It started off innocently enough, according to Jim Wilcox, advisory neighborhood commissioner for the Dumbarton Street area in Georgetown. A neighbor called on Wednesday, Aug. 23, saying it looked like the District Department of Transportation was about to pour a cement-based surface over a large portion of sidewalk on 30th and Dumbarton Streets that had traditionally been Georgetown brick.
Wilcox called ANC Chair Joe Gibbons and they went over to have a look.
It ended up with Wilcox, Gibbons and his dog Scout in a “stop the pour or arrest us” standoff in the middle of the construction area.
“No one was advised, no one knew about it, no discussions were held, no work permits nor construction parking notices were announced, given out nor posted,” said Wilcox. “All of a sudden, there were the trucks and workman ready to pour a flexi-cement playground kind of material onto the sidewalk. One truck was even parked illegally in the bus stop. If it hadn’t been for the neighbor, we wouldn’t have known about it.
“They told us they had a work order from Fort Myer Construction Company,” Wilcox continued. (Fort Myer is a contractor that seems to do most of the construction jobs in the city, some on a no-bid basis.) “We identified ourselves, pointed out the violations and asked the subcontractor to stop. But he refused. So we put our bods in front of the wheelbarrows to physically stop them from pouring the playground material onto the sidewalk.”
Then, as Scout stood guard, Gibbons and Wilcox worked their phones, calling and emailing the offices of Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council member Jack Evans, their DDOT contacts and, finally, the Metropolitan Police Department.
When the police arrived, finding that there were no permits nor advance notices of parking restrictions, and that illegal parking was happening, they “indicated the work wouldn’t continue,” Wilcox said.
At the same time, Gibbons was talking to a DDOT official who agreed that there had been a miscommunication and that the work should stop. Earlier emails between DDOT and Gibbons had pointed to a tree root situation that needed to be fixed. The department was looking at a temporary solution, perhaps a flexi-cement.
“But emails are not notifications of intent to work,” said Gibbons. “They are not considered to be anything but a communication about a problem. It’s an issue we’ll be taking up in the near future,” he said. “However, to be clear, DDOT and the Georgetown ANC have a good relationship. DDOT has always been very responsive. I don’t think there was any ill intent in this situation at all on their part.”
Both Wilcox and Gibbons emphasized the pride that Georgetown takes in its brick sidewalks, which have replaced almost all of Georgetown’s crumbling sidewalks over the past 20 years and add to the historic environment.
“Of course, during the past 20 years, many trees along the sidewalks and the street have grown, and so have their roots,” Wilcox acknowledged. “In many places, pedestrians must walk with care in areas where roots have displaced bricks, making for bumpy potentially hazardous areas. We need to have a discussion in Georgetown with the public agencies in charge of such matters about what to do when that situation occurs. Possibly patches of flexi-cement could be one answer around particularly aggressive trees.”
Gibbons concluded: “Jim, I and Scout, who suffered painful bits of asphalt in his paws during his time on duty in the sidewalk patch and had to go to the vet to clean them up, are ready anytime to protect that which we value in Georgetown, including our trees and our brick sidewalks.”