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Forklift Damages Fort McHenry Walkway Ahead Of VP Mike Pence's RNC Speech

BALTIMORE (AP) -- A forklift has damaged a brick walkway at the iconic national monument Fort McHenry, where Republicans were building a stage for Vice President Mike Pence's appearance for the party's national convention, a National Park Service spokeswoman said Monday.

A national parks advocacy group expressed outrage at the damage, saying stewardship of national monuments should be nonpartisan and professional.

National Park Service spokeswoman Stephanie Roulett confirmed the damage in an email Monday. She said the damaged bricks dated from a 1930s restoration at the fort but gave no details.

Built in 1798, Fort McHenry and the Americans in it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from the British Navy in the War of 1812. The scene inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner." The U.S. designates the fort as a national monument and historic shrine.

This month, the Maryland Republican Party asked for and got a special-use permit from the National Park Service to use the fort as a backdrop for Pence's political address Wednesday during the Republican National Convention. The park service provided The Associated Press a copy of the permit, which calls the event a political rally and said crews would be building a stage inside the fort, among other work.

The NPS carried out an initial assessment of the damage and "will conduct a full evaluation following the conclusion of the permitted event," Roulett said.

The National Park Service's website says the fort is closed to the public for the coronavirus pandemic. Its grounds are open, however.

The Coalition to Protect America's National Parks disclosed reports of damage at the fort from the event in a letter it sent acting park service head Margaret Everson and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Monday.

The coalition's chairman, Philip A. Francis Jr., asked the officials to investigate the damage and change agency policy to prevent future such damage.

"We are questioning the National Park Service's ability to properly monitor this permit for the protection of the public's resources due to the nature of the political event," Francis wrote.

As a designated free-speech use of the federal property, the rally did not require the usual posting of financial bond and insurance. Roulett said the permit-holders would still be responsible for the cost, however.

The park service also did not immediately respond to a request on the review process it used in considering the permit request.

President Donald Trump has frequently used iconic public sites, including the National Mall and Mount Rushmore, as settings for fireworks displays and speeches to his supporters. The National Park Service, whose acting chief Bernhardt recently replaced, also authorized Republicans to set off fireworks at the Washington Monument on Thursday for Trump's speech accepting the party's nomination.

(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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