DC approves eminent domain to close controversial transfer station
- The DC Council voted unanimously Tuesday to grant Mayor Muriel Bowser the authority to invoke eminent domain on a private waste transfer station owned by WB Waste Solutions, as reported by WAMU. City officials say they plan to convert the site to a storage facility for government documents and equipment.
- According to proponents, the station's closure after 30 years of operation will restore a much-needed degree of environmental justice to the low-income, predominantly black neighborhood of Brentwood. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who represents the area and has long challenged the facility's presence, declared the plan "a win for neighbors [and] a win for the quality of air that residents within the Brentwood community will breathe."
- Michael Magee, who purchased the station with his partners in 2017, took issue with the process, saying he'd previously been assured that eminent domain was off the table. He also warned that officials hadn't fully considered the implications of displacing 1,400 tons of waste per day with the city's other transfer stations operating at capacity.
The private transfer station in Brentwood has drawn complaints, lawsuits and regulatory attention since it opened in 1988. While Magee maintains that WB Waste Solutions has operated the station responsibly since assuming ownership last year, community members have called the constant stench of garbage — and the flies, raccoons, possums and rats it attracts — an act of environmental racism against the predominantly black neighborhood, which sees nearly 30% of its residents living below the poverty line.
Councilmember McDuffie has fought for the station's closure since he was first elected in 2012 — most recently with a 2015 emergency bill calling for the use of eminent domain on the property. Bowser's administration promised to move on the plan, but efforts stalled after a $9.6 million offer fell through. The speed of Tuesday's vote proved especially surprising to Magee, who said he wasn't consulted or notified ahead of time. In a letter to the council, Bowser attributed the expedited process to a need for more government storage facilities for documents and equipment.
Private transfer stations proliferated in Ward 5 in the 1980s due to the area's abundance of vacant industrial land. As advocates have pointed out, the resulting asymmetric impact on neighborhoods like Brentwood feeds into a broader national conversation around environmental justice — the EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council noted in 2000 that waste transfer stations "are disproportionately clustered in low-income communities and communities of color."
This growing awareness has prompted similar regulatory attention on transfer stations and other facilities in multiple cities: Los Angeles approved a facility certification program last month that will require millions of dollars worth of infrastructure upgrades in the coming years, while New York recently passed a transfer station capacity reduction law — which has since been challenged in court — to promote environmental justice in three affected communities.
It remains to be seen whether DC's move could provoke similar legal action. Now that the legislation has passed, the process requires a new appraisal and further negotiations. If eminent domain is invoked, DC will still be required to award Magee compensation — the amount of which will be determined by a judge — for the land.
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