- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

The National Wilderness Institute has notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it intends to sue the corps over its continued excessive dumping of sludge in the Potomac River.
Federal officials admit to piping the chemically treated sediment through C&O; Canal National Historic Park and into the Potomac but maintain that they have the permits and that no legal violations are occurring.
The high levels of sludge are often being dumped under cover of night and violate the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), said Rob Gordon, director of the National Wilderness Institute.
The corps is discharging the sludge from the Washington Aqueduct at a rate as high as 45,000 milligrams per liter, as opposed to the maximum allowance of 30 milligrams per liter commonly enforced on many other water treatment plants, Mr. Gordon said.
The sludge is being dumped at one site above the Chain Bridge and two sites above Georgetown.
The National Wilderness Institute filed the mandatory notice of intent to sue July 26, but despite the notice, the corps continues to dump sludge on a regular basis. Most recently, Mr. Gordon snapped photographic evidence of a dump Thursday at the Chain Bridge and observed the process for several hours.
"An enormous black plume of sludge darkened more than half the river, and the stench was nauseating," Mr. Gordon said.
"Washington's dirty little secret is now out: The Army Corps of Engineers is poisoning the river and endangered species habitat, and it's got to stop," Mr. Gordon said, referring to habitats in the Potomac of the endangered short-nosed sturgeon.
Rep. John E. Peterson, Pennsylvania Republican and a member of the House Resources Committee, called the photographs "deeply disturbing" and said the issue "clearly merits oversight" by Congress.
Mr. Gordon's group will sue the corps for violating the ESA and Clean Water Act after the 60-day notice-to-sue waiting period has expired Sept. 24.
The institute also is suing the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine Fishery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Highway Administration. The dumping also violates numerous park service regulations, Mr. Gordon said.
Thomas Jacobus, chief of the Washington Aqueduct, a division of the Baltimore District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the lawsuit involves "political and regulatory issues" on which he cannot comment.
Mr. Jacobus did say the aqueduct has a permit to conduct the discharge and confirmed that what Mr. Gordon witnessed Thursday was a sediment dump that contains alum. Mr. Gordon says alum is harmful to fish eggs and young fish.
However, the permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency expired in 1994. The corps applied for an extension and is permitted to dump indefinitely unless the EPA sets standards for the discharges or issues a new permit with restrictions.
"We are in fact operating exactly in terms of the existing permit," Mr. Jacobus said.
Mr. Gordon said the permit "allows them to discharge just about anything," but he said even minor rules are being broken.
"They have the most extraordinary permissive permit that has very little rules and stipulations for them," Mr. Gordon said.
A 1993 study showed that the dumping would not hurt fish or eggs, but another study is under way to determine toxicity of the discharges, and the EPA may recommend another method of disposing of the waste, Mr. Jacobus said.
If dumping is deemed harmful, the waste could be hauled out by trucks or flushed through the sewage system. However, Mr. Jacobus said, "if depositing in the river is no longer allowed, the consequences of all those truck operations have their own environmental consequences."
Ira Sabin, who has fished above Chain Bridge for 60 years, said dark brown masses of foam 6 inches high converge on his favorite fishing spots after fishermen report that a dumping has occurred.
"You just can't catch any fish when this happens," Mr. Sabin said. "I think it's a shame that the federal government is dumping this pollution."
The sludge is piped through the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park before being dumped into the river. Nearby, National Park Service signs ask visitors to report crimes against national park resources, including dumping and water pollution, along with violation details.
"I am reporting this crime," said Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican and also a Resources Committee member.
"This is the most egregious violation of both the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts I have ever seen, and the facts are indisputable," Mr. Radanovich said.
"The violator is the Corps of Engineers. The location is endangered species habitat in the Potomac. The date and time is for more than a decade. The special details are, unfortunately, that this dumping is done repeatedly, intentionally and with callous disregard for the law and the species," Mr. Radanovich said
The National Wilderness Institute, a conservative environmental group, is a critic of the Endangered Species Act and its random enforcement by federal officials, but Mr. Gordon said that in this case "the violations are so egregious, everyone agrees it needs to be enforced."
Western lawmakers also are angry and frustrated over the double standard of federal laws being leniently applied inside the Beltway while harshly enforced in other states.
"The corps is making a mockery of the Clean Water Act and the ESA with its dumping of foam-covered sludge into endangered sturgeon habitat," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican.


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