Public Dissent Has Little Impact on SMCM Plans For Boathouse; Dyson Escalates Action

In light of perceived inaction by SMCM, Dyson to ask the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Critical Area Commission to reconsider their approval of this project; Hoyer won’t comment on the controversy.

By David Noss

ST MARY’S CITY, Md. (August 28, 2007) – On Thursday, Aug. 9, State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29) went public with his request to the St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) to relocate their under-construction boathouse along the St. Mary’s River to a less offensive location. Dyson says he is reacting to his constituent’s complaints about the structure blocking the scenic view of the river.

Dyson made a formal request via letter to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for St. Mary's College of Maryland, James P. Muldoon. Muldoon is the Chief Executive Officer of METCOR in Washington, D.C.

The boathouse is a component of what the College terms the "Rowing Center." The entire multi-million-dollar project also includes a second, larger two story building known as the "River Center." Construction on the River Center has not yet started.

By all accounts, SMCM has followed the law to the letter in regards to getting local, state, and federal approval for the project. However, in his letter of Aug. 9, Dyson chided the trustees for not holding public meetings to allow local residents their say in the location of the structures prior to construction.

No laws or regulations having been broken, Dyson sought to rely upon persuasion and public sentiment to convince the Board of Trustees to move the structure. However, these tactics appear to have not had the desired effect on either the college administration or trustees.

In a letter from Muldoon to Dyson dated Aug. 12, Muldoon stresses all of the studies, committees, and commissions that the project went through during the design and approval phases and offers another review in light of the Senator’s objections. “[We] will engage in a comprehensive review of the long-term plan to ensure that the overall design concept will highlight a beautiful waterfront view that will be continued to be treasured,” wrote Muloon.

Muldoon committed to no completion date for the subsequent review offering only “as soon as feasible” as the deadline.

The following day, Margaret “Maggie” O’Brien, President of SMCM, sent an email to all faculty, staff, students, alumni and Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) staff discussing public opinion regarding the project. In her email O’Brien states in regards to the Rowing Center, “Some of us like it, some of us don’t.” O’Brien further stated her plan to assemble an ad hoc group of staff, faculty, students, and community members to meet with her over the next few weeks to “provide a wider opinion about the building.”

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Aug. 21, O’Brien told us that in response to Dyson's letter of Aug. 9, she hosted Dyson on campus on Saturday, Aug. 11 at which time they reviewed the plans for the River and Rowing Centers and shoreline protection.

Aside from the promised review and ad hoc meetings, the college has no plans to halt or slow the construction of the building while the possibility of relocating it is discussed. According to college officials, construction of the new Rowing Center will be completed by August 31.

Fully aware of the college’s intent to proceed full bore with the construction of the boathouse despite his objections, Dyson stepped up the rhetoric significantly in a new letter to O’Brien dated Thursday Aug. 23.

“You must know that this building is located on historic land. You must have heard from people in the community that they are extremely upset about its current placement. You know that this building must be moved,” wrote Dyson in the latest letter. “Why the rush to continue this project in light of all of the enormous controversy?”

Dyson also chided O’Brien for her ad hoc meetings which give the appearance of window dressing in light of continued construction. “If your ‘ad hoc’ committee and you have decided to go ahead with this project as of today, what is the sense of holding meetings regarding this project after the horse has left the barn?” wrote Dyson.

Unsatisfied with the college’s response to date, Dyson now says he is going to ask the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Critical Area Commission to reconsider their approval of this project.

“I renew my call for you to halt construction immediately of the rowing center and to consider moving it to another location. No other alternative will be acceptable to me or the community you are supposed to be serving. This community does not just include the College, but the entire county. I also intend on asking the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Critical Area Commission to reconsider their approval of this project.”

When asked O’Brien how the public could assume that the college was serious about giving due consideration to Dyson’s request if construction was to continue, she cited safety concerns for the students were construction to be halted midstream. O’Brien also stated that she was unaware if the Board of Trustees had any plans to solicit a bid to relocate the building.

O’Brien told us that the decision to continue with construction was based on internal discussions. “Unanimously, the faculty, and the staff, and Joe Anderson, who is an external member of the community, believe that we should continue on the project as planned after reviewing the plan and four alternatives that we had thought about previously in terms of locations for the rowing center itself.”

O’Brien also said that she has spoken with members of the student government and student resident assistants who have returned to campus ahead of the main student body. “I’ve asked them their opinion and they said it [the Rowing Center boathouse] is definitely ‘notable,’” said O’Brien. “One of the questions that I’ve gotten repeatedly is when are we going to bury the [power] lines near the boathouse.”

Despite all of the actions being taken by O’Brien to foster discussion about the project, she admitted that the ultimate decision regarding the project is in the hands of the Board of Trustees, not the administration.

The Board consists of four officers, sixteen additional members, most of whom are wealthy and/or prominent citizens, and one student member. Many of the members are also residents of southern Maryland including: Benjamin C. Bradlee of Drayden, Vice President at Large, The Washington Post; G. Thomas Daugherty of Lexington Park, President, Maryland Bank & Trust; Steny H. Hoyer of Mechanicsville, Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives; John J. McAllister of Lexington Park, Chief Executive Officer, Eagan McAllister Associates, Inc.; Michael P. O'Brien of Solomons, President and Owner, O'Brien Realty; Vinaychandra K. Shah of Mechanicsville, Cardiac Surgeon, Shah Associates, M.D., LLC; and Robert S. Waldschmitt of Solomons, Partner, Wildewood Park Partnership.

According to Margaret O’Brien, the Board of Trustees has donated a sum total of approximately one-million-dollars toward the River Center project. The project is privately funded, but located on public land.

Some local citizens also wonder if one or more of the new buildings will be named after one or more of the larger donors. Buildings at SMCM have traditionally been named after Maryland counties. Tradition has been broken in at least one case when a building was named after William Donald Schaefer. Schaefer has served as both Governor and Comptroller of Maryland.

We asked Steny Hoyer’s office whether or not, as a Trustee, he planned to support Dyson’s request to have the boathouse moved. We did not receive a response by publication time. Hoyer also enjoys waterfront living on the Patuxent River at his home in Mechanicsville.

We also asked both sides about the feedback they have been receiving from the community on this issue. Dyson’s office responded that as of Friday, Aug. 24, they have had Five walk-ins, Two letters, 10 e-mails, and 8 phone calls. O’Brien said that the college has received “very few letters” and “very few phone calls” from the public prior to college soliciting public comments. “As soon as we began construction, we began soliciting opinions and concepts about that particular rowing center,” said O’Brien.

We asked O’Brien for her candid opinion about whether or not the college will relocate the boathouse as Dyson suggested. She responded, “The questions is, ‘To where?’”


Senator Wants New SMCM Boathouse Moved

Background Information on the River Center Project

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