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The Nation

Secret Work at Cheney's House Rattles Neighbors

December 09, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Neighbors of Vice President Dick Cheney are being shaken and rattled at least once a day by mysterious blasts at the U.S. Naval Observatory where Cheney lives.

The Navy says the explosions are part of a construction project that has been going on for several months, but won't say more because the project is classified.

Navy spokeswoman Cate Mueller described the work as an "infrastructure improvement, a utility upgrade."

She said they have tried to reassure the neighborhood -- which includes the Washington residence of former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- that the blasts will not damage their homes. She said most understand that, because of national security concerns, they can't reveal details or confine the construction to a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule.

Joseph Rieser, who lives half a block off Observatory Circle, said each blast was "almost like thunder because it rolls and it lasts a noticeable period, probably several seconds." He said the explosions rattle windows that aren't shut tight.

Rieser said his concern was that neighbors received no warning of the project. "If this were a normal construction contract I would expect that they would have told the neighbors."

Mueller acknowledged that they were "not as aggressive up front in warning" neighbors about the project.

She said the construction is expected to last eight more months, and for the time being there will be one or two blasts a day, each lasting about three to five seconds.

The blasts were being carefully monitored to assure they were well under acceptable vibration standards so there would be no damage to nearby residences or to facilities at the observatory, she said.

The Naval Observatory moved to its current location on Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington in 1893. It became the official residence for the vice president in 1974.

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