The University has paid the Carmen Group, an independent lobbying firm, $990,000 since 2005 to lobby the National Parks Service to approve Georgetown’s proposed boathouse on the banks of the Potomac, according to lobbyist disclosure forms obtained by the Voice.
The University has wanted to build its own boathouse for the crew team since the 1970s, according to University Spokesperson Julie Green Bataille. Georgetown owns a tract of land on the Potomac about a mile north of the Key Bridge. However, according to Bataille, that piece of land was not ideal to build on, so the crew team has been renting space at the Thompson Boathouse, a facility they share with other collegiate and high school teams as well as private citizens. In 1987, NPS laid out a what was termed a “Boathouse Zone” on land near the Key Bridge, and, following a 1995 Environmental Assessment by NPS that found no significant potential for detrimental environmental impact in the area, the University reached a preliminary agreement with NPS in 1998 to swap the University-owned tract for one in the “Boathouse Zone.”
Although the project secured approval from the Commission of Fine Arts, the Old Georgetown Board, Georgetown’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission, and the District of Columbia Zoning Commission in the early 2000s, it is still undergoing a second, more in-depth Environmental Impact Study by NPS. The project has faced resistance, though, from conservationists and Georgetown residents who take issue with the proposed location, which is inside the C & O Canal National Historic Park.
Mia O’Connell, Executive Managing Director of the Carmen Group, said it was company policy not to comment on issues concerning their clients. However, she confirmed that the firm’s work for Georgetown University, which is listed as “Working with the National Park Service on environmental documentation and approvals” on the forms, is indeed on behalf of the Boathouse plans.
According to Green Bataille, the money paid to the Carmen Group has come from the University’s annual operating budget, not donations. The firm was paid $370,000 last year, $340,000 in 2007, $200,000 in 2006, and $80,000 in 2005.
“[T]he Carmen Group has helped on strategic aspects of the project both as a consultant and in a lobbying capacity,” Bataille wrote in an e-mail.
William Line, a spokesman for NPS, said that the Environmental Impact Statement is still under internal review. Although there is no official timeline for when the EIS must be completed, Line said it “could be three to four to five months down the road,” at which point NPS would present a “Preferred Alternative” for the boathouse project. The findings of the EIS will then be subject to at least public comment and at least one public meeting.
Sally Strain, the D.C. Coordinator of Defenders of the Potomac River Parkway, a group that opposes the Georgetown boathouse proposal, said she was shocked the University had spent so much money lobbying for the boathouse.
“Unbelievable,” Strain wrote in an e-mail. “How many scholarships or faculty positions or research projects could have been funded with that money! … How unfortunate and a waste of money.”
Bataille said that after so many years of work on the project, the University is optimistic that it will finally be able to move forward.
“After years of back and forth with the Park Service and other agencies, local and federal, it is our hope that we will be able to move forward with this project soon,” Bataille said. “Our goal is to achieve the necessary approvals to be able to build a boat house what will meet the Georgetown crew teams’ needs.”
—Additional reporting by Will Sommer