Panel and I, The: The Epilog

Last month, I wrote about my experiences as a member of the District of Columbia Solid Waste Facility Site Selection Advisory Panel. Panel members were appointed by the Washington, D.C. Council to site transfer stations.

We eventually selected two sites, one of which already was used by the District's government for residentially generated trash. The other site was located in Ward 8. The decision to site a transfer station in the District's poorest ward was attacked quickly by its residents and by environmental justice advocates.

In this column, I offer several “rules” for site selection panels, in hopes that future panels will avoid our mistakes.

First, clearly identify the funding source for the panel's budget. The Washington, D.C., Council appropriated money for the panel, but didn't say whose budget was paying the panel's expenses. As a result, three months were lost while different District agencies debated their contribution to our budget. At one point, funding was so uncertain that we “ceased operations” (that is to say, we went on strike) until our budget was resolved.

A successful selection process includes ensuring that a proposed site's neighbors are the first people to be sold on the site's suitability.

Second, have enough time to do the job right. We were originally given six months to select sites. After resolving our funding crisis, we were given another six months, but it still wasn't enough time.

Third, pray for an efficient procurement bureaucracy. After our strike was complete, we spent another three months trying to hire an engineering consulting firm. All the obstacles constructed by the District's labyrinthine bureaucracy caused this lengthy delay.

Fourth, proceed thoughtfully in spite of the time limits imposed on your panel. Selecting a facility site requires that all the relevant factors be thoroughly investigated. After the consulting contract was signed, we had less than five months for the engineers to provide us with the necessary assessments, and for us to select sites, prepare our report, hold a public hearing, and win support for our recommendations. Instead of insisting on more time, the panel rushed to judgment. We even voted on sites before we received our consultant's report!

Fifth, visit the sites you select before you vote on them. A site visit is worth a thousand maps and photographs. Moreover, a successful selection process includes ensuring that a proposed site's neighbors are the first people to be sold on the site's suitability. I voted against the Ward 8 site because we hadn't visited it. No wonder its neighbors were so mad at us.

Sixth, don't create a site selection panel in the first place. I had misgivings about serving on the panel because D.C.'s transfer station law applies only to privately owned facilities. The public sector doesn't need to create site selection panels if it treats everyone fairly. Elected officials must establish the same rules for both publicly and privately owned facilities, and enforce them equally.

Then, potential transfer station operators will have a better opportunity to site and operate transfer stations that will protect public health. And tax dollars can be used for more important tasks than siting transfer stations.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: [email protected]