Noxious smells, rodents, clouds of contaminated dust, leakage of mysterious waste water and round-the-clock convoys of window-rattling trucks topped the list of complaints yesterday as District residents deplored the spread of trash transfer stations in their Northeast and Southeast neighborhoods.
A city-appointed task force, charged with drafting new regulations for the District's seven private and two municipal garbage sites, held the first in a series of public hearings yesterday at Israel Baptist Church in Brentwood. Underlying the five-hour session was concern that the city's eastern quadrants are being used as dumping stations for as much as 1 million tons of trash a year--and that the D.C. government has failed to protect city residents.
Officials on the D.C. Solid Waste Transfer Facility Site Selection Advisory Panel didn't disagree. "This situation is a result of bad planning and bad zoning," said Dorn C. McGrath Jr., chairman of the council-appointed committee.
At issue is an industry that mushroomed in the city in 1994 and 1995 after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered local governments to give up their monopoly on the waste transfer business. Critics contend that the District failed to adopt adequate legislation to control private startup firms.
Five years later, four of seven transfer stations operate without permits, and three others have interim permits that make their legal status murky. The stations collect refuse from the city, some suburban areas of Maryland and states as far away as New York, shipping 600,000 to 1 million tons a year to giant private landfills in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Industry representatives are slated to testify at a second hearing on Saturday. A spokeswoman for one of the firms said yesterday that there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by the District.
"Companies like Waste Management are inheriting the adverse will and lack of any kind of adherence to standards that some of the early owners perpetrated," said Joyce Clements-Smith, director of external affairs for the company, which operates two D.C. stations and pays more than $600,000 annually in taxes and collects fees of $4 a ton.
Residents and environmentalists yesterday called the trash stations environmental and civic blights whose operations are a legacy of the District's troubled home-rule struggle.
"Do you want restaurants and hospitals, offices and shops? Or do you want 600 garbage transfer stations?" said environmental attorney Myles Glasgow, 57, who blamed the District's zoning code for failing to separate neighborhoods from commercial districts where several stations settled.
"How many trash transfer stations does Bethesda have? Or Rockville or Alexandria?" Glasgow asked. "Is it because they're white? Or is it because we're black? Is it because they're big? Or because we're a colony?"
Pola McCorkle, 54, said she keeps a log of "the smells and the noises and the raccoons and the rats in our neighborhood" near a Browning-Ferris Industries & Consolidated Waste Industries site at 1220 W St. NE.
When she reported her concerns to the city, she said, "One official told me, as if he was tired of my calling, that I was just an ant" to the companies. "We can't sell our homes. And we can't enjoy our homes. All we can do is record and call. That is not enough!"
Neighbors described finding opossums and rats in their back yards and enduring odors that require them to constantly run air conditioners. "The hotter it gets, the longer the stench hovers over our homes," said Rosalee Collins, 64. "Between the car and the house, the flies eat you alive."
The panel said that all the stations are in technical violation of a city law passed last year that requires that they be at least 500 feet away from residences. The panel, which includes one industry representative, will publish recommendations by May and release a final report to the council by June 9.
CAPTION: Ward 6 resident Helena Darden describes the smell from a nearby trash transfer site during a D.C. panel meeting. Venious Parker, right, also spoke.