News & Politics

A Group of Potomac Paddlers Are Suing the Trump Administration. They Expect a Response Soon.

The government keeps closing a stretch of the Potomac without warning when the President visits his golf club.

Photograph by Barbara Brown, used with permission.

Last fall, after the Department of Homeland Security and the US Coast Guard designated a section of the Potomac River near the Trump National Golf Club a “permanent security zone,” a group called the Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington did what many locals do best: it sued.

Now that the President’s golf course has again angered environmentalists by cutting down trees and discarding them in the river, we wondered: What ever happened with the paddlers’ lawsuit?

As it happens, the administration is set to answer the complaint by Monday. A spokesperson for the attorneys representing the Canoe Cruisers Association says that while the group doesn’t know how the government plans to respond, it often files a motion of dismissal in cases like this.

The suit argues that previous administrations—and, for a time, this one—gave advance published notice of short-term closures of the two-mile stretch of Potomac River embankment that forces boaters to navigate through potentially high, rough waters over the lip of a rubble dam located at the Seneca Breaks. But with Trump’s last-minute drop-ins to his Loudoun County golf club, the paddlers said, the government abandoned giving river users a head’s up.

Cruisers attorney Nitin Shah told Washingtonian last fall that that the federal government’s actions not only put rowers at risk, but also impacted surrounding businesses like the Canoe Cruisers Association, which can no longer teach swift-danger rescue on that particular stretch of the river.

In December, Maryland District Court granted a request from the Department of Justice to push its legal response to March, explaining that lack of appropriations from the partial government shutdown hindered its operations. In turn, the DOJ was allotted a 45 day timeline after Congress has restored funding to answer allegations that closing the river like this doesn’t “provide adequate notice to the affected community regarding when it will be in force, lacks an end date, and exceeds the scope of DHS’s statutory authority.”

The Canoe Cruisers Association says the current flap over the club’s tree removal has echoes in the way the government closes the river. “Much like the administration’s unlawful decision to cut off paddlers’ legal right to access the Potomac River when President Trump is playing golf at his private resort, this is a slap in the face of the many hundreds of people who seek to use this section of the Potomac for recreation, including canoeing, kayaking and fishing,” an association spokesperson says in an emailed statement.  “Discarding the trees in the river creates dangerous conditions for families, children, veterans and countless others who boat this stretch of river. ”

“We look forward to hearing the administration’s explanation of why it chose to violate the law and deprive people of their legal right to access the Potomac River,” says Barbara Brown, the association’s chairperson.

Staff Writer

Brittany Shepherd covers the societal and cultural scene in political Washington. Before joining Washingtonian as a staff writer in 2018, Brittany was a White House Correspondent for Independent Journal Review. While she has lived in DC for a number of years now, she still yearns for the fresh Long Island bagels of home. Find her on Twitter, often prattling on about Frasier.