Lawsuit Prompts Coast Guard to Lift Restrictions on Potomac River Access During President’s Visits to Trump National Golf Club
New Rule Significantly Shortens Length of Security Zone, Creates Transit Lane For River Users
Washington D.C. — The Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington DC and Democracy Forward are claiming a major victory today in their lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Prompted by the groups’ suit, the Coast Guard issued a new directive that revises the Potomac River security zone that it previously established in order to accommodate President Trump’s frequent outings at the Trump National Golf Club. Democracy Forward and the Canoe Cruisers Association filed suit in September charging that the Administration had unlawfully created a permanent security zone that blocked the public’s legal right to access and enjoy the Potomac River when the President golfs. Yesterday, after more than a year of legal and public pressure from the Canoe Cruisers and others in the paddling and conservation community, the administration reversed course and issued an updated interim final rule that meets nearly all of the groups’ demands.
The permanent security zone rule this new rule replaces was illegal for failing to account for the serious impact it had on the rights of those, like Canoe Cruisers, who frequently utilize the two-mile stretch of the Potomac River in the vicinity of the Trump National Golf Club, and for failing to provide the public with notice or an opportunity to comment before the Coast Guard unilaterally issued it. The revised interim final rule:
Significantly reduces the overall length of the security zone and ensures access to boat launch sites and important waterways;
Creates a 250-yard-wide transit lane that provides passage for watercraft through the zone near the Maryland shoreline; and
Requires the Coast Guard to notify the public, via a website and a recorded message on a dedicated telephone line, when the security zone is in effect. Under the prior rule, the Coast Guard provided notice through a radio channel very few river paddlers use.
“The paddling community has a voice and we effectively used it to execute change. The Potomac River is for the American people and we’re glad to see their access to it restored,” said Canoe Cruisers Chairman Barbara Brown.
“This is a victory for the rule of law that says the President cannot arbitrarily restrict the public’s access to our shared natural resources to accommodate his frequent golf outings,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “We are glad that the Coast Guard now recognizes, as we have urged from the outset, that assuring public access to shared national resources need not compromise security concerns.”
This victory marks another defeat in a series of legal setbacks for the Trump administration. A recent report highlighted the “extraordinary record of legal defeat” suffered by the President in the first two years of the administration.
The Coast Guard published the revised interim final rule on March 21, 2019 with a comment period that is open until June 19, 2019. It is effective immediately. Democracy Forward and the Canoe Cruisers Association will continue to monitor implementation of the updated rule to ensure it is enforced fairly and with appropriate respect for the rights of of paddlers to access and enjoy the River.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.