Chairperson Cheh and members of the Transportation and Environment Committee, thank you for convening this public hearing and giving me the chance to offer you my thoughts on the District’s efforts to characterize and remediate the legacy toxic contamination in and along the shoreline of the Anacostia River. The Anacostia means a great deal to me; I lived and worked in Ward 6 for 30 years, have been paddling the river recreationally since the early1990s, and have been working professionally to clean up and revitalize it in one way or another since 1997.
I want to particularly focus today on three places in the Anacostia River corridor where toxic contamination must be cleared up: the bottom of the Anacostia River itself; the northern part of Kenilworth Park in Ward 7; and Poplar Point in Ward 8.
Councilmember, you and your committee are probably most familiar with DOEE’s bottom sediment remediation project, having focused your attention on it before, but I want to remind you that there are two other important public sites that also need remediation, one in Ward 7 and one in Ward 8. Kenilworth North is an 80-acre riverside former landfill site that thirteen years ago Congress designated to immediately transfer from the National Park Service to the District; Poplar Point is a contaminated 110-acre riverside site that Congress similarly designated to transfer to the District in 2006 when certain conditions are met. Both sites are near Metro stops, and both have great economic, social and recreational potential. Neither transfer has been made.
The District’s efforts to understand the extent and details of the toxic contamination at each of these three sites, and to then to develop and ultimately implement remediation plans, are funded through the “Hazardous Material Remediation (KG0)” project in the capital budget. Funding for this project was first proposed in FY2012 with a budget authority request for $74 million projected for appropriations in FY2015, FY2016, and FY2017. I don’t know any more than what is published in the annual capital budget request documents, but it appears that spending on the project actually began in FY2014 with an appropriation of $1.5 million, followed by $6 million in FY2015, $10 million in FY2016, and $5 million in FY2017.
DOEE has been making great progress on the Anacostia River bottom sediments remediation project since funding began, particularly since this committee established a statutory June 30, 2018 deadline for the delivery of a “Record of Decision” for the project in the FY2015 Budget Support Act.
Both the committee’s willingness to legislate an aggressive deadline for the sediment project ROD and DOEE’s commitment to getting it done on time should be acknowledged and commended. The fact that your committee took the step of legislating a deadline has driven the project forward much faster than the history of similar projects would suggest. The challenge, of course, is that sufficient funds to complete the necessary investigations and options development, delivered in a timely fashion, have to accompany the deadline date if it is to have meaning.
This year the Mayor’s capital budget request went off the track. While increasing the overall six-year budget authority request by about $4 million, the $5 million appropriation for FY2018 that was projected in the past two budget cycles has completely disappeared.
I don’t know if the Department of Energy and Environment can somehow cover this surprise loss of funds, or whether it puts the Council’s legislated deadline for the sediment project ROD in jeopardy. I do know that Director Wells and his team are committed to the sediment project and will do what they can. But I also know that even if they scramble, something has to give without this $5 million. One or more of these three remediation projects – the river bottom sediment remediation, Kenilworth North, or Poplar Point – will slow down unacceptably.
Beyond the $5 million subtracted from the project budget in FY2018, there is another critical point: there isn’t enough money projected in the Mayor’s capital budget request for FY2019 and FY2020 and FY2021 to actually DO the remediation of the toxic on the sites in a timely way once the various Records of Decision are done.Actually doing the remediation is going to be expensive, but it’s the reason that we’re going through all this.
This year’s six-year capital budget request foresees a $6 million appropriation in FY2019, $14 million in FY2020, $6 million in FY2021, and $40 million in FY2022. However, since much of the funding in the next several years has to go to continued investigations, there simply isn’t enough money for implementation in the three years following FY2018. At the very least, the $40 million projected for FY2022 needs to be moved up to cover actual remediation costs.
It’s a little like piling on, and I understand that it is outside the jurisdiction of your committee, but I also want to note that the District needs to budget a significant amount for development of the two land sites once the remediation work is done. This is particularly true for Poplar Point, where the federal transfer legislation requires the District to move, at its own expense, about 100,000 square feet of National Park Service and US Park Police offices, and the USPP’s Aviation Unit, before the transfer can be completed.
So why does this all matter?
I’m going to leave the legalities of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and other federal and District statutes aside for now and just focus on what the people of the District are missing out on if we allow these projects to languish.
We all know that the District of Columbia is a city badly divided, primarily by the Anacostia and the public lands around it. We all know that we have a painful social history, the effects of which still show up every hour of every day in large and growing disparities in education, household income and health between the west side and the east side of our city. Many of us believe that we need to do what we can to try to compensate for that social history, and we spend a huge amount of time and effort trying to find effective ways to do so.
The Anacostia River running through the heart of our city and the public lands that surround it are potentially invaluable resources for the District of Columbia, and particularly for the people who live on the east side. It is an uncomfortable artifact of history that the river and many of the lands around it are were contaminated with industrial toxics, and remain so.
But the District is rapidly changing, and the area around the Anacostia is becoming more and more valuable. Riverside sites are particularly important here and everywhere. You and your elected colleagues may not be able to control what the National Park Service does with its riverside lands, but you do have the power to largely control the pace at which the river and the District’s properties around it are revitalized, including Kingman and Heritage Islands, Boathouse Row, and the two large parcels that Congress transferred to us more than a decade ago. Given the District’s history and ongoing disparities, we must not let the 190 acres of prime riverfront land in Wards 7 and 8 continue to be largely fenced off from productive use.
I know that there is always a great demand on available financial resources, but leveraging the economic and social productivity of the river and riverside lands as quickly as possible should be among the District’s top priorities. Congress made Kenilworth North and Poplar Point available to the District thirteen years ago and eleven years ago respectively; the delay in accepting these gifts from the federal government has already been far too long.
The last thing that your former colleague Mayor and Councilmember Marion Barry said to me before he passed away was that I should help him to get the funds to get Poplar Point untracked and transferred to the District. The Hazardous Material Remediation capital budget is a big part of that. We must keep the projects it funds moving forward.
I urge you to find the $5 million to put back into the DOEE budget to keep all three of these projects on track. I further urge you to do everything you can to make sure that actual remediation funds are in the budget for next two or three years, so that we can get these very valuable river and land assets into productive use before much more time passes us by.