Boating Groups Fight Trump Impasse on Potomac

BALTIMORE (CN) – Kayakers and canoe enthusiasts brought a federal complaint Thursday to protest security measures that close off a stretch of the Potomac River whenever President Donald Trump is golfing nearby.


Represented by Democracy Forward and the Bethesda firm Lerch, Early & Brewer, the group Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, D.C., notes that its members have been waiting over a year for changes that would permit some recreational river use while still ensuring Trump’s safety.

“It is unconscionable that public access to this important stretch of the Potomac, which serves as a training ground for generations of paddlers, is cast into doubt so the president can play golf at his whim,” association chairwoman Barbara Brown said in a statement.

While the U.S. Coast Guard did not return a phone call seeking comment, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security told the Washington Post on Thursday that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The trouble began last July, according to the lawsuit, when the Coast Guard abruptly designated a 2-mile stretch of the Potomac River near the Trump National Golf Club as a “permanent security zone.”

That meant that whenever the president or any of his top aides visit his namesake links, Coast Guard officials close off a wide, calm area of the river known as Seneca Lake to boating activity.

While there is an exception for any vessel whose captain calls the Coast Guard ahead for clearance, this is all but impossible in practice given that the president’s golfing schedule is not public.

The community of river users immediately protested. Having been denied the opportunity to comment on the designation before the Coast Guard issued it, some 600 people commented on the rule after the fact in the Federal Register.

Nearly all of the comments are critical of the change. The canoe group notes that some comments suggested an alternative approach: “closing the half of the river closer to the Virginia shore and adjacent to the golf club, while leaving the Maryland shore side open for recreational traffic.”

Although this “would permit continued recreational river use while also addressing national security needs,” according to the complaint, Homeland Security has taken no steps to date to respond to comments.

“So there was a hearing last year,” said Democracy Forward spokeswoman Charisma Troiano, “where the Coast Guard commandant conceded that there was no national security reason to have such a broad rule … and pledged to revisit and revise the rule.”

But that never happened. Instead, the Coast Guard began using its discretion to let boaters pass on the Maryland side of the river.

Since the rule itself is permanent, however, the canoe group says the Coast Guard could reinstate its letter at will.

The lawsuit notes that Trump has visited his golf club 31 times since the rule took effect, triggering the closure of the adjacent river to all boat traffic.

Canoe Cruisers is not the only community affected, stating that the river shutdowns harm recreational fishermen, paddling schools, children’s summer camps and members of the U.S. Whitewater Team who are training for the Olympics.

“I’m told that in many cases, in order to remove yourself from the security zone, you have to go into waters that are extremely rocky, or dangerous for beginner paddlers,” Troiano said.

Because the rule was issued before any comment period and without prior notice, it was put into effect “without observance of procedure required by law.” The complaint says it should be “held unlawful and set aside.”

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