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Environmentalists, haulers find common ground

(Published May 7, 2001)


Staff Writer

The Williams administration has brokered tentative agreement between environmentalists and trash haulers that may resolve the city’s longstanding legal and nuisance complaints over how the city disposes of its garbage.

Key features of the plan call for closing the trash transfer station operated by Waste Management Inc. inside the former Uline Arena at Third and M streets NE, in the middle of a densely populated residential area near Capitol Hill, and scrapping the recommendation to open a new transfer station in Ward 8.

Significant increases in government, commercial and residential recycling efforts coupled with major investment in state-of-the-art features to lessen nuisance problems caused by existing transfer stations are also key to the plan.

"I think we’re really close to solving the problem....Everything is coming into place," said Neil Seldman of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who has been an activist on local trash transfer issues for more than two decades.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams quietly sought out his own panel of experts on solid waste disposal after the city council’s trash transfer advisory panel presented recommendations at the end of last year that were met with criticism from residents, environmentalists and trash haulers alike.

The mayor’s panel made three major recommendations in its seven-page report presented on April 27:

*Upgrade the city-owned Fort Totten and Benning Road transfer stations with multimillion dollar capital improvements to minimize their noxious impact and resume accepting waste from private haulers, who have been shut out of using the public facilities for nearly 10 years.

*Rigorously enforce existing regulations on private transfer stations and close those that cannot come into compliance.

*Vastly improve the current citywide recycling rate of less than 10 percent of total trash. The mayor’s panel also said it is "unnecessary" to open recycling drop-off centers in each ward, as recommended by the council’s advisory panel, and recommended that the Fort Totten and Benning Road sites both accept on a daily basis a wide range of recyclable materials and household hazardous waste.

The report largely blames the city’s failure to maintain and upgrade its trash transfer stations over the years for creating the need for the private transfer stations that have caused thousands of D.C. residents to complain of vermin, noise and noxious odors they cause in residential neighborhoods.

"It would be prohibitively expensive, environmentally unsound, and probably illegal for the City to ban private trash-transfer stations," the mayor’s panel said. However, the panel – which included a representative of the Sierra Club – called for "state-of-the-art mitigation measures and design features" to be added to existing public and private stations.

"High recycling rates are important," the report said, because recycling reduces pollution, creates jobs and lowers the cost of trash disposal.

The mayor’s panel cited a 1997 study undertaken for former city councilman Harry Thomas, then chairman of the Public Works Committee, which "indicated that the City would reap multi-million dollars savings from an effective recycling system and modernization of the Fort Totten and Benning Road facilities.

"DPW has approval to hire eight new staff to be on board this summer to carry out recycling education and public awareness and other functions in the residential and non-residential sectors," the report noted. The Department of Public Works currently has only one full-time equivalent position dedicated to all citywide recycling efforts, the report said.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator