The Town of Chevy Chase, long opposed to the Purple Line, will pay three lobbying firms $29,000 a month for up to a year to help it make its case against the 16-mile light rail system.
The Town Council on Thursday voted 3-1 in favor of having Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney and subcontractor Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell represent it at the federal level and subcontractor Alexander & Cleaver represent it in Annapolis.
The contract with the firms will be for a maximum total of $350,000.
Mayor Pat Burda said the money will cover lobbying by the firms and other yet-to-be decided legal strategies.
“We’re still working out strategies. I do know we will be undertaking lobbying. I feel confident we can say that,” Burda said. “We want to make sure that the state has followed the process as articulated through the feds so they can cross their t’s and dot their i’s and make sure they’ve done the right thing.”
The Town is officially opposed to the Purple Line, part of which would run behind homes in the Town on the existing Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail. The Maryland Transit Administration has said it hopes to start construction on the $2.1 billion project in late 2015. The project is dependent on about $900,000 in funding from the federal government, which is expected to issue a Record of Decision on the MTA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Purple Line soon.
The Town has safety, environmental, cost and logistical concerns about the project as proposed in the FEIS and has called for the state to reconsider the Capital Crescent Trail route and light rail mode.
“The state of Maryland has lobbyists. The county has lobbyists and in fact the major interest group in favor of the Purple Line received funding from the major developer who stands to benefit from the process,” said Lublin, who reiterated the Town’s stance that the state should reexamine a bus rapid transit system instead of light rail. “To be honest, I think the Town is doing a public service by highlighting this overpriced method.”
Lublin said he would reconsider his position if the MTA guaranteed certain mitigation techniques by putting those into writing.
Burda said the Town wants a noise barrier that was promised by MTA officials last February but not included in the FEIS. It also wants a safe crossing to replace the existing crossing of the Trail at Lynn Drive, a popular route for Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students who live in the Town. Burda said other needs, such as mitigation for a required ventilation tower outside the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel, could arise.
The Town rejected the MTA’s proposal for a Lynn Drive crossing of the light rail because the structure would be built too high.
She said the Town’s Mitigation Advisory Group will continue to work with MTA.
“What we’re hoping is we’ll have better conversations, more productive conversations with MTA if we put a little bit of pressure on them to be perfectly honest,” Burda said.
The vote wasn’t without controversy surrounding often controversial Town Councilmember John Bickerman.
Bickerman recused himself on Thursday, the day of a closed door session and the open public vote discussing the issue. Bickerman, a professional mediator, had previously disclosed he once mediated with Dickstein Shapiro, another firm up for the contract.
He said he didn’t feel that presented a conflict of interest. Lublin criticized Bickerman and claimed Bickerman suggested the firm to the Town and pressed its case repeatedly after the Council had decided to hire Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. The Town contracted with Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney for two separate month-long contracts in December and January.
Lublin also claimed Bickerman had a conflict with another firm up for the contract — D.C.-based VH Strategies. Lublin, who read off a written statement, said Bickerman did not inform the Council “of the closeness of his friendship with CEO Bob Van Heuvelen until the after the firm completed its interview with the Council on February 17, 2014.”
“Only at that time did he say that he might choose to recuse himself but also made clear that he might not,” Lublin said.
Bickerman was not in attendance at the vote.
The lone vote against the legal contract came from Councilmember Al Lang, who voiced his support for fighting the Purple Line with lobbyists but said he expected the Town to go through a more formal bidding process.