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The $618,000 Fine Dan Snyder Isn't Paying

In the sordid saga of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's decision to chop down more than 130 trees on the hillside between his Potomac mansion and the C&O Canal, Snyder, of course, has gotten off scot-free. A recent government report instead blamed a high-level National Park Service official for cutting a private deal with Snyder to approve the clearing of the hillside, even though park horticulturalists should have made the decision about such drastic action on federally protected land.

Come now across the continent to Seattle, where a federal appeals court judge has been required to shell out $618,000 as compensation to the city after the judge took it upon himself to cut down 120 cherry and maple trees to improve the view of a lake from his house.

Of course, the judge had trees chopped in a public park next to his house, whereas Snyder's victims were on his own property.

Still, in one case, an affluent public person who thought himself to be above the law has been made to recompense the people, whereas in the other case, a zillionaire who had no regard for the public's interest in the Potomac riverfront is laughing all the way to the bank. In celebration, Snyder will likely jack up parking fees at his stadium in Prince George's County.

By Marc Fisher |  June 2, 2006; 12:14 PM ET
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Maybe Ranger Dan used those trees to make more money for his already buldging pockets.

Posted by: WB | June 2, 2006 12:37 PM

My understanding is that the trees WERE on National Park Service Property. The Park Property does not consist of just the Canal bed alone. I don't believe there would have been much of an issue if the trees were on the Snyder property.

Posted by: Tom W. | June 2, 2006 2:03 PM

Of course Snyder wasn't fined. Relatively speaking, what he did is small potatoes.

NPS is going to allow Georgetown University to do much, much worse on a stretch of forested Potomac River waterfront parkland the size of a football field! With NPS, money obviously equals special privileges in our National Parks.

See: http://www.savethecanal.org/index.html

Posted by: none | June 2, 2006 3:45 PM

Of course the NPS will do things for money. To think otherwise is to be naive in a really annoying fashion.

Posted by: Tom (different one) | June 2, 2006 3:51 PM

The National Park Service is "playing favorites" with another private interest -- Georgetown University. The University wants to build an enormous private boathouse (almost the length of a football field) in the C&O Canal NHPark. Go to www.savethecanal.org for details and ways to stop the proposal.

Posted by: sally s. | June 2, 2006 4:12 PM

But, he is not allowed to build a retaining wall so his property may now flow into the Potomac because of his ill forseen choppage. I bet in the long run it costs him more than the fine would.

Posted by: TeriD | June 2, 2006 4:25 PM

If "doing things for money" means giving away OUR prime public riverfront parkland for exclusive private use, then I'd rather count myself naive than complicit

Posted by: none | June 2, 2006 4:28 PM

dan snyder is a selfish, spoiled jerk who cares nothing about anything that doesn't involve him getting what he wants. i hope his precious house slides into the potomac someday. creep.

Posted by: bamagirlinVA | June 2, 2006 4:34 PM

So, what's your point? Snyder had NPS permission, agreed to the fees and reforesting, and cleared trees on his own land. This bears no similarity to the federal judge, who maimed public land without anybody's permission. Whipping on unpopular billionaires, that's really going out on a limb.

Keep your misdirected indignation where it belongs - blaming carry out owners for our neighborhood's drug problem.

Posted by: Bea Z. Body | June 2, 2006 4:45 PM

Tom:

In many areas, DC included, old growth trees are still protected even on private property. I know because I've got one on my property I'm dying to get rid of, but because it's 1 inch in circumference above a limit set by the urban forestry commission (which I think, yes, is run through the NPS), I have to pay like $1600 just in fees to cut it down. Unfortunately I'm not Dan Snyder so that's not happening. But I don't see that as a reason to hate Snyder.

Posted by: Bea Z. Body | June 2, 2006 4:49 PM

Hey- BZody:

You live in DC, right? Urban Forestry is run by the DC Gov, through DDOT. And, yes, you need a special tree permit to cut down trees over a certain diameter. Unless, of course, you can prove the tree a hazard to public safety. Do your research before you spout off...

