. But we emphasized that the decision-making process must be transparent and include community and Committee input.  We also argued that any effort to enhance the space should include a new kiosk and public programs. The NACE response amounted to "maybe," which almost always means "no." 

We are deeply disappointed that, despite our sustained a large-scale volunteer mobilization to clean-up Shepherd Parkway over the past four years, those whose job it is to protect the park and serve the public seem to have other priorities. 

They show little interest in remedying the gross disparity between Shepherd Parkway and parks in more affluent parts of DC when it comes to accessibility, interpretation, and recreational opportunities. They have recently conducted themselves in a secretive and unaccountable manner all too familiar to Ward 8 residents.

To break the current impasse and advance environmental justice east of the river, we need to educate and organize residents to generate enough political pressure that the Park Service can longer ignore us. 

If you have not already, please sign the Call to Action. Doing so will generate emails to key decision makers. We are reaching out to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and member of the DC Council who share our vision of Shepherd Parkway as a special place where residents can learn, exercise, and experience nature. 

We are in this for the long haul. As Fredrick Douglas famously said, power concedes nothing without demand.