Letter to the Editor

Vol. 8, No. 27
July 6-12, 2000
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The Miracle of the 48-Inch Pipe

Dear Bay Weekly:

You are to be congratulated on your fine editorial on the proposed Deale Safeway [“Janet O. and the Big Box Parade”: June 15-23]. It was the most cogent and insightful comment I have seen on the subject and it is much appreciated.

I suggest, however, that the Safeway imbroglio reveals a deeper and more serious problem in the county: corruption of public policy. Corruption is an ugly word, but it’s important that we look at the facts and call it what it is.

When a well-reasoned, principled and legally sound ruling by an official of the county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement denied Safeway a waiver and threatened to block, if not doom, the project, we have the miracle of the 48-inch pipe. We are asked to believe that after 12 years of wrestling with this specific project and the general problem of wetlands and flood plains in the county, the experts of PACE suddenly discovered a provision of the county code that turned the whole project on its head. The discovery gave Safeway a green light just a matter of days before they faced a hearing that Safeway requested to try to overturn the waiver ruling, a hearing that Safeway almost certainly would have lost.

After discovering the new rule, did they follow the normal, ethical course of making the finding public and asking for public comment? They did not. There simply wasn’t time if they were to achieve the goal of protecting Safeway from the hearing they feared so much. They issued precipitously a final opinion and a letter, which was designed to close off discussion and was the first the opponents of the project heard about the switch.

We are asked to believe that the discovery came as an epiphany, like Paul’s on the road to Damascus, which is ridiculous. It came about as the result of secretive, extensive and probably expensive ex parte negotiations between high-powered Safeway officials and compliant PACE officials.

When asked about this problem at the recent Chamber of Commerce meeting in Deale, County Executive Owens expressed shock and surprise at the abrupt turn of events, which she attributed not to “duplicity” but to “ignorance” (presumably not hers). But she claimed that she couldn’t do anything about it because it was an engineering decision and, she asserted, engineering decisions are not subject to challenge like legal decisions.

Again, ridiculous! Wrangling in court about competing and conflicting engineering opinions supports a substantial part of the U.S. legal profession and has for years. Just ask the Corps of Engineers or any of the Washington-area communities like Kent Island and Dumfries that are successfully challenging encroachments with the support of their elected officials.

I suppose it’s possible that County Executive Owens really doesn’t understand what is going on at PACE under her administration, but that’s even scarier.

—Wm. Michael Kitzmiller, Tracey’s Landing

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly