On Saturday, March 3, the National Park Service held a public workshop on the construction of a boathouse along the Potomac River waterfront near Georgetown. The project has been in development for over 20 years, with the process being elongated by the many layers of approval that the University must go through before it begins construction.
The Park Service first proposed the boathouse in 1986. Although progress has been made since then, development stalled in 2005 after the D.C. government decided to build a tunnel under the Potomac to deal with sewer overflows.
This project is not set to be finished until 2025, and will create some drop shafts that could have possibly been near a newly constructed boathouse.
“We’re not going to want to put money into building a boathouse only to find out soon that we have to rebuild it,” said Scott Fleming, Georgetown’s associate vice-president of federal affairs. “We had to step back and figure out how those two things were going to connect.”
As a result, Georgetown’s crew teams continue to row out of Thompson’s Boathouse, located near the Kennedy Center, where rowers must share space with teams from area high schools and George Washington University. While the current situation works, it is not ideal, say rowers.
“Pretty much every other team in our league has a boathouse of their own,” Tom Guthrie (SFS ’15), member of the lightweight freshman crew team, said. “Not having one puts us at a little bit of a competitive disadvantage because we don’t have the equipment or space for ourselves that would help us improve more.”
The University hopes to fix this issue by going back to working on the project with the feasibility study that was discussed at the meeting last week. The study is being done to determine if the demands and usage of the boathouse and surrounding area are the same as they were in 1986 when the boathouse was originally imagined.
“[We want] to better understand what the needs are, and to figure out a way to best meet these needs,” Tammy Stidham, a project manager at the Park Service, said. “We have just confirmed that the usage and demands for this zone have been increased.”
The meeting allowed community members along with officials from the University and the Park Service to discuss the proposed boathouse and the zone around it.
Fleming felt optimistic about the meeting’s results. “I felt at the [meeting] that there were a number of issues that had arisen over the years that had been put to rest,” he said.
The Park Service hopes to be able to release the results of the study in the fall, along with another public meeting to present the publication. They hope that this process will be concluded by the end of the year, but this is still just the first step in the possible construction of the boathouse.
“[The study is] just looking at uses and demands, and we’ll have some next steps for further planning,” Stidham said. “So really this is just the very beginning, it’s hard to say how long it would be before something would be constructed or what would be constructed.”
Although the process has been a long one, Fleming feels the University is in a good place to move forward.
“[We’re] in a relatively good spot right now. I feel like we’re at a point where we’re making some serious process,” he said. “We are absolutely committed to getting a boathouse…and getting it happening as soon as possible.”
In 2009, the University paid an independent lobbying firm, Carmen Group, $990,000 over the course of four years to approve the proposed boathouse. The following year, according to a count by Vox Populi, the total lobbying fees amounted to $1,060,000 since 2009. Last year, the boathouse project halted again due to a pending Environmental Impact Statement to be issued by the Park Service.