Posted by: Mark | June 2, 2006 4:57 PM

Right on, Marc!

Posted by: Hyper | June 2, 2006 5:48 PM

My understanding is that the trees WERE on National Park Service Property. The Park Property does not just consist of the Canal bed alone. I don't believe there would have been much of an issue if the trees were on the Snyder property

Posted by: Tom W. | June 2, 2006 7:05 PM

Marc,

What's behind this mean-spirited post? Daniel Snyder got permission to cut down the trees. He followed the correct process. What more is he supposed to do? Ask your permission?

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 3, 2006 1:36 PM

The point is that NPS improperly gave permission and Dan should know, like most people do, that cutting trees on park land is a federal offense. Even if he didn't know it was a federal offence, I bet his mom at somepoint or other told him not to mess with other people's things.

I think there's a meta-point, too- that NPS grunts took the fall for zillionare Dan Snyders' actions, while he got off scott-free.

Posted by: Mark | June 3, 2006 5:06 PM

As a baseball fan, every morning I thank the fates that Dan Snyder never had a realistic chance in hell of buying the Nationals.

Posted by: Vincent | June 3, 2006 10:23 PM

Marc - Normally love your stuff, but you are attempting to link two situations that are not really very much alike. Snyder had permission to cut down the trees. This other judge didn't. Therefore, in Snyder's case, the ultimate blame lies with the NPS employee that gave him permission. For the Seattle judge, clearly, the blame lies on him because he never even sought permission. That is the simple dividing line - we can get into discussions of whether Snyder knew that getting permission from this NPS employee wasn't the right thing to do. But, that would be a difficult thing to prove.

Posted by: me | June 5, 2006 8:59 AM

Wow, people defending Dan Snyder! Never thought I'd see the day. Legal niceties aside, he is generally indefensible. A total nouveau riche boor, who has trashed the team I used to admire. How long before Six Flags goes down the drain? Do you think he can charge kids for Bugs Bunny's autograph? I'll never set foot in the place now that he is in control.

Posted by: no skins fan | June 5, 2006 1:54 PM

Mark:

Cutting trees on federal land is not an offense when the NPS grants you a permit. "NPS grunts took the fall" for granting a permit they shouldn't have granted. Why should Snyder "take the fall?" He didn't grant the permit.

As to you other Snyder-haters, what's your beef? He took over a team that had imploded, went through three sub-par coaches, brought back Joe Gibbs, and last year it made the second round of the playoffs. Where do you think it would be today if the Cook boy had bought it?

Six Flags? When Dan Snyder began his campaign to take control of the company the stock was selling for around $4.50 a share and the company was struggling -- like the Redskins were before he bought them. Today it's over $8.50. He's nearly doubled the value of the company.

Snyder's a winner, especially when you consider that he was handicapped by attending the University of Maryland. But, if you don't believe me, put your money where your mouth is: sell short the stock of Six Flags. As for me, I'm a buyer.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 6, 2006 8:52 AM

Kat:

If you think the average Jane or Joe could get NPS officials to improperly issue them a permit to destroy public property, then I've got an Ailanthus farm to sell you.

I'm sure Snyder's smart and experienced enough to know the privilege and responsibility his star-power affords- he just doesn't care as long as he can have his fig-leaf. He abused his status for his own gain, and did so at the expense of the public good. These actions go to character.

What kind of man would do these things and let the little-guy take the fall?

Posted by: Mark | June 6, 2006 11:17 AM

Mark--

Are you saying that because Snyder has "star power" he's not allowed to apply to remove trees like the rest of us? That if you have "star power" it's a sign of bad character to file an application?

Approval by an NPS official isn't a "fig-leaf." It's a legal authorization. And if a federal official does his job badly, e.g. based on "star power," then he should "take the fall." The federal official has abused the public trust, not Daniel Snyder.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 6, 2006 12:39 PM

Kat: Your question "That if you have "star power" it's a sign of bad character to file an application?" continues to miss the point. The point is that he has no right to contol NPS land, and no ordinary person would either presume to have such right or, upon filing, would have received such improper approval. Snyder's not a child, he knows, but does not appreciate, that with power (star or otherwise) comes responsibility.

