Former Rep. Gore sued over tree cutting Family ordered trees cut in scenic easement, civil lawsuit charges.

March 20, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Louise Gore, a former Republican candidate for governor of Maryland and her family ordered 29 trees cut down in a scenic easement beside the C&O Canal National Historic Park so they could have a better view of the Potomac River, says a lawsuit filed against them in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The suit, filed by the U.S. attorney's civil division here, requests $350,000 worth of "reforestation" or compensatory damages, plus $650,000 in punitive damages from Gore; her sister, Mary Benton Gore; and her brother, James Grafton Gore, all of the 11300 block of River Road in Potomac.

The complaint names Sean O'Connor, farm manager at the Gore estate, as a co-defendant.

In addition, Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna C. Sanger requested a permanent injunction against the four to prevent further cutting of mature trees along the river.

The case is the second tree-cutting case filed against Potomac residents in three years. A 1988 criminal case resulted in the conviction of Isaac Fogel, a Jessup waterbed manufacturer, on charges of cutting down 126 trees, many of them on park land, to improve his view of the river.

Fogel was fined $20,000 and was sentenced to 15 days in prison and 200 hours of community service in 1989.

U.S. Attorney Breckinridge L. Willcox, who lives in the same area of Potomac as the Gores, said no criminal charges were filed against them "because the cutting was less extensive [than in the Fogel case] and it was all in the easement area, not in the park itself."

He said, however, that the Gore case "still is under investigation and review" and said he has not ruled out the possibility of pursuing criminal charges.

Willcox said the government is seeking the $650,000 in punitive damages "because of the flagrant and repeated nature of the violations."

The easement is a narrow, 15-acre strip of land about 2,600 feet long that the government bought from the Gores for $88,341 in 1978. The suit said the easement contained a small stream leading to the canal "which provided a natural habitat for wildlife."

The civil suit stems from March 19, 1988, when a park visitor reported hearing a chain saw the previous day in the vicinity of the Gore property. The visitor also reported seeing freshly cut trees as close as 50 feet from the canal, within the scenic easement land.

Ranger Thomas Nash, who investigated the complaint, found the felled trees and noted that "a large deposit" of stone had been placed in the stream.

"No erosion had occurred warranting the placement of foreign material in the stream" and no soil or humus had been placed over the stone as required by the easement, the suit said.

Nash said he drove to the Gore estate and spoke with O'Connor, who allegedly admitted that he and two co-workers had been cutting down trees for several days at the Gores' direction so their property would have a scenic view of the Potomac.

Rangers had warned the Gores about cutting trees in the easement in 1986, after finding cut trees then and discovering, with the aid of aerial photographs, that other trees had been cut down there in 1983 or 1984, the complaint said.

Willcox said some of the trees had been cut down "to provide clearer television reception for the Gores' satellite dish."

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