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Government and People
he Environmental News -- December 7, 1997
Contessa Bina Sella di Monteluce, until recently the unseen financial backer of the proposed Children's Island theme park, spent almost two full weeks above ground, making rounds at the City Council, the Control Board, and the Mayor's office. She was never more than inches from the briefcase- and cell-phone toting duo of Dave Wilmot and Fred Cooke. These lobbyists extraordinaire from the dark side of the Force seem to have found the ultimate client in the Contessa -- rich beyond belief but nonetheless pliable.
This threesome enjoyed a warm reception at the Mayor's office and at Thomas Circle, but the atmosphere was more chilly on the Seventh Floor. Sharon Ambrose, with growing support from Kevin Chavous, leads a block of Councilmembers who oppose approval of a 99-year, no-rent lease of Kingman and Heritage Islands (including Jack Evans, Harold Brazil, Arrington Dixon and Kathy Patterson, who refused to meet with the Contessa). Proponents include Charlene Jarvis, Linda Cropp, Sandy Allen (who pledged to oppose the project when soliciting the Sierra Club's endorsement one year ago) and Hilda Mason, in a surprising departure from decades of consistently pro-environment stands.
Thomas and Smith are still thumbing their chins over the issue, while Carol Schwartz stated on the McGinty/Plotkin/WAMU political gab show that she is leaning against. Member-elect David Catania is rumored to share this view.
Chairman Cropp has laughed off letters from the President's Council on Environmental Quality and the National Capital Planning Commission, both urging that the Council not approve the lease before an environmental impact statement has been prepared. If anything, she has increased the procedural hardball, pulling her bill from the Council's legislative agenda three times in six weeks when it appeared that she lacked the support of a majority. The vote is now set for December 16, but don't bet an island on it.
This issue has touched off a firestorm of fear and loathing among east-side residents, and thus a blitz of grassroots activism. Dozens of Kingman Park and River Terrace residents marched on Council offices Dec. 3. At least one office has received more than 200 calls and letters.
Bobby Kennedy, Jr., who saw a bald eagle over Kingman Island while touring it with mother Ethel and other family members, has been working the phones on behalf of the white hats. Lobbyist Wilmot, backed by several members of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, debated this reporter on the Chamber's weekly round-table TV show on District Cablevision's public access channel; re-runs will air every Tuesday in December at 8:30 pm.
Councilmember and mayoral candidate Harold Brazil introduced an omnibus regulatory reform bill (text available from DC Watch) November 25. In it he proposes to repeal the D.C. Environmental Policy Act, the law that (theoretically) requires the preparation of an environmental impact statement on new, big, and environment-threatening projects, such as amusement parks built in rivers. In its place he would substitute a watered-down version that would require an EIS only where a D.C. government agency requests the Council to enact a new statute.
Environmentalists note that in the eight-year history of the D.C.E.P.A., only one EIS was ever written -- on the ill-fated Georgetown Univ. co-generator power project. So much for Mr. Brazil's argument that the law has proven to be "burdensome." "Burdensome" to his solicitation of Board of Trade donations is more like it.
The Council Committee on Public Works and the Environment has won sequential referral of the bill, and has scheduled a public roundtable/hearing for December 18th, at 10 am. To sign up, call 724-8028.
When recycling advocates met with Control Board Vice-Chair Steve Harlan last spring, they thought they had convinced him, as they had previously convinced DPW, the Council, and the courts, that recycling costs the City no more that trash disposal on a per-ton basis. After all, we pay $45/ton to burn our trash at Lorton, whereas we can sell the recyclables for something between $0 and $150/ton. In Mr. Harlan's words, "if it's a push or a near push, we may as well [recycle]."
Thus, when the Control Board was given the keys to the City in August, it came as no sunrise that recycling was ordered resumed. After all, what easier and more visible way could be found to demonstrate that D.C. was quickly getting back on its feet, AT NO COST.... Within a few weeks a Request for Proposals had been prepared for public distribution. DPW was quietly predicting "recycling by November."
That was before DPW was hit with a $1 million court judgment, awarded to the firm (Recycling Solutions, Inc.) that been aced out of the 1993 recycling contract by Eagle Maintenance. Where to find an extra $1 million? Simple, concluded Harlan and his DPW minions - simply defer the resumption of recycling services by 5 months or so. Out of a FY 1998 budget of $2.4 million, this would "save" a cool mil. But what about the fact that recycling actually costs no more than trash disposal -- i.e., that the million we don't spend on recycling will increase trash disposal costs by the same amount? No problem. Its off the books. The bottom line -- the Control Board looks great, while taxpayers and Mother Nature get hammered over the long run.
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