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Mayor, council target polluted sites cleanup

(Published November 15, 1999)


Staff Writer

The Potomac Electric Co. pump house on Half and V streets SW has seen better days. The crumbling husk along the Anacostia waterfront in Southwest -- which has been abandoned for 15 years -- was once used to bring water into an electric generating facility for cooling. Now it is a brownfield — an abandoned, polluted site.

But under an initiative Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced Nov. 4, the desolate, dilapidated site despoiled by lead and asbestos pollution would be converted into a community learning center and a fisheries research station. It would be one of the first of 11 sites that would be cleaned up and redeveloped as part of his effort to revitalize the city.

"With the help of our partners, Pepco, the Earth Conservation Corps, the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service the D.C. government, and HUD, we are now returning this polluted site to its proper use and, with it, reconnecting our citizens to the waterfront," Williams said. "Our city -- like other great American cities -- suffered when citizens were removed from the waterfront, from sites such as this.

"Our city is not going to succeed without a conscious effort at supporting our environment," he added.

The mayor’s proposal calls for establishing cleanup standards, requires the mayor to publish a hazardous substances response plan, allows companies to voluntarily clean up polluted sites after submitting an application to the mayor, and would grant companies relief from liability as long as they conform with environmental safety regulations. Williams said that his legislation would set up a clearly defined cleanup process so that developers will not be afraid of future liability.

"Too many times in the past these sites were essentially tort liability workshops," Williams said. "This removes that problem."

The mayor was joined at the press conference by D.C. City Council members Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, Charlene Drew Jarvis, D-Ward 4, Sharon Ambrose, D-Ward 6, Sandra Allen, D-Ward 8, and Council Chairman Linda Cropp. Also in attendance were Brenda Richardson, co-chair of the Brownfield Redevelopment Action Team, Pepco chairman John Derrick, Robert M. Pinkard of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Environmental Protection Agency representative Marjorie Buckholtz and Refrigeration Supply Co. Inc. owner Pinak Mehta, a representative of the District’s small business community.

"Some of my greatest interests are in maintaining the health of this city," said Allen, the head of the council’s human services committee. "As we look at the environmental health of the city, we’re also looking at the economic growth of the city."

Allen and Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, introduced a similar bill in June that called for voluntary brownfields cleanups along with liability relief.

Allen said her committee gave $100,000 of Medicaid surplus funds last year to the health department to develop an initiative to clean up brownfields to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations. The EPA contributed $700,000 during the last year to help clean up the city’s brownfields, Buckholtz said.

Evans, who chairs the council’s finance committee, said he envisions an accessible riverfront stretching from the Navy Yard to Georgetown. He called on the General Services Administration, the Navy and the National Park Service to assist the District’s cleanup effort.

"Our riverfront can once again become the recreational facility it should be and the beautiful facility that it should be," he said.

Councilman David Catania, R-At large, who did not attend the press conference, also introduced brownfields legislation on Nov. 2. Catania’s legislation would authorize the mayor to propose rules to establish tax credits for brownfields cleanup and make grants or low-interest loans available to finance it. His proposal would also establish tax-exempt funds resembling IRA’s to aid in brownfields remediation and redevelopment.

"One of the great difficulties for cities such as Washington is that there are vast tracts of abandoned lands left vacant because of environmental contamination," Catania said. "Current federal law, which makes property owners liable for any clean up, frequently make it prohibitive to develop the land. While there remains a need for federal reform, the District can do its part to lower the cost of developing the lands and improving the environment by offering its own tax credits and rate reductions."

Evans predicted that all three bills would pass quickly.

Pinkard also urged the council to pass the legislation.

"The board of trade does support this win-win solution not because it creates development opportunities in this city but because it enhances the quality of life," he said.

"As the District continues to move forward in these booming economic times, every part of the city is not sharing in this bounty equally," Pinkard added, citing that Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8 have "not reached their full commercial and residential development potential. With Mayor Williams’ initiative, today that legacy is about to change forever," he said.

The city lists its 11 brownfields sites as the city’s vehicle impoundment lot at 1060 Brentwood Road NE, the seven-acre site owned by CSX railroad at First and N streets NE, the Southeast Federal Center just west of the Navy Yard on M Street SE, the Washington Gas site east of the 11th Street bridge, the Pepco pump house at Half and V streets SW, a 4.7-acre privately owned former dump in Ward 8, a 100-acre site at South Capitol Street and Southern Avenue, D.C. Village in far Southwest, and a contaminated greenhouse at Poplar Point.

Among other groups supporting the mayor’s initiative are Bank of America, Washington Navy Yard, Bridges to Friendship, Sustainable Washington Alliance, Howard University School of Social Work, Far Southwest/Southeast Community Development Corp. and Women Like Us.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator