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WASHINGTON (AP) — Kayakers, paddleboarders and other active groups can continue to use the Potomac River near a Virginia golf course owned by President Donald Trump, the commandant of the Coast Guard said Tuesday.
The Coast Guard has been closing a 2-mile section of the river when Trump is at his golf course, prompting protests from boaters and other groups, including a group of wounded veterans who use the area for therapy. Two Democratic lawmakers questioned the need to close the river to accommodate Trump.
Adm. Paul Zukunft said he and other officials listened to the complaints, "and we are making accommodations for the public."
As long as river enthusiasts stay on the Maryland side of the river, they can continue to use canoes, kayaks and other watercraft, Zukunft told lawmakers at a House hearing on Tuesday.
Zukunft said he flew over the area near the Sterling, Virginia, golf course — 25 miles north of the White House — last weekend, after receiving complaints about the river closures.
"We can make an accommodation here," he told lawmakers.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., called Zukunft's announcement "welcome news."
DeFazio and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., had complained that a new security zone being established by the Coast Guard was unfair to river users. DeFazio is the senior Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, while Garamendi is the senior Democrat on a Coast Guard and maritime transportation subcommittee.
"Time and again President Trump, with the aid of the Secret Service, has disregarded the needs of the general public for his own personal benefit and convenience," DeFazio and Garamendi wrote in a letter to Zukunft last week.
The Coast Guard policy, which is still being developed, has drawn complaints from a host of river users, including the Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, the Calleva summer camp in Poolesville, Maryland, and Team River Runner, a kayaking program for wounded and disabled veterans.
Zukunft said he was concerned that a lack of foliage near the golf course posed a security threat, but said he would work with river users to "strike a balance" that would allow continued use of the river while ensuring the president's safety while on the golf course.
DeFazio and Garamendi, in their letter, called security concerns caused by lack of foliage "ironic," noting that "the Trump Organization cut down a stand of mature trees along the shoreline in 2010 that would have obscured the line of sight and mitigated security concerns."
The removal of the trees prompted protests at the time from environmentalists and paddlers. Concerns about the president's security could be allayed by replanting trees along the banks of the river at the golf course, as the Trump organization promised in 2010, DeFazio and Garamendi wrote.
Susan Sherrod, chairwoman of the canoe cruisers group, called the commandant's comments encouraging, but said river users want to ensure access to both sides of the Potomac. While Coast Guard officials have been "polite," river users still are worried about "an accidental conflict" on the river, she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
"We would just like to have the Coast Guard give us a written description of what's allowed and what's not allowed when Trump plays golf," she said.
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