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The Environmental News
February 1998




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dropt.jpg (1256 bytes)he Environmental News – February 22, 1998

Children's Island
Rock Creek Park
Also in the News
Anacostia River
Ward Three Land Use Development

Children’s Island

Will wonders never cease? The Control Board announced on Friday the 13th that it had disapproved the proposed lease between the City and the Contessa Bina Sella de Monteluce. The CB stated that it could not approve the lease without: a development plan, a business plan, feasibility and environmental studies, and "financing information." This is reminiscent of the Council’s 1993 resolution calling for 13 separate studies of this kind, and the National Capital Planning Commission’s call last November for the advance preparation of an environmental impact statement.

What does this mean? It’s hard to know –  the silence from the Contessa’s lobbyists has been deafening when compared to the hundreds of press releases they distributed in December trumpeting their short-lived victory before the Council. They stated last fall that is was necessary to secure the Mayor’s and the Council’s (and presumably the Control Board’s) blessing of their 99-year lease in order to secure financing for the enterprise. Could this be the death knell for their house of cards?

Perhaps so. The Control Board’s terse letter to the Council stated that Chief Management Officer Camille Barnett and Chief Financial Officer Tony Williams would handle this matter from now on -- by implication taking Mayor Barry out of the loop. The Mayor, natch, has been one of the Contessa’s biggest boosters since the early 80s.

In the meantime, entrepreneur and Black Entertainment Television exec Bob Johnson told the Washington Post’s Vanessa Williams that he has designs on the islands, and that he wants to partner with Disney. This raises a number of questions: Does Johnson share our vision of a neighborhood – and river-friendly development? Does the 1994 federal legislation authorize this? And how does Williams obtain information like this? Is Johnson sending out press releases?

Rock Creek Park

Though the National Park Service is midway through the preparation of its General Management Plan for the Park, the word is out – they will almost certainly recommend the plan endorsed by the City Council and the Washington Post – no change in the status quo. This probably means no restrictions on commuter traffic, and no expansion of facilities for bikers, bladers and the like.

Also in the news

Bell Atlantic has formally requested the Park Service to erect a series of cell-phone transmission towers in the Park. The exact locations and configurations of these steel towers remains undetermined, but they may rise as high as 250 feet. Towers of this height can be seen just west of Falls Church and at the intersection of Route 95 North and the Beltway (near Silver Spring), and their ugliness is breathtaking. Local enviros are asking whether there aren’t better ways of delivering to Bell Atlantic their all-important minutes of air time. Is the transmission in the park really that bad?

Anacostia River

At the initiative of Rebecca Hanmer – EPA’s designated liaison with D.C. – several dozen stakeholders met for two days in mid-February to discuss the problem of Combined Sewer Overflows into the Anacostia. These flows occur mostly during wet weather, when storm waters vastly outstrip the capacity of the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant to handle them. The Water and Sewer Authority simply dumps the combined storm water and sewage directly into the river, resulting in a major health hazard and ecological mess. (This also happens in the Potomac and in Rock Creek, but to a lesser extent).

The optimal solution to this problem is to construct new, separate sewer systems. But with an estimated price tag of $2 billion, this remains a dream. Instead, the participants considered more practical alternatives – such as using existing underground pipes, some with diameters of up to 12 feet, as storage devices that can trap unexceptional storm water flows and then release them to Blue Plains at a rate that the treatment plant can absorb. This system may actually be preferable to the construction of separate systems, as it prevents most of the trash-laden waters that flow off our streets from ever reaching the river directly.

Ward Three Land Use Developments

The proposal to construct a large handful of high-price residences on the "Greystone" site – next to Rock Creek Park at the junction of Beach Drive with Porter/Klingle – was rejected by the "Mayor’s Agent," who had been appointed to review the details. Chief among her reasons was that the developers seemed to have completely changed during the course of her review, but were trying to finesse that fact. Good riddance to a potential blight on the Park. Peter Espenchied fought this one for two years at least.

Developers hoping to construct a large residential complex on the Tregaron site – current home of the International School – have folded their tents. Unlike most developers, these were advised by civic-minded land use lawyer Richard Nettler to scope out the public reaction before committing themselves to the project. The feedback they received at public meetings convinced them that the opposition to their plan would be too stiff. Kudos to Steve Solomon and the rest of the Klingle Valley activists.

Montgomery County Executive Steve Duncan announced an expanded development proposal for Friendship Heights. Some argued that development around Metro stations is the way to go. Others said that the plan would completely overwhelm the existing neighborhood. This brings to mind Sam Smith’s observation that the subway system, rather than easing traffic along arteries like Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues, has instead fueled a rush of traffic-clogging commercial development.


DPW has negotiated a contract with the winning bidder for the citywide curbside collection and processing contract (Waste Management in a joint venture with Eagle Maintenance). The contract is now lodged in the Office of the Corporation Counsel, after which it must navigate the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Council, and the Control Board. DPW is sticking to its predicted start date of "sometime in early April." Long-time observers are snickering. CMO Barnett told a small group on Feb. 20 that she is interested in initiating recycling in the school system.


"Restore the Core" is the name of a program recently begun by the Sierra Club’s New Columbia Chapter. While many are working to stop or manage suburban sprawl, this project takes aim at the other half of the problem -- the economic and environmental abandonment of the City. Their first target is the revitalization of the near-Southeast community between the Anacostia River and the SE Freeway. Next meeting: March 10. Contact: Gwyn Jones - 488-1140

March 2 - Recycle-in at the Mayor’s office (Judiciary Square Metro). Our monthly combined protest and drop-off takes place from 4 - 6:30 pm. Volunteers will help you empty your car. Eagle Maintenance picks up everything for recycling at 6:30 pm. Its a cool place to hang out.

March 5 - Monthly enviro brown-bag lunch, with a discussion of metro and D.C. issues. Everyone welcome. Location: Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave. NW. Contact: Larry Bohlen - 783-7400.

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