D.C. Council member Marion Barry and comedian-activist Dick Gregory stood in a Southeast Washington parking lot yesterday to unveil a giant machine that they said has the power to transform the world.
The contraption looked like something that would incite a call to 911. Metal pipes and wires led to a two-story-tall black metal chimney, which led to more metal pipes that were connected to electric motors and high-tech doodads and dials. The inventor, Simon Romana, called the machine a "gasifier" and said it can use garbage or sewage to create pollution-free electricity and drinking water.
"As a native, I'm not a polluter," said Romana, a member of an indigenous tribe in New Zealand.
Romana said he and his investors, which include members of native American and Canadian tribes, built the demonstration machine for $1 million and trucked it from Canada to the District so diplomats, federal officials and sewage experts could see for themselves. But because of objections from the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of the church near the demonstration site, the machine was not turned on yesterday.
"This is not a sham, not a game," Barry told a crowd of reporters and the curious. "This is the real stuff."
Gregory, who introduced the inventor to Barry, agreed. "You're looking at something that is going to revolutionize the whole world," Gregory said.
However, neither Barry nor Gregory has seen the machine operate.
Gasification uses heat, steam and pressure to convert biodegradable matter into a gas, which is then cooled and scrubbed of impurities. Romana said his machine burns waste at 3,200 degrees Fahrenheit, creating the gas as well as distilled water as a byproduct and nontoxic ash -- all in a plant that is within federal air-quality standards.
Some sewage gasification plants use coal and wood as fuel to produce energy, and some large incinerators produce energy as well. Romana said the advantage of his machine is that it burns hotter and cleaner. How? He declined to say, calling it his "magic" secret.
Barry (D-Ward 8) said he would like to see the District adopt the technology.
A spokesman for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority said the agency will observe the machine once it is turned on. "The unit is pretty impressive, and the technology is worth looking into," Michele Quander-Collins said.
But first promoters have to find a place to put it. It now sits in a parking lot across from Union Temple Baptist Church. On Wednesday, the church's pastor, Wilson, confronted Barry about placing the machine in a parking lot used by the church.
The confrontation between Barry and Wilson devolved into a yelling match so heated that police intervened.
Wilson called Barry a liar and told him to watch his mouth, according to footage of the fracas captured by WRC-TV (Channel 4). In return, Barry called Wilson "power hungry" and threatened to have the church's nonprofit status "investigated."
"He's out of his mind, being un-Christian and crazy like that," Barry said. "What's wrong with him?"
Barry declined yesterday to talk about the altercation, calling it "yesterday's news." He said that as part of a compromise with Wilson, the machine was not turned on yesterday and will be removed from the parking lot today.
Romana's chief financial backer is Windell R. King Sr., who made his fortune manufacturing cigarettes on reservations.
King, who attended yesterday's news conference, said the machine should be called "The Simon" after its inventor.
He said he met Romana at a Christmas party in Ottawa last year. Now, just 11 months later, King is in the nation's capital unveiling the machine.
"Pinch me," he said.