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Trash transfer execs blame city for poor site standards

(Published April 10, 2000)

By SAM STRIKE

Staff Writer

Representatives from the two largest trash companies in the United States blame the D.C. government for their companies’ failure to implement the solid waste industry’s "best practices" performance standards at the trash transfer stations they operate in the District.

Jim Stone, district manager for Waste Management Inc., said that implementing performance standards that would lessen the detrimental impact of transfer stations on surrounding neighborhoods requires more of an investment than his company is willing to make "unless we have an opportunity to recover that investment."

Many residents who live near the privately run transfer stations have complained for years that the stations are causing health problems. They also complain of noxious odors, garbage truck traffic, and late night and early morning operations that disturb the peace of their neighborhoods.

Stone said that while Waste Management has made significant changes to its two D.C. facilities, much more can be done. But he said the government "is trying to legislate us out of business" by creating unrealistic zoning requirements and buffers.

"They’re not giving us a chance to use our best practices…all we need is a fair set of standards," he said.

Imposing performance standards would be a more effective way to run a good waste management system that would also not disturb the surrounding neighborhood, said

(See TRASH, page 10)

Dorn McGrath, chairman of the D.C. Solid Waste Transfer Facility Site Selection Advisory Panel.

The council-appointed volunteer panel of nine D.C. residents is assessing trash transfer sites in the District to make recommendations for future sites.

"Trash transfer can be as benign as an office building," said McGrath, who notes that the controversial issue must be resolved because trash transfer stations are necessary.

He compared a city without trash transfer stations to a house without a bathroom.

Brad Howard, general manager of the Browning Ferris Industries transfer station at 1220 W St. NE, said that the sentiment among most trash company officials is the same.

"If the District puts standards together, we’ll all follow them. Just make sure they’re the same for everyone," he said.

Howard said city-operated trash trucks are allowed to start picking up trash earlier in the morning than private ones. The District also imposes a tax on trash that comes into the city, a tax that he said the city-owned transfer stations don’t have to pay. The D.C. Department of Public Works runs transfer stations at 4900 Bates Road NE (a citizen disposal site) and at 3200 Benning Road NE.

The D.C. government and the industry have not yet come up with a way to effectively run the trash transfer system because they’re using solid waste as a political issue, said A.J. Cooper, counsel for Eastern Trans-Waste of Maryland, which runs a transfer station at 1329 First St. SE. He said the District still wants to collect money from the private trash transfer companies that it used to get when all trash from the District had to be transferred to the city’s landfill in Fairfax County, Va.

By law all of the city’s zoning regulations are supposed to apply to the city’s stations as well, Cooper said. But "city inspectors don’t enforce them against the city," he said, adding that the District’s stations "are operated in a way probably worse that any private operator could get away with."

Residents complain that the transfer sites do not comply with 1998 zoning laws mandating that the transfer stations must be 500 feet from any residential property line, one of numerous regulations passed by the D.C. City Council.

The zoning laws originally implemented in 1958, which still stand, were "crudely done and badly administered ever since," said McGrath, chairman of the Department of Geography at George Washington University and director of the Institute for Urban Environmental Research.

"One of the crudest forms of protection is to provide distance, which is quite arbitrary. What’s more important is how you control material, hours of operation and code enforcement," McGrath said. He said the District is ineffective at all three.

Locally unwanted land use such as chemical factories, junk yards and other "things no one wants to live beside" can be tamed to control noise, vibration and other disturbing side effects of what McGrath calls a city’s "fundamental business."

"The District doesn’t have decent performance standards … it has bad zoning, which is why you end up with poorly developed sites next to neighborhoods," he said.

Jean Mason lives in one of those neighborhoods. Mason, president of the Arboretum Neighborhood Association, lives four blocks from the Waste Management Waste Transfer Station at 2160 Queens Chapel Road NE and has been fighting trash transfer stations for years.

"How are we going to attract the businesses we want on New York Avenue?…No one is going to put a business knowingly near a trash transfer station," she said.

Waste Management’s Stone said that buffers could disguise both the physical plant and possible dust and odor so that people wouldn’t be able to tell that there is even a trash transfer station in the area.

"The stations currently operated by the private sector – all of them – could be improved if the standards were there and we all knew we could continue to have the right to do business," he said.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator