Thursday, July 17, 2008

Africa Against the Purple Line

As regular MPW readers know, the Purple Line has many opponents, including residents of Chevy Chase, supporters of SSTOP and a few homeowners with “No Trains on Wayne” signs in Silver Spring. But now a new combatant enters the field of battle… an entity based on the tiny African island of Madeira?!??!!

In case you missed it, a new anti-Purple Line website has recently popped up, this one run anonymously. When Action Committee for Transit reported that it was registered to a firm based on the autonomous Portuguese island Madeira, I checked it out. Sure enough, gave the following information about the registrant:

Now, the bikini-clad residents of Madeira have little obvious reason to protest the Purple Line (unless ACT plans to relocate after MoCo’s project is done). Most Purple Line opponents, including MPW blog-father David Lublin, denounce the project openly. Activist Pam Browning owns the domain under her own name. So who would have the incentive to start an anonymous anti-Purple Line website through the ultra-secretive Domain Discreet registrant service?

Could it be… the Columbia Country Club? Regular readers will remember how the club vowed to start a “grass roots campaign” to protect its lovely golf course from those awful Purple Line trains (and their uncouth riders). This follows a long history of cooperation with former Republican Governor Robert “I Love Golf” Ehrlich to block the rail project. After being outed by the Post, the club finally admitted responsibility for the new website. Eric Luedtke covered ACT’s wine-soaked reply outside the club gates. And just to throw gasoline on the fire, Silver Spring trail activist Wayne Phyillaier noted the club’s squatting on nearly three acres of Capital Crescent Trail right-of-way to add to their already-luxurious golf course. Does the county even know about the club’s erection of a giant, hideous fence on public land?

Picture from Finish the Trail Blog.

As you can see from the following excerpts from its 2005 filing with the IRS, the club can draw on significant amounts of resources to fight the Purple Line. In the year ended September 30, 2006, the club reported revenues of $13.3 million, net income of $2.5 million and net assets of $25.5 million (of which $5.7 million is in cash). The club has minimal liabilities of $2.3 million and its property is not encumbered by a mortgage.

But all of this hugely understates the club’s influence. Its members are among the wealthiest people in the Washington metro area and have donated thousands of dollars to politicians, including Ehrlich. Club President J. Paul McNamara even had his employer, United Bankshares, pay his club dues for years.

For all of its wealth and power, the club’s Madeira affiliate has constructed a truly sorry website. It has just five pages, stock graphics, no contact names and no actual pictures of the Capital Crescent Trail. Considering that in its most recent reporting year the club spent $165,452 on laundry and linen, $25,110 on uniforms, $38,325 on decorations and $65,093 on china and silverware, we would expect it to offer more than a bargain-basement website.

Neighborhood residents have every right to oppose the Maryland Transit Administration’s proposed Purple Line alignments if they wish. But any participation by the country club will hurt their cause. No non-club members will see protection of their golf course as a legitimate reason to block a transit project. If the Columbia Country Club really wants to help the Purple Line opponents, it should give its members one-way tickets to Madeira.