Environmental groups threaten lawsuit against developer of Potomac project

January 15, 2000|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Opponents of the development of National Harbor on the shores of the Potomac in Prince George's County have played their trump card, sending "notice of intent to sue" the developer over wrecking bald eagle habitat on the property.

The formal notice, sent Thursday to developer Milton V. Peterson, says that he violated the Endangered Species Act when one of his employees cut down a cherry tree that held a bald eagle's nest on the 534-acre tract south of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.

The notice, required by the federal law, claims the developer illegally destroyed bald eagle habitat by stripping much of the property of trees in January 1998 and cutting down the tree with the bald eagle's nest last month.

"It's a very strong law," said Hope Babcock, associate director of the Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation, which represents opponents of the project. "But it's not our last gasp. There are other things we're looking at."

The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Anacostia Watershed Society, the Friends of Oxon Hill and the Coastal Plain Environmental Council were among the groups threatening to sue.

The notice occurs two days after Peterson joined state and local officials at a news conference at Oxon Hill Manor to announce that Gaylord Entertainment, the company that built Opryland in Nashville, Tenn., is coming to Maryland.

Gaylord is planning Opryland Hotel Potomac, a $560 million project, to anchor National Harbor, a giant entertainment complex with upscale restaurants and shopping.

Robert Boone, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society and one of the parties to the threatened suit, said "How seedy can you get? To put Dolly Parton on the Potomac. It's terrible."

Andre Gingles, a Peterson spokesman, said "They can't file anything." The bald eagle incident is being investigated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U. S. Attorney's office, and any suit related to the incident "would be kicked out of court until that's resolved," he said.

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