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Blogging Toward Blessed Silence in Alexandria

Very early in the morning--3 a.m. early--the dump trucks would rumble by David Henderson's place in Alexandria. Truck after truck, rolling into the Mirant power plant and then groaning back out, now full of flyash, a by-product of the coal burning that makes that plant the bane of many residents' existence in that part of town.

So Henderson, a public relations executive in the District, decided to fight back. He started a blog. "I'm fascinated by blogs," he says. He already had a blog of his own on media relations. Now he added one to chronicle life two blocks from the power plant. Mirant officials wouldn't respond to his complaints, and the Alexandria city government didn't provide help, so Henderson went out on his own. He posted photos of trucks arriving hours before the plant's supposed 7 a.m. opening time. He wrote about violations of the company's own policies.

In the community of Alexandria residents who are up in arms about the Mirant plant, Henderson became something of a folk hero. For years, and especially since the feds last December ordered the plant in North Old Town to resume operation, residents and city officials have tried various tacks to force the Mirant facility to shut down. And some residents now hope that their campaign may be on the road to success; an order from the state Air Pollution Control Board requiring Mirant to eliminate dangerous emissions is on a collision course with other branches of government that have joined the company's own efforts to keep operating.

Henderson says he doesn't agree with neighbors who believe it's his blog that did the trick, but last month, he finally got in touch with a Mirant community relations specialist who took an interest in his complaints. "She listened to me, checked it out and said, 'You're right,'" Henderson says. Mirant changed its hours of operation, and the trucks stopped coming through before 7 a.m.

"That was very responsive and I was impressed," Henderson says. "So I took down the blog."

Whereupon he says he received "some blistering emails calling me a sellout and accusing me of making a deal with Mirant." Henderson says there was no deal; he had never discussed his blog with the power company.

"I just didn't have any reason to have it up anymore," he says.

So while Henderson remains a fan of blogs, he says they are the wrong tool for this kind of political action. A blog is good for getting information out and for fomenting discussion, he says, but for finding a solution to a community problem, "you need to present the issue and solve it by talking. It just comes down to two people talking about how to find a reasonable solution. I started the blog because I couldn't find anyone to talk."

In my experience watching neighborhood disputes, I've seen blogs achieve exactly the kind of conversation about solutions that has made Henderson a happier camper. But I've also seen blogs--especially antagonistic, sensational ones--sour relations to the point that no one talks toward a solution. In Henderson's case, his blog seemed to provide a rallying point for others with similar complaints. Did that spur on the solution that developed? Not clear, but it certainly didn't hurt.

Now, as for the plant's overall operations.... Well, I hear other blogs are in the works. Stay tuned.

By Marc Fisher |  October 5, 2006; 6:59 AM ET
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Comments

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What??!%#&??? TWO whole blog posts without mentioning "macaca" or that George Allen once owned a Confederate flag? What happened? Did Howard Dean's check to you bounce?

Posted by: Virginia Voter | October 5, 2006 8:55 AM

George Allen is the person keeping the George Allen/macaca/"What, me Jewish?"/deer-head-in-the-mailbox/used-the-N-word story alive. He's the gift that keeps on giving. Oh, and folks like you, despite your snide tone, sure seem to get antsy when George isn't front and center too. Kinda odd, that.

Posted by: KR20852 | October 5, 2006 9:08 AM

Hey Virginia Voter:

Bounce deez.

Posted by: xlm | October 5, 2006 9:34 AM

The people living near Mirant are a bunch of whiners. The plant has been there forever. Was it blocked by the U-Haul when the moved in?

Posted by: NIMBY | October 5, 2006 10:17 AM

I live approximately 1/4 mile from the Mirant plant and would have no idea the plant is there were it not for the stacks. In or out of operation, makes little difference.

It seems to me that people who live in the neighborhood should be concerned more with there decision to move into the shadow of a large power plant than Mirant's day-to-day operations.

I would expect that with all the large townhouses they've been building there recently, it is only a matter of time until the whiny rich BANANAs take the plant down.

Posted by: Alexandria Do-Nothings | October 5, 2006 12:14 PM

Having that palnt there is actually pretty important for national security. The real issue with the Mirant plant is why they heven't installed modern scrubbers or employed cogeneration technology to reduce emissions. The plant is a major factor in our air quality problems and for a reasonable initial investment emissions could be reduced dramatically. As a society we have to start undertsnding that the few extra dollars we would pay for them to use cogeneration are much cheaper than the healthcare costs involved in skipping that process.

Posted by: Falls Church | October 5, 2006 12:48 PM

It's not just wealthy people who live near the plant. I live across the street-- the price of my rent driven down by proximity to plant and the fact that the train tracks carrying coal cut through our parking lot. The housing in the immediate vicinity of the plant is mostly aimed at lower-mid middle class. The large 800k townhouses you speak of are much further from the plant.

The fact that there appears to be no effort to modernize the plant to make the emissions friendlier, which, based on the amount of gunk my car (lungs, trees, wildlife?) accumulates on it, should be a priority (let's face it, I need that plant to stay in order to continue to afford to live in this area).

Another plant-related issue I have is that the train tracks that cross Slaters Lane and the GW Parkway don't have those swinging arms that come down to stop cars. The train moves pretty slow when it crosses the roads, but I would still feel safer if they were there. At least a blinking flashing RR sign on Slaters would be nice (there's one on the Parkway).

Posted by: alexandria | October 5, 2006 1:21 PM

and-run" Democrat in disguise? He thinks Congress must make some "bold decisions" if the situation continues "drifting sideways." Never mind that Jim Webb warned years ago against this tragic war.
Now, where is George Allen on this? Is he still W's lackey? Or is he going to change his mind on this just like he has on everything else? Someone ought to ask him.
George Allen's Shadow

Posted by: Is John Warner a | October 5, 2006 10:35 PM

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