A D.C. inspector who discovered that a city contractor was dumping chemically treated sludge near the Fort Lincoln "new town" development in Northeast and ordered it stopped on Aug. 17 now faces possible disciplinary action for allegedly exceeding his authority.
John R. Redmon, a soil erosion and sedimentation inspector in the newly created D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, was placed under departmental review after Public Works Director John Touchstone complained that Redmon had interfered with the landfill operation, officials said.
Carol Thompson, director of consumer and regulatory affairs, said yesterday that Redmon apparently acted without first consulting his superiors and could receive a reprimand or suspension, depending on the outcome of the personnel investigation.
"He gave the order just before he left on vacation, and his supervisor didn't know anything about it," Thompson said.
Redmon, who worked at the regional Blue Plains sewage treatment plant for the Department of Environmental Services (DES) until he was transferred recently to Thompson's department as part of a reorganization, said yesterday that he did not have authority to publicly discuss the matter.
However, a D.C. government source knowledgable about the sludge operations said that Redmon may have stumbled into a political buzzsaw by meddling with the city's troubled sludge-disposal operations.
The District government, responsible for disposing of about 900 tons of the 1,500 tons of sludge generated daily at the Blue Plains plant, has had serious problems in finding a contractor who can handle the bulk of the sludge buildup.
The city recently negotiated an $8-million-a-year contract with a joint venture, the Jones & Artis Construction Co. and National Environmental Services Inc., to chemically treat and dispose of about 600 tons of the sludge daily. But the contractor lost a permit to dispose of the material at a Prince George's County landfill in June, and since then has not been able to find another site.
Faced with an alarming buildup of sludge this summer, high-level city officials quietly authorized Jones & Artis to dump thousands of tons of the clay-like sludge, called "Chemfix," at three locations within the city: at Fort Lincoln, the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital for the mentally ill, and in a residential area near 18th and Frankford streets SE.
City officials said the Chemfix was used at the three sites as part of legitimate land reclamation activities.
However, Chemfix gives off a strong odor when left uncovered by soil, which prompted complaints from Southeast Washington residents who live near St. Elizabeths. Also, DES officials acknowledged in a memo that pollution control at the Fort Lincoln site, southeast of the intersection of New York and South Dakota avenues NE, "may present a long-term maintenance problem."
Redmon, who maintains an office at Blue Plains along with DES officials, ordered a halt to the dumping operation at Fort Lincoln after concluding that the contractor had not taken adequate precautions to prevent pollutants in Chemfix from escaping into a nearby stream and the Anacostia River, according to the government source.
DES, which technically authorized the contractor to dispose of the Chemfix within the city, generally is responsible for issuing permits for landfill operations, such as the one near Fort Lincoln. However, Redmon's agency also may be required to issue a permit if a landfill site is to be used for construction.
The Fort Lincoln dumping site is owned by the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. Housing officials said recently that the property probably will be used for light industrial or commercial development.
Touchstone, who oversees DES as part of his broad responsibilities as public works director, confirmed yesterday that he had protested Redmon's action.
"I was concerned that he had stopped it," Touchstone said. "As far as any administrative action against him , that's up to his supervisor."
Touchstone said he did not know whether the contractor had made any headway in finding a new disposal site for the Chemfix. About 40,000 to 50,000 tons of the sludge reportedly has piled up at Blue Plains--just about the maximum the plant can handle.