He exhibited the mendacity of: (1) abusing power for their own gain (2) at the public's expense and (3) then allows a low-level staff to take the fall, while (4) at the same time owns and sets the tone for a team that serves as a role model for our youth and adults

So what if he's a winner? If he cheats and exhibits poor-sportsmanship, the lessons he'll teach are toxic to society and he amounts to a high-profile liability. He should have known better, and should act in the public interest. And you, who accuse others of "hating" Synder, seem to be allowing your own bias to cloud your judgement.

Posted by: Mark | June 6, 2006 2:00 PM

So Snyder has made his close-knit cadre of millionaires even richer as owners of the Redskins, and has improved the bottom line of stockholders in Six Flags. BFD! There is a lot more to life than that. Ethical and moral behavior, for instance.
Snyder sought out the Park Service dude at a Redskins game (at which the aforementioned NPS dude was no doubt an invited guest of Snyder)and dazzled him with favors. Then guess what, Snyder's tree cuting permit was approved. Shocker!!

Posted by: noskinsfan | June 7, 2006 12:30 PM

noskinsfan--

So Snyder got permission from the NPS to cut trees and then he cut them. BFD! There's more to life than that.

If the "NPS dude" compromised his public trust for "favors" then he should be in jail. Don't you agree? And I would agree that if Snyder bribed a public official with "favors" then he should be in jail. There are strict rules on what public officials may accept.

However, none of this has been proven and both Snyder and the "NPS dude" are entitled to be presumed innocent. Don't you agree?

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 8, 2006 6:20 AM

For those who might be confused about the facts, here's the damning portion of The Post's report:
Snyder issued a brief comment through a spokesman yesterday, saying he and his representatives "negotiated a fair written agreement with the National Park Service. They didn't put pressure on anyone."

In previous interviews, Snyder's representatives said he was trying to rid his property of invasive species, such as ailanthus and paulownia. He has said he spent about $100,000 to replace a once-tangled mess of trees, many of which were nonnative species or diseased, with more than 600 native saplings that will boost the long-term viability of the forest.

The Park Service's horticulturist, however, told the inspector general that clearing the area made it more likely that nonnative, invasive species would eventually flourish on the hillside and cause erosion.

The report, to be made public today, says Smith "unduly influenced the decision" by "inserting himself into the process through personal communications with Mr. Snyder, his representatives and C&O Canal officials." The inspector general referred its findings to the U.S. attorney's office, which declined to prosecute, according to the report.

Smith's job was to handle special projects for Fran P. Mainella, the Park Service director, including topics of "intense interest from the public, special interest groups, Cabinet level officials and Congress," the report says.

Mainella declined to comment, but her office issued a statement saying it would not comment on Smith's role because it was a personnel matter. The "outcome of what was done on the easement property will show it will best benefit the C&O Canal National Historical Park and best benefit the visitor," the statement said.

After joining the Park Service in 2001, Smith said, he was assigned to troubleshoot important issues, many of which came from members of Congress. "I had very broad discretion in all kinds of matters that came to the department," he said.

Smith told investigators that Mainella asked him to help Snyder after she was approached by someone at a Redskins game during the 2001-02 season, the report says. But Mainella, whom President Bush appointed in 2001, told the inspector general's office that she never intervened on Snyder's behalf and that she does not remember discussing the matter with Smith or attending a game that year, according to the report.

In an interview, Smith said investigators in their report misconstrued his statements about Mainella's role.

Smith said Mainella "was not involved about the trees." She had asked him to represent the Park Service on an earlier, separate request from Snyder in 2001 to build a ballroom on the estate he bought that year from Queen Noor, the widow of Jordan's King Hussein, for $10 million. Snyder needed Park Service approval to build the ballroom because it increased the size of the estate on an easement the agency obtained on the property in 1974. That request was approved.

The inspector general's office "got two things confused. They were two separate incidents that happened 2 1/2 years apart," Smith said.

The inspector general's report says Smith's involvement with the tree removal issue dated to 2002, when Smith called a lower-level park official to raise questions about that request.

In 2004, Kevin D. Brandt, superintendent of the C&O Canal park, negotiated a deal with Snyder allowing him to cut the trees and replace them with more than 600 native trees, such as pines.

Snyder agreed to donate an additional portion of his property to the Park Service as well as to calculate the value of his improved view. If the value of the enhanced view exceeded the value of what the Park Service gained, Snyder was to donate the difference to the federal government.

The deal outraged environmentalists and some members of Congress, who wondered whether the Park Service was in the business of selling views. After initially saying the trees were cut "by mistake," Brandt said last year that he negotiated the deal with Snyder to improve the long-term vitality of the park through the removal of nonnative species. In numerous interviews with The Post, Brandt said he never felt pressured into making the deal.

The Interior Department investigators said Brandt told them something different.

"I'm sure it influenced me," Brandt told investigators, adding that he assumed Smith was acting on behalf of Mainella, according to the report. Brandt did not respond to a request for an interview through the Park Service's public affairs office.

In the Reagan administration, Smith worked for the Department of the Interior, including as deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. For part of the 1990s, he worked on Capitol Hill for the House subcommittee on national parks and public lands.

Snyder had been trying for years to get permission to remove the trees behind his house, including an offer in 2002 to donate $25,000 to the Park Service if the trees could be cut, according to government documents. The previous superintendent of the park, Douglas D. Faris, denied the request.

In spring 2004, Snyder renewed his request for permission to cut the trees. Smith said Snyder and his attorneys called him and requested a meeting, which was held over lunch at the Snyder residence.

At the lunch, Snyder said he needed help expediting his request because a geothermal heating system was being installed in his back yard, Smith told The Post. Once it was in place, Snyder said, he wouldn't be able to place heavy equipment in his back yard, according to Smith's recollection of the meeting.

About two months after the lunch, Smith said, he took about a half-dozen officials -- including Brandt and staffers from the Park Service's regional office -- to Snyder's house. "I said, 'Mr. Snyder, these are the people you will have to work with to resolve the issue,' and I never touched the issue again," Smith told The Post.

According to the inspector general's report, Brandt -- against the advice of the Park Service's chief horticulturist -- then began working on the details of the agreement with Snyder. In the rush to complete the deal, the Park Service failed to adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to consider the impact of proposed land-use decisions.

If they had, the report concludes, the Park Service probably would have discovered that the removal of the trees -- even nonnative species -- would harm the environment. That removal has caused the hill behind Snyder's house, on Park Service property, to begin eroding, according to the report.

Snyder is now trying to get county approval to shore up a retaining wall before it crumbles into the canal, Montgomery County officials said.

And here's an earlier Post story that has Audubon Executive Director Fitzpatrick on Snyder's and NPS's claims they were motivated by environmental concerns:

"Audubon's Fitzpatrick said his organization supports removal of nonnative trees, but not by clear-cutting such a large piece of land. And they still have questions about whether the removal of exotic trees was the goal, or a rationale conjured up after the fact. Audubon arborists have examined samples collected from the hillside. They found not only ailanthus, but also evidence that large, healthy oaks and sycamores came down, as well.

"Whatever the goal was, and that's still not clear to me, the Park Service should be well aware that they can pare away nonnative trees in ways that are much softer and much gentler," Fitzpatrick said. "If Mr. Snyder is really into invasive tree management, there are a whole lot of ways to do it that are more sensitive to the integrity of the park."


It's obvious Snyder abused his position for personal gain, lied about his motives, and conspired with Manilla to let an NPS grunt (who was paid off with a directorship promotion) take the fall. I think the nail in the coffin would be to see just what kind of trees Snyder planted. Do they grow tall, like the removed oaks and sycamores? Or are they, perhaps, a more shrubby flowering tree like dogwoods.

Posted by: Mark | June 9, 2006 3:03 PM

Mark,

The IG's report made it clear that Snyder did nothing wrong. As to what went on in the NPS, the report made it clear that they have no idea. Not surprisingly, everyone there was covering his or her butt and blaming others with statements like "He influenced me." The whole affair was referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, and they couldn't find anything to bring a case over.

So, you really need to rethink the basis for your Snyder hatred. He has been investigated and absolved. Case closed.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 11, 2006 7:40 AM

By dismissing critics of Snyder's mendacity in this as Snyder haters, you must recognize that you completely fail to address the issues.

To learn more about the culture of corruption in NPS management Snyder eagerly sought, bought, and participated in, check out the recent comprehensive Vanity Fair article on the change in NPS culture under Dir Fran Manilla, and culture of influence she's brought, within NPS. You can find it here:

http://www.vanityfair.com/features/general/articles/060607fege04

If you think Snyder (and higher ups in NPS) are innocent in all this just because the NPS IG didn't refer the matter to DOJ, then you are either tragically credulous, or some sort of flak. The latter is more likely, given the effort you've made to defend him over the 9 days since this Marc first wrote this story. Sorry to be so blunt, but the independent experts, the NPS employee recanted statements/testimony, and a common-sense appreciation of how things work all strongly contradict you.
cc Marc Fisher

Posted by: Mark | June 12, 2006 10:49 AM

Mark,

The NPS DID refer this to the Department of Justice. The Justice Department could find no basis to prosecute anyone.

I don't really think of myself as defending Snyder so much as trying to help you realize the "mendacity" of your hate-driven attacks on a successful young businessman. What's that about, anyway?

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 12, 2006 2:06 PM

Still tele-diagnosing me as pathologically hating Snyder? How convenient for you.

Still so credulous as to Snyder's motives and propriety? Did you check out the VF article I linked to above? Here it is again:

http://www.vanityfair.com/features/general/articles/060607fege04

It's the most recent of many well-sourced and reported stories by respected publications which make it obvious that NPS is in the business of improperly selling privileges and favors to the eagerly-accepting wealthy and connected.

Don't think that happened here? What about the abundance of conflicting and recanted NPS employee statements? What about the promotion (to a plum out of the area assignment) of one of the NPS official who recanted his story about Mainella's personal involvement after attending a Skins game, and was reprimanded for his own involvement? What about the Audubon Society ED's comments that mature native trees (oaks and sycamores) were cut, and that in this case there are much more accepted and less destructive ways than clear-cutting for Snyder to have practiced environmentalism, if that's what he was really trying to do? What about Snyder's need to apply to NPS to "reinforce" his own retaining wall due to his clear-cutting on NPS National Historical Park land as proof of the damage he did? What about how the people involved, according to Smith's recanted statements, just happened to meet at a skins game in a stadium filled with thousands, and then later deny any memory of it? Those are just some of the inconsistencies you would have to explain, the full list just goes on and on. And I'd be willing to bet a crabcake lunch that Snyder did plant saplings of shorter species, perhaps dogwoods and redbuds, that would improve his view of the river, rather than trees that grow taller, like the removed oaks and sycamores. This would be exceedingly easy for someone to check and, given the thorough expert and physical refutation of his avowed "environmental" excuse, would be the only physical evidence as to the veracity of his stated motive. And why would he lie, if he'd nothing to hide?

Given everything we already know, that the DOJ declined to prosecute *whatever* data the NPS IG sent over would only be accepted by the very foolish, or those who benefit from accepting it, as meaning the matter is "investigated and closed".

Lastly, Kat, it's not that I hate Snyder, or even care one way or another about him. It's that he regrettably seems eager to join the hogs at the trough for an invitation-only meal, and that the trough is filled with your and my property, and that he, also regrettably, shows a complete lack of charictor in doing so. I am perfectly comfortable pointing out that, successful or not, he is obviously selfish and dishonest, and that makes him something much less than a good role model as "a successful young businessman" for the kids who watch the 'Skins or go to his amusement parks.

