Residents eye new smokestack in Georgetown's Campus Plan

West Georgetown and Burleith residents already have a long list of grievances with Georgetown University's 2010 Campus Plan. But while most of them have to do with fears that the next decade will see traffic and students in their neighborhoods reach a saturation point, residents are beginning to worry that one element of the plan actually threatens the air: an 83-foot smokestack that the University has proposed building on top of its Heating and Cooling Plant.

"We don't know anything about this smokestack," Burleith Citizens Association Treasurer Candith Pallandre said at a BCA meeting in May, explaining that the University has dodged questions about its purpose and environmental effects from residents. Adding that Georgetown has a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency that puts it in the "heaviest class of polluters," Pallandre implied that the smokestack would increase emissions into the neighborhood's air.

The University, meanwhile, maintains that emissions will dissipate in the air above campus and will not increase the plant's capacity. The chimney is not being constructed to displace emissions into other airspaces but to prevent a re-entrainment problem, where emissions re-enter the air and buildings around the plant on campus. The current, 10-foot smokestack, University spokesperson Andy Pino wrote in an e-mail, is not tall enough to prevent this problem.

Pino said that University emissions are actually on the very low end of what the EPA had permitted Georgetown to produce. He stressed that the University had done all the appropriate tests to determine how high the smokestack needed to be:

"The University hired an engineering firm to perform wind tunnel exhaust dispersion studies, a method considered in the industry to be the most accurate method of quantifying levels of exhaust re-entrainment and replicating airflow patterns around buildings .... The analysis combined wind tunnel dilution data with the probabilistic distribution of meteorological data from Reagan International Airport."

"Results of this analysis concluded that the dilution rate of emissions exceeded the target which was established by the engineers to meet applicable health-based standards.  Emissions are currently well below EPA limits; the dilution rate shows that the emissions from the taller chimney dissipated into the atmosphere over the campus, thus reducing concentration levels even more. The taller chimney and greater distance to any neighboring community will allow even greater dilution and reduced concentration levels."

He also said that residents have had several opportunities to question University employees about the chimney since April.

But both Georgetown and Burleith's citizens associations continue to voice doubts about the chimney's effects. CAG and the BCA, which are both in middle of fund raising campaigns to hire experts that can testify against the Campus Plan in public meetings, have pointed to the smokestack as a distinctly negative, even dangerous element of the plan at all of their most recent meetings.

So far, though, neither group has produced any evidence showing what kind of environmental effects the new chimney will have on their communities, if it will have any. Members of CAG say that this is because Georgetown University is refusing to answer the community's questions about it. In an April meeting where CAG introduced its strategy for fighting the 2010 Campus Plan to its members, for instance, Chair of the GU Relations Committee Cynthia Pantazis said that Georgetown would not promise that the new smokestack would not increase emissions output.

However, since then, the University has taken two groups of interested neighborhood residents on tours of campus where they could ask questions about elements of the Campus Plan, both of which included stops at Georgetown's Heating and Cooling Plant, Pino said. At least one tour was guided by University Architect Alan Brangman, who works closely with University facilities.

Pantazis also said that the University has shared two limited documents with the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which shared them with CAG, an exhaust re-entrainment study from 2007 and a 2009 emission summary. The re-entrainment study led the University to the discovery that the smokestack was not tall enough to properly disperse emissions into the atmosphere.

But Pantazis maintains that Georgetown had still not offered a purpose for building the smokestack.

"GU has not been forthcoming and has provided little information on the proposed smokestack .... We have no information on any permits that GU is requesting from D.C. or [the] EPA and it seems GU has not assessed the impact on the adjoining communities of moving the pollution off campus," she wrote in an e-mail. "With so many unanswered questions, there are significant concerns that a larger smokestack will enable GU to increase pollution levels. There are also aesthetic concerns."

Representatives from the EPA and the District Department of the Environment said that the University has not applied for any permits from them so far.

Even if it does answer their questions, it is unclear whether the University can actually convince residents of the smokestack's purpose and effects. At the BCA meeting, when Pallandre said that Georgetown had said that the chimney would help disperse particles better, making the surrounding air cleaner, the ten-or-so residents at the meeting burst into laughter.

0 Comments For This Article

difficult to read any article from ms redden

ms. redden has a history of not being a supporter of the community of georgetown


Molly, congratulations for polluting the Dish with your biased and unprofessional "reporting".

Beth Solomon

Thanks for your comments. Molly is doing a great job and we're very proud to have her with us. She is among the best journalists in the District, and a star of Georgetown.


Seriously?? If you talk about inciting students to rally against the neighborhood as being a star of Georgetown. Look at her article on the president of CAG as an example. The Dish is loosing credibility quickly.