Jack's Boathouse
Jack's Boathouse

Jack’s Boathouse, the popular Georgetown boating establishment facing eviction as early as next month, will file a complaint with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia this week to prevent the National Park Service from moving forward with its process to establish a new concession for the site.

The move comes after the D.C. attorney general’s office declined late last week to issue a public opinion on the dispute between Jack’s and NPS. The attorney general’s office looked into the case after Jack’s owner Paul Simkin and his attorney Charles Camp discussed the matter with Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who passed the information along to the A.G.

Further complicating matters for Jack’s is a newly surfaced 1987 letter signed by then-mayor Marion Barry and NPS National Capital Region Director Manus J. Fish. The 1985 D.C. Council resolution authorizing the transfer of jurisdiction over the Georgetown waterfront from D.C. to the federal government stipulated that the land would revert to the city in the event of amendments to a related deed. Camp asserted that there had been two amendments, and therefore NPS no longer had jurisdiction over the land. Moreover, he said, NPS had not fulfilled its obligation in the 1985 resolution to maintain all wharves and piers on the transferred land.

But the resolution was also contingent on the “exchange of letters” between the mayor’s office and NPS clarifying a few points in the transfer. For a time, no one could find any such letters, and Camp was skeptical of their existence. But late last week, NPS got a hold of the key letter and passed it along to me.

The letter is more specific on the point of amendments than the original resolution, establishing that reversion will occur if the deed “is amended by other than technical or insubstantial amendments.” It also clarifies that NPS is responsible for maintaining piers and wharves that are “not the subject of leases located on the transferred land or in the adjacent waters,” as Jack’s is.

Peter May, NPS’ associate regional director for the National Capital Region, believes the letter makes clear that NPS retains jurisdiction over the property. “It’s not a blanket call for reversion, that with any amendments it would revert,” he says. “It was more specific than that.”

May adds, “The exchange of letters also stated that the maintenance of wharves and piers would be the responsibility of the Park Service except for leased properties. There were several leased properties at the time of the transfer, but Jack’s is the only one that remains.”

But Camp disagrees that the letter simply clarifies the resolution and argues that the two documents are in fact contradictory. “There’s a fundamental inconsistency between the resolution and the letter,” Camp says.

Camp also says the wording of the letter doesn’t give NPS blanket authority over the property. The letter states, “The District of Columbia shall delegate its duties under existing leases and shall assign the rents derived from existing leases to the National Park Foundation, to be used to the benefit of the Georgetown Waterfront Park.”

According to camp, that doesn’t allow NPS to evict one tenant and install another. “It’s a limited transfer,” he says. “It’s to administer and maintain it. It’s not to kick a tenant out.”

As for the question of whether the letter supersedes the 1985 Council resolution, Camp says, “I think that’s a question for the U.S. District Court to decide.”

Camp says the complaint to the court will seek “a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and damages.” He’s also said that if NPS moves to install a new operator, he and Simkin will sue the operator.

An NPS spokeswoman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery