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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 17:05 GMT
Cheney's neighbours stoke bunker rumours
US vice-president's official residence
Vice-presidents have used the house since 1974
Dick Cheney is getting a nuclear bunker. Or a spy tunnel. Or a helicopter landing pad. Or maybe nothing at all.

Rumours are rife in Washington about the nature of building work being carried out at the Naval Observatory, which includes the official residence of the vice-president of the United States.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney
Mr Cheney was taken to secure locations after the 11 September attacks
But though regular blasts and construction traffic show that something is going on at 1 Observatory Circle, no-one will say what it is.

Neighbours upset by the noise were sent a letter from the observatory's superintendent which said: "Due to its sensitive nature in support of national security and homeland defence, project specific information is classified and cannot be released."

The letter went on to say that the work was urgent and needed to be done "on a highly accelerated schedule".

A spokeswoman for the US Navy told BBC News Online that the work was "an infrastructure and utility upgrade".

'Deep digging'

She could not comment on whether the work was at Mr Cheney's home or elsewhere in the grounds which continue to be used by the navy for scientific work and contains the clock which sets official time in the US.

Neighbours contacted by The Washington Post newspaper said they believed workers were digging deep into the ground but without official information, they are left to speculate about the purpose.

1 Observatory Circle
Built 1893 for superintendent of naval observatory
Chief of naval operations took over house in 1923
Became official vice-presidential residence in 1974
While there is no word that Mr Cheney's home is even involved, the vice-president's key role in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks and the admitted "national security and homeland defence" nature of the work is fuelling the rumours.

In the hours that followed hijacked planes being flown into buildings in New York and Washington, correspondents say Mr Cheney took charge of running the government while President Bush stayed out of the capital.

After that he was shuttled between various secret and secure locations and is said to remain a key player in security matters.

Disturbance

But residents in his neighbourhood a couple of miles north-west of the White House are more concerned about the noise.

Nancy Nord told The Washington Post: "None of the neighbours object to any construction that is necessary in the navy's view.

"What we do object to is that there is no sense of the magnitude, no warning about something so intrusive to our lives and no clear sense how long this is going to go or when it's going to stop."

The navy spokeswoman told the BBC that measures were being taken to minimise disturbance as the work continues for the next few months and reassure homeowners that their properties will not be damaged.


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