- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

Fairfax County, Va., officials have known for at least a year about trash-clogged Long Branch Creek, and despite promises to fix the problem, the creek remains littered with debris from nearby junkyards, neighboring business owners say.

A refrigerator, heavy-duty electrical wiring and used oil containers are strewn around Long Branch Creek and the surrounding woods just south of several junkyards in Newington, and the smell of gasoline hangs in the air.

Car batteries, car seats and old tires sit along Cinder Bed Road and in its two drainage ditches. At the end of the road under two signs that prohibit dumping sit a washing machine, gas oven, broken boat, a rusted mobile barbecue and a dozen rotted phone books.

The junk, car parts and trash are in plain view and less than a mile from the county service garage and an office for the county's water authority.

A nearby business owner complained more than a year ago but he says nothing has changed.

"They said they were working on it. Never did they do a [darn] thing about the problem up the street," said Bob Goodman, who has owned a nearby business for 15 years. He and others who asked not to be identified said they notified authorities, to no avail.

"The site speaks for itself. I think it should be cleaned up. It's a major pollutant to the stream," he said.

Long Branch Creek flows south into the Accotink Creek and eventually empties into the Potomac River.

When The Washington Times made inquiries to state and Fairfax officials yesterday, they either referred a reporter to someone else or insisted the problem is being addressed.

But each official's account of the county's work was different.

Fairfax County Fire Department Capt. Anthony Barrero said he intends to meet with officials from other county agencies and form a task force. They will plan a way to address the problem and execute that in a couple weeks, he said yesterday.

"It's been identified, and now it's a matter of implementing a plan. That's what we're doing," said Capt. Barrero, who works in the hazardous-materials investigation services of the Fire Marshal's Office.

Capt. Barrero said he worked with junkyards on Cinder Bed Road during 1999 and had them remedy a number of violations. He sent memos to several other county agencies outlining violations of their regulations.

"We're hoping to make a little bit bigger impact this time," he said. "For quite some time now, there has been some issues identified regarding noncompliance."

Glenn Smith, program manager in the environmental health division of the county's health department, said he was not aware of the problem or the task force under Capt. Barrero.

He told The Times he would dispatch an inspector to the area today if one is available.

If trash is dumped in waterways on private or public property, his agency is responsible for finding and punishing the violators, he said.

County Supervisor Dana Kauffman of the Lee District, which includes Newington, said county agencies including the police department are conducted an ongoing enforcement effort.

"We're basically trying to address what appears to be a serious pollution and zoning violations," he said.

When The Times asked Mr. Kauffman why Mr. Goodman and others haven't noticed any improvement, he said, "they haven't looked very carefully."

When one agency went after violators in the past, "it would just squeeze [the problem] into another area," he said.

"It's been overdue for a cleanup, and we're cleaning it up," Mr. Kauffman said. "It isn't done yet, and it won't be for a while."

Mr. Goodman said he first met with Mr. Kauffman, a zoning official and others about a year ago.

After the meeting, "I kept waiting to see if something was going to happen," Mr. Goodman said. "You assume they're doing something about it. If someone has some official responsibility and they say they're going to do something about it, then you wait to see if they're going to do it."

When he didn't see any improvements, he called the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Philadelphia in November.

He called the EPA because "the county already knew about it."

"It was seven or eight months later, and nothing had changed. Why keep going to the county?" he said.

Mr. Goodman got no response from the regional office, so he filed a report with the EPA on Feb. 1. That was referred to the the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Patricia Z. Greek, the pollution-response coordinator for the 15 counties in the Northern Virginia region, went to the site.

According to Mr. Goodman, Miss Greek said she didn't see any water pollution. She said she only saw some "kitty litter" placed on spilled oil within one of the junkyards.

Miss Greek told The Times yesterday she checked out the area, but referred most of The Times' questions to other agencies.

"The county is taking the lead on that one," she said. "I'm just helping them. I think right now they're in the planning stages."

Miss Greek said her agency doesn't test waterways for toxins unless officials know a spill occurred. "That's prohibitively expensive because you have to know what you're looking for."

Despite the promises of action by county officials, Mr. Goodman said he doesn't have a lot of confidence in them.

"They're not going to do anything," he said.

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