Canoeing group sues over restrictions near Trump golf course

Donald Trump joins in the celebration of the opening of his championship golf course in Sterling, VA.
Jeffrey MacMillan for The Washington Post | Getty Images
Donald Trump joins in the celebration of the opening of his championship golf course in Sterling, VA.

A canoeing group filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration Thursday, claiming President Donald Trump's use of his golf course in Northern Virginia has led to illegal restrictions on the Potomac River.

The court filing by the Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington seeks the U.S. District Court in Maryland to declare a Coast Guard rule that prevents use of the river that abuts Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, unlawful. The "permanent security zone" is in effect when Trump is at his golf course, often on weekends and holidays when the river that separates Maryland and Virginia is the most active.

"It is unconscionable that public access to this important stretch of the Potomac, which serves as a training ground for generations of paddlers, is cast into doubt so the President can play golf at his whim," said Canoe Cruisers Association Chairman Barbara Brown said in a statement. "The Administration needs to listen to the hundreds of river users who opposed this rule, and establish with certainty a reasonable outcome that maintains access to this treasured natural resource while addressing the legitimate security considerations for the President."

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A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The canoe association of more than 250 members claims in the lawsuit that a rule change by the Coast Guard in June 2017 established the two-mile zone that shut off access when Trump was at his course without public comment. According to the lawsuit, the rule has remained in place despite assurances by the DHS.

The lawsuit listed 32 times when the waters were off-limits as Trump visited the golf course from June 24, 2017, through September 8. Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Karl L. Schutlz, the U.S. Coast Guard, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen and DHS are listed as defendants.

The lawsuit is backed by Democracy Forward, a progressive non-profit that has filed multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration.

Before the rule change, a less expansive and temporary security zone was set up on the waters immediately adjacent to the golf course when Trump was at the course in the first few months of his presidency, according to the lawsuit.

There were 634 comments lodged during a one-month comment period last year after the rule went in in place, the vast majority seeking a change in the rule.

"There are other places the President can play golf that do not have the negative consequences to the public proposed in this rule," Linette Lander, one of the commenters, wrote. "Restricting a public river to the extent proposed is unnecessary and unreasonable. The public should not be deprived of the recreational opportunities at close proximity to an urban area that are afforded by the Potomac River just so that a wealthy individual with many options can play golf everywhere. The golf course at Andrews Joint Base is an option he can use on the rare weekend occasions when the President is in the Washington Metropolitan Area."

Other commenters mentioned that such a strict perimeter would be unnecessary had Trump not removed more than 450 trees along the Potomac River after he purchased the course in 2009.

"If his organization had not illegally destroyed hundreds of trees to construct the course, there would be no security question related to the club house or course itself," wrote Penelope Longbottom. "As it is, this majestic river should be open for all visitors to enjoy, whether local residents, recreational and education as well as conservation efforts."