Fire chief softens stadium opposition

August 05, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

Prince George's County's fire chief has backed off from his memo last week that said traffic from a proposed National Football League stadium in Laurel would trap emergency vehicles and cost lives.

The Redskins are seeking permission to build a $160 million, 78,600-seat stadium east of Laurel in Anne Arundel County for National Football League games and other events. A public hearing on the stadium proposal is in its fourth week.

Prince George's County planners testifying Tuesday submitted a July 26 memo from Chief M. H. Jim Estepp, which said that, unless a regional study is done and any problems discovered are fixed, "the public safety will be adversely affected such that the loss of life and property may be expected."

The memo predicted stadium traffic would triple response times to the Maryland City area, while service in West Laurel, South Laurel and Laurel Lakes would fall to deficient or unacceptable levels.

However, Chief Estepp issued another memo Wednesday, saying the times given were preliminary estimates and that actual response times cannot be predicted until Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George's counties and the city of Laurel do a comprehensive engineering study.

"We're not jumping up and down with a major problem," Pete Piringer, a Prince George's Fire Department spokesman, said yesterday. "We think our facilities are adequate to cover whatever needs to be covered in our area."

Kevin Dooley, the Anne Arundel County zoning analyst for the stadium project, yesterday said that county fire and police officials "did not express to us any concerns at this point that they did not think could be addressed."

Neil Pedersen, director of the Office of Planning and Preliminary Engineering for the State Highway Administration, said proper planning is the key to making emergency services work in the vicinity of a major event.

"Any emergency that you plan for, you can handle," said Robert DiPietro, a stadium supporter who has been a volunteer firefighter in Laurel for 20 years.

Walter Lynch, the Redskins' project manager for the stadium, said yesterday, "We're prepared to make the system work." The Redskins may consider paying for emergency services improvements, he said, but they will not agree to specific improvements until needs are studied.

Wes Guckert, a Redskins' traffic expert, said team officials hope to meet soon with local emergency response agencies and the state fire prevention commission.

But Mary Lehman, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against the Stadium II, said the group is concerned about how emergency situations will be handled, especially because stadium traffic management plans include using some road shoulders as travel lanes.

"There's no question there would be instances where a few minutes are going to count," she said. "You could be talking about the difference between life and death."

A Prince George's County planner said stadium traffic could cause major backups on the Washington Beltway, but Redskins officials likened the backups to rush-hour traffic.

The public hearing will resume at 9 a.m. Monday at Meade Senior High School.

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