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Transit Advocates Continue Criticism Of Town Of Chevy Chase

By Aaron Kraut

Wednesday - 2/5/2014, 9:30am  ET

Town of Chevy ChaseA group of Purple Line advocates on Tuesday continued its blistering criticism of the Town of Chevy Chase, which is opposed to the light rail system.

The Action Committee for Transit said it submitted a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Town for its contracts with the lobbying firm of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. The Town has paid the firm $40,000 for two months of assistance in fighting the Purple Line, which is awaiting a key federal funding decision.

ACT’s Ben Ross claimed a report filed in January proves the Town is paying the firm — which includes lobbyist Robert Shuster — to lobby Congress against federal funding of the system.

Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is Robert Shuster’s brother.

Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Pat Burda has denied the firm is lobbying congress against Purple Line funding and Robert Shuster has said he does not lobby his brother.

Now, Ross and ACT Vice President Ronit Dancis want to see any invoices or bills from the firm for its Town of Chevy Chase work, all correspondence between the Town, Town Council and the firm and “all minutes of all meetings” between the Town Council and the firm.

ACT also wants Burda to recuse herself from any deliberations regarding the public information request because she has said the Town is not lobbying Congress. It also asked that Councilmember John Bickerman recuse himself from deliberations regarding the request because Bickerman said in a public meeting on Jan. 8 that he has mediated cases involving Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney in the past.

ACT also questioned the openness of the Jan. 8 Council meeting on further legal funding for the Town’s push against the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Purple Line:

ACT vice-president Ronit Aviva Dancis pointed out that the town council waited until after oral testimony closed at a January 8 public hearing to reveal that money would be used for lobbying. Even then, the public was told only the name of the firm, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

Most Town residents testified in opposition to the Purple Line and in support of spending money on a yet-to-be-defined legal strategy. Some residents said the Maryland Transit Administration’s FEIS for the project didn’t address all environmental concerns. Town officials indicated they want promised noise reduction walls put into writing. The Town’s official response to the FEIS said the MTA should consider another mode of transportation or route for the system.

The light rail would run behind a number of homes in the Town, which back up to the Georgetown Branch extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The long-simmering feud between pro- and anti-Purple Line entities should only pick up steam next week.

The Town Council will decide on Feb. 12 whether to spend $360,000 on an 18-month contract with either Shuster’s firm or Dickstein Shapiro.

At the January meeting, discussion of how that money would be used was limited.

“I get nervous because I think part of having a strategy is being able to execute it,” Burda said during the hearing. “I’m concerned if we went too into specifics, there will be some undermining of our efforts that would not be productive.”