The District’s waterfront was busy this week. On Tuesday, a slew of politicians attended the ribbon cutting for Yards Park, a $42 million undertaking that boasts sprawling views of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.
Less than a mile northeast, a coalition of organizations—the Anacostia Watershed Society, Anacostia Watershed Citizens Advisory Committee, Anacostia Riverkeeper, D.C. Environmental Network, Groundwork Anacostia River and the Sierra Club Environmental Justice—released a much less glamorous message at the former location of Washington Gas & Light.
Six land-based sites along the Anacostia River are toxic, and “contribute to contamination of the Lower Anacostia River,” according to a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin. While cleanup efforts are underway at the Washington Navy Yard, the Southeast Federal Center, and Poplar Point, three sites—Kenilworth Landfill, Pepco Benning Road, and Washington Gas & Light—could qualify for Superfund designation.
“If measures to comprehensively address these sites in a transparent and legally enforceable manner are not in effect by mid December 2010, EPA intends to address these sites using appropriate Federal authorities,” states Garvin’s letter. Brent Bolin, the Anacostia Watershed Society’s director of advocacy, emphasized that there has been no response from Mayor Adrian Fenty or his administration.
“The EPA has made it clear that three out of six sites are worth of Superfund listing. The mayor’s office has not been enthusiastic… everyone wants to see redevelopment come to [riverfront] communities. They’d like this to be quieter to make redevelopment easier,” he stated at Tuesdsay’s press conference.
Many officials came from the Yards Park ribbon cutting to the press conference, including Council Chairman Vincent Gray, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. Those in attendance pledged their dedication to kickstart a transparent cleanup process of the Anacostia River by meeting the EPA’s December 2010 deadline. The mayor did not attend.
Asked about past and present mayoral responses to river cleanup efforts, Jim Collier, a former supervisor of DDOE’s Water Quality Division, wrote in an e-mail, “Mayor Williams supported the restoration of the Anacostia River and made efforts to find ways to finance the programs. The last Fenty budget made large cuts in the DDOE stormwater budget…”
Anacostia Riverkeeper Dottie Yunger noted that “The administration has known all along about the toxic sites. At Poplar Point, the administration planned development instead of cleanup. The Mayor signed the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009, but then tried to raid its cleanup fund to pay for street sweeping in wards that do not border the Anacostia.”
Given the Fenty administration’s apparent disinterest in the Anacostia’s condition, the Sept. 14 primary could determine whether the city meets the EPA’s demands or dawdles, forcing federal involvement. An ideal response for organizations working on grassroots river cleanup would naturally be cooperation, said Bolin. “For years, D.C. has asked the feds to step up and do their part. Now they want to, and D.C. is resisting. It defies sense,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It is just a weaker foundation to build the cleanup on.”