WASHINGTON – Virginia officials on Friday laid out for a Supreme Court special master their argument that the state has greater authority over the Potomac River than claimed by Maryland, which has controlled most of the river since Colonial days.
The brief filed Friday relies on three agreements — dating back to 1785 – – that Virginia attorneys say override a 1632 decree from King Charles I that gave Maryland control over the river.
“Virginia has the right to use the river and to build improvements in the river beyond the shore line, without interference from Maryland,” said Stuart Raphael, an attorney representing the commonwealth, in a statement on the case.
A Maryland assistant attorney general said there were no surprises in Virginia’s argument and that the state would definitely file a response. Maryland’s answer is not due to be filed with special master Ralph Lancaster until February, in a case that all sides agree could take years to resolve.
Friday’s filing is the latest development in a centuries-old spat between the two states over control of the border river.
The Supreme Court case arose earlier this year out of a fight over a Fairfax County, Va., request to extend a water-intake pipe farther out in the river. The Fairfax County Water Authority said it had to extend its intake pipe, because the current pipe was clogging in shallow water.
The county applied to Maryland almost five years ago for permission to build the new intake pipe, but the Maryland Department of Environment rejected the application. Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening has described the project as a threat to the environment.
Virginia officials accused Maryland of dragging its feet on the permit. They appealed the permit rejection to arbitration and, earlier this year, asked the Supreme Court to step in to the dispute.
Bernard Penner, a Maryland Department of Environment official tapped to act as arbiter in the dispute, sided with Virginia on Nov. 7, saying that the proposed intake pipe did not pose enough of a threat to be canceled.
Maryland went to court this week, suing itself, in essence, to overturn Penner’s ruling. No action has been taken on that case in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
The next step in the Supreme Court case is Maryland’s reply in February. Once that is filed, Virginia can send in a final response to that brief. If the issue is not resolved by then, the case would go to arguments before Lancaster.
Lancaster, a Maine lawyer with experience in interstate disputes, was appointed by the Supreme Court this fall to grapple with the Potomac River fight. He said Friday that his office had received Virginia’s brief, but he had not yet had a chance to read it.