Brentwood Trash Facility Fight Spans Two Decades

Opponents of the trash transfer station say it represents
Opponents of the trash transfer station say it represents "environmental racism" against the mostly black, working-class neighborhood in which it is located. (By Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)
By Ashlee Clark
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The flies signal summer at Ruth J. Wilson's house.

They zip in through open doors and crawl into the refrigerator.

During last summer's invasion, Wilson gathered up some of the dead flies, sealed them in an envelope and mailed the package to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They identified the insects as humpback flies.

Wilson says they're invading her house on 13th Street NE because of the waste transfer center a few hundred feet away.

The USDA letter is among the piles of documents that chronicle two decades of complaints by Wilson and her neighbors since the trash transfer station opened in 1988. Their grievance centers on the presence and stench of the garbage processed and stored at the facility until it is taken to landfills, attracting flies, raccoons, possums and rats.

But officials of Square 3942 Limited Partnership, which owns the facility, say that they are observing regulations and that they improved the property when they bought it by cleaning up a vacant lot strewn with waste.

The dispute is approaching its second decade, but the large group that once rallied in opposition has dwindled to a small, frustrated band of neighbors led by Wilson.

Wilson's latest tactic, based on researching the Clean Air Act, is to contend that the transfer station violates air pollution standards. She has also charged that the placement of the transfer facility is an example of "environmental racism" against the working-class neighborhood, where mostly African Americans reside.

In her Brentwood neighborhood, off Rhode Island Avenue, Wilson, a former schoolteacher, is well known for her community activism. She has spoken out for literacy programs in D.C. public schools and helped organize a project to preserve the history of North Brentwood, the Prince George's community where she grew up.

But it is the fight over trash that riles her. Though she and her allies are sick of the garbage and the pests they say it brings, the daily grind has overtaken the activist spirit in some neighbors.

"They're not apathetic. They're just tired," Wilson said. "I'm not tired. I was born a fighter."

As Wilson devises new strategies to uproot the station, the transfer station owners face litigation with the city to keep the business open. The District contends that the transfer facility is not in compliance with permit regulations.

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