The Council was set to decide on a controversial $360,000, 18-month contract with one of two D.C. firms that would have represented the Town in its fight against the Purple Line.
Mayor Pat Burda, one of five council members, said the Council was not yet prepared to act on the proposal. A public vote is expected sometime next week.
The Action Committee for Transit, staunch Purple Line advocates, attacked Burda publicly for her statement to the Washington Post that “the Town is not lobbying Congress.” At a public hearing on legal funding on Jan. 8, the Town Council decided to extend its month-long contract with Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney to lobby Congress against federal funding of the $2.2 billion light rail system.
That led to the Post article and the quote that ACT members seized upon. ACT later filed a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Town for its contracts and communications with the firm and called on Burda to recuse herself from any deliberations regarding the request. ACT also claimed the Jan. 8 public hearing did not meet Open Meetings Act requirements because Burda introduced the possibility of extending the Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney contract for another month only after oral testimony.
Before Wednesday’s Council meeting, the Council met in closed session with its lawyer to discuss the Open Meetings Act complaint and the Public Information Act request.
Burda pushed back at ACT in a statement, distributed to meeting attendees and read in the meeting, before announcing the Council would delay the decision on the 18-month contract:
To set the record straight, the Town is speaking to Members of Congress to raise the same issues we raised with the Maryland Transportation Administration in our Final Environmental impact Statement (FEIS) comments. It is our hope that through this effort of educating decision makers about the currently proposed Purple Line, that the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) will carefully consider all of the facts before them.
Proponents of the Purple Line, including the Action Committee for Transit (ACT), are attempting to distract from the obvious and abundant flaws in this project by focusing on a quote from me that was abbreviated and taken out of context. I was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “the Town is not lobbying Congress.” The statement, which I attempted to clarify before it reached the printed Sunday Post, referred specifically to an inquiry about lobbying the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I said that it would be foolish to try to lobby Congress to defund the project given Senator Mikulski’s position as Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Burda’s Council collegaues defended her, offering praise for her work on Purple Line issues in the face of criticism. Burda said “it’s been a long week.”
The Town has long been opposed to the Purple Line, part of which would run behind homes in the Town. Purple Line supporters worry an extended legal fight from the Town could result in a lawsuit and delay the project, which the state hopes to start building in late 2015.
In her statement, Burda reiterated the Town’s issues with the Maryland Transit Administration’s FEIS for the project.
The Town says the MTA hasn’t provided solid ridership numbers and hasn’t put a promised six-foot noise wall into writing. It also seeks a crossing to replace the one at Lynn Drive for Town residents, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students included.
Purple Line supporters argue and the MTA says it offered a Lynn Drive crossing that the Town rejected because it would have meant a raised track.
The Town also has environmental concerns, problems with the $2.2 billion projected cost of the system and concerns about the public-private partnership arrangement to build and operate it.
The Council did not announce what day next week’s vote on legal funding will happen.
Photo via Town of Chevy Chase