In the District, Anger Toward Endless Mess

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2008

Kathy Henderson walks through some of the alleys in her Northeast Washington neighborhood and sees images that remind her of the mid-1990s, when trash throughout the city was overflowing. Supercans were jammed, and alleys had become makeshift dumpsites, with bottles, clothes and scraps of food seemingly everywhere.

"This is crazy," said Henderson, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Carver Terrace. "Why are we talking about trash? We should be talking about community grants and projects, not trash."

In most of the District, trash collection has improved from when the city couldn't afford to pay sanitation workers, trash trucks were broken and residents were frustrated that they could not seem to get the most basic of city services. But city officials acknowledge that complaints of missed pickups and piles of trash bags and debris in the streets are not unfounded.

Henderson and several of her neighbors in Ward 5 plan to complain about their services today during a D.C. Council oversight hearing on the city's Department of Public Works and its director, William O. Howland Jr.

Yesterday, as Henderson toured alleys, she saw something that she says she had never seen since moving to Carver Terrace 10 years ago: six sanitation workers walking behind the dump truck, sweeping up debris.

To Henderson, that kind of effort has been a long time coming.

Beemon Fleming, another Ward 5 resident, said that he has been reporting illegal dumping and trash spillage to the Department of Public Works.

"Sometimes the workers are working so fast, they spill and leave the trash on the ground," Fleming said. "I've seen the trucks moving too fast for the workers to put the trash in the trucks. They need to slow down, take time and do the job right."

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, said the city's trash collection woes have moved far beyond the problems of more than a decade ago, but, to his dismay, some problems still linger.

"There are few things that can aggravate the average citizen as much as poor trash pickup and debris being thrown around," Graham said.

Substandard performance and lack of supervision are at the core of most trash collection problems, he said. "From time to time, and quite recently, it does seem as though you just have poor workmanship," he said. "Then they go out and they fix it, which means you get the right kind of supervision and the problem goes away."

Some residents in other neighborhoods have complained.

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