Georgetown has paid Carmen Group Inc., an independent consulting firm, $1,030,000 since 2005, to lobby on the university’s behalf concerning a proposal for the university to construct its own boathouse, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Web site. The university has paid the Carmen Group $40,000 to lobby the National Parks Service since the beginning of 2009.
“There are a team of senior leaders working on this issue on behalf of Georgetown – including staff from the Athletics Department, the Offices of External and Federal Relations, and several others that have been engaged in this work on an ongoing basis,” university spokesperson Julie Bataille said in an e-mail this April. “In addition to their work, the Carmen Group has helped on strategic aspects of the project both as a consultant and in a lobbying capacity.”
Negotiations began in 1987, when the National Park Service created a “boathouse zone” on the Potomac River that was intended to house the university’s new boathouse. But when the university acquired land outside the “boathouse zone,” within the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, both the community and NPS objected.
In 1998, the University and NPS reached an agreement concerning the trade of land within the “boathouse zone” for the historical park. Facing community concerns over the environmental impact of the new boathouse, the NPS issued an Environmental Assessment of the boathouse design in 2006.
On Dec. 3, 2007, NPS announced that it would transfer from an Environmental Assessment to an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to analyze the potential effects of the development and construction of the boathouse project.
The Carmen Group, which according to its Web site, describes itself as “Washington, D.C.’s leading lobbying and consulting firm,” declined to comment on its involvement with the university. However, Bataille confirmed that the consulting firm has played a role in the university’s negotiations.
“After years of back and forth with the park service and other agencies, local and federal, it is our hope that we will be able to move forward with this project soon,” she said.
Currently, the university shares the Thompson Boathouse Center with several other universities and high schools, including The Georgetown Washington University and Wilson High School. According to the university’s “Build the Boathouse” Web site, the facilities for the Georgetown crew team at the current location are limited.
“A new Georgetown boathouse will reduce overcrowding at Thompson Boat Center, allowing other local rowing teams greater space for their programs,” according to the Web site.
Although the boathouse project has already received approval from the District of Columbia Zoning Commission, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Old Georgetown Board, the Georgetown Waterfront Commission and the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, several community groups continue to oppose the current boathouse proposal.
Community members – citing the potential negative environmental impact – have led the NPS to conduct further tests on the proposed boathouse site.
“Over the years, there have been a number of public meetings about this proposal and they have been attended by both supporters and detractors of our proposed boathouse,” said Bataille.
One such group is the Defenders of Potomac River Parkland. Sally Strain, the group’s D.C. coordinator, said her organization strongly opposes the construction of a boathouse on Georgetown’s proposed site.
“We continue to believe that a GU boathouse in the C&O Canal National Historical Park is not in the public interest,” Strain said in an e-mail. “The university should act responsibly and work with the National Park Service and the public to identify acceptable alternative locations outside the C&O Canal National Historical Park for a boathouse.”
Other neighborhood groups have also cited concerns about the boathouse project.
“The proposed boathouse would encroach on the canal and the entrance to the Capital Crescent Trail, which is a major cycling commuting route, causing these areas to be congested with trailers, pedestrians, vehicles, et cetera, that will impede the safe progress of cyclists,” said Sigrid Haines, as member and former chair of the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club.
Although the University has been working on the proposed boathouse plan for over 20 years, the end is not in sight.
“Our goal is to achieve the necessary approvals to be able to build a boat house that will meet the Georgetown crew teams’ needs, and, while we are making progress, there is no certain date as to when this will be resolved,” Bataille said.