Posted by: Mark | June 12, 2006 4:40 PM

Mark,

Now, there you go again. Snyder is "obviously dishonest." If it were so obvious (to anyone buy you) then it would be a slam dunk to prosecute him for his dishonesty. Do you have no regard for the principle "innocent until proven guilty?" Or even "due process?" In this case the "due process" operated and revealed nothing but the usual bureaucratic contradictions, confusion and ass-covering.

As for the Vanity Fair article, it contains not a word on the matter we've been bloging about. A word search doesn't even turn up Daniel Snyder's name. And do you regard this story as "well sourced and reported?" It's mostly unverifiable statements from anonymous sources and apologies that no one would talk to him because they're afraid. More likely they wouldn't talk to him because he was ugly and had bad breath.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 12, 2006 5:23 PM

Thanks, Kat.

Your additional predictably-flakish comments made me smile. Really, you do go to great lengths to maintain your credulous pose. So much so, that I wonder if, as a child, you were known by the name Kalorama Pollyanna ;)

Anyway, it's been fun. One thing, though. I think you're the only one who's defended snyder on this blog, so it's obvious to a lot of people besides me that Snyder's dirty. Ah, well. Everyone's got to make a living somehow. Right, Kat?

Posted by: Mark | June 12, 2006 5:45 PM

Credulous? Moi? Now that's a low blow! Look, I'm willing to join you and the wolf-pack in hating Snyder, I'm just trying to understand the case against him.

On the one hand, we have Marc Fisher's mean-spirited post that began this, followed by a lot of the usual Snyder-haters. You, as the most articulate wolf in the pack, have added that your reading of the report makes it obvious that Snyder's dishonest and you cite a Vanity Fair article based on interviews with anonymous sources and an NPS official in the West that doesn't even refer to Snyder. You cite a lobbying group which (surprisingly!) thought the trees should not have been removed. And, where you don't have facts, you invent them: "I'd bet a crab cake lunch he planted dogwoods." If I'm supposed to believe this, then I guess I'm just dumb or naïve.

On the other hand we have an IG's report based on extensive interviews with all the principals. Their results were referred to the Justice Department, and they could find no basis for prosecuting anyone. Maybe I'm just a dumb bimbo, but I still can't see the case against Snyder. It's certainly not "obvious."

And as for being in a minority, I'm comfortable with that. Growing up in Georgia I was in a minority when I thought segregation was wrong. I'm not moved by your mob psychology: "It's obvious to all us boys except Pollyanna that he's guilty, so let's string him up."

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | June 13, 2006 8:32 AM

I love how, when I call you out for your flakish behavior, you lighten your tone, without changing your message. Of course, surreptitious PR can't be too heavy-handed! Given your enduring interest in this, I'm really curious: Are you on Snyder's payroll, or do you in any way profit from association with his organization(s)? I'm willing to say that I don't, and that Mr. Fisher and the Post know who I am. How about you?

Regarding your "move along, nothing to see here" message: If you bothered to read the Post's own reporting, you'd know the recanted testimony in this case (like others) puts Fran in the middle of the matter. Therefore, that the NPS IG didn't refer a prosecutable case to DOJ should not be seen as exculpatory to either Dan or Fran to anyone but the "dumb or naïve". It's a continuation of the same well-reported and established pattern at NPS. An independent investigation is clearly warranted. Especially in this case, since that the guy who said "Fran and Dan did it" recanted and, even though he took the fall with his reprimand, he was nonetheless promoted out of area to a directorship. So, yes, it's obvious to the people, who you conveniently refer to in increasingly hysterical terms as "a wolf pack of Snyder haters", that Dan's another Hog elbowing his way to the public trough, and not at all concerned about the environment, contrary to what he would have people believe.

Of course, perhaps I am wrong. I'll admit it's possible. You (or any entrepreneurial public minded soul) could settle the matter by going up river from G'town and looking at what Snyder planted on NPS property. It would even be fun! Picture a beautiful day in the park, a blanket, nice Pinot (or lemonade), crabcakes, a camera... Sound interesting?

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