Interstate-Garbage Trial in Va. Postponed

The flow of out-of-state garbage into Virginia is at record levels, environmentalists say, and a court case that could decide whether the state can restrict it has been put on hold.

The case was to go to trial in federal court in Richmond last Tuesday to settle a challenge by waste-hauling companies to a series of laws that Virginia passed last year to cap landfill dumping, ban garbage barges and impose other restrictions on waste disposal. But the court postponed the trial indefinitely to consider motions by each side for summary judgment. That left in place a temporary injunction that the judge granted in June to stop Virginia from implementing the laws.

The postponement has alarmed environmental groups, which say that huge trash-hauling companies are taking advantage of the injunction to dump more garbage in Virginia than ever. According to James W. Sharp, executive director of Campaign Virginia, an ecological group in Richmond, the state is receiving more than 5 million tons of imported trash a year, compared with 3 million tons in 1997.

By the time New York City closes its last landfill at Fresh Kills, Staten Island, at the end of next year, Virginia likely will be getting as much as 8 million tons of out-of-state trash a year, Sharp said.

Shawn Copeland, a lawyer for Houston-based Waste Management Inc., the nation's largest trash hauler and the leading plaintiff in the lawsuit against Virginia over the new laws, said he was "not prepared to discuss" the volume of trash now flowing into the state. The waste industry's self-reported figures for last year will not be made public until spring or early summer.

While the largest share of Virginia's imported garbage comes from New York, other states are also contributing to the increases, Campaign Virginia says. At least 23 states now send waste to Virginia, the group says, including Maryland, New Jersey and even Pennsylvania, the only state that imports more garbage than the Old Dominion.

"Virginia has become a trash dump for the entire East Coast," said Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

"While people may get worked up about the fact that New York City is dumping trash in Virginia, the real problem is the liability associated with future cleanup," he said. "Waste Management is not going to be around to clean up the mess 20 or 30 years from now, and New York City is not going to chip in. It's the taxpayers of Virginia who will be paying the bill."

The dumping has persisted despite all the groups' efforts, including sardonic attempts to shame the trash industry's high-priced lobbyists. The Sierra Club last year drew up award certificates proclaiming "I Love New York Garbage" and faxed them to leading lobbyists. "They weren't too happy about it," Besa said.

-- William Branigin

2 Canal Houses Rented; 5 More Available

The C&0 Canal National Historical Park has found tenants for the two historic canal lock houses in Montgomery County that it put up for lease last summer.

Lock house 6, near Glen Echo, and lock house 10, near Cabin John, are two-bedroom, 150-year-old stone structures that once housed the families of the lock tenders along the 184.5-mile canal.

In recent years, the houses have often been unoccupied, and the park wanted adventurous tenants to watch over the properties and help with the upkeep.

"It's much better for the structure to have somebody living in it and having it consistently cared for, than having it vacant," Debbie Conway, the park's chief of interpretation, said Friday.

"The superintendent is very happy to have someone there," she said. With the park's numerous historic buildings, "it's just an incredible amount of work that goes into trying to maintain them, and this helps to relieve that burden a little bit."

She said the leases were signed late last year, and the tenants have been given about three months to do renovations. She said they would probably move in around March or April.

The park also announced this month that it is putting five more houses dating from the 1800s up for rent elsewhere along the canal. While they are not lock houses, "you're talking neat, old structures . . . that have neat history associated with them," Conway said.

Anyone interested may call 301-714-2220.

-- Michael E. Ruane