On December 20, 1991, representatives from the Coalition to Rebuild Bridgeport loaded a pickup truck with trash and drove to the Connecticut state capitol. Once there they delivered a letter to Governor Lowell Weicker demanding that he use Connecticut’s Emergency Spill Response Fund to remove Connecticut’s largest illegal dump. This audacious act of defiance was in reaction to the perceived indifference of government officials to the plight those forced to live in proximity to the dump, which Bridgeport residents had dubbed Mount Trashmore. Exacerbating the situation was Trashmore’s location within the predominantly nonwhite East End neighborhood. To many residents, it was a clear example of racism. The trip to the capital was one aspect of a multifaceted campaign launched, from the summer of 1991 to 1993, to facilitate Trashmore’s removal.
Mount Trashmore was an approximately 35-foot high pile of construction debris and waste that existed in the East End from the late 1980s to 1993. The campaign to remove Trashmore exemplifies the larger history of the environmental justice movement. Beginning in the late 1970s, environmental justice activists challenged the unequal exposure of low-income and minority communities across the nation to environmental hazards. The rise of Mount Trashmore, much like other struggles for environmental justice, can be traced to the 1976 Resource and Recovery Act (RCRA).
The purpose of the RCRA was to promote the environmentally safe disposal of solid and hazardous waste. It facilitated the closure of hazardous dumps and promoted the utilization of alternative methods such as incinerators. However, the methods employed often produced equal or more levels of pollutions. Additionally, industries and municipalities deliberately targeted low income and minority neighborhoods for the placement of such land uses. In 1984, Congress amended the RCRA to obligate dump operators to inspect the ground water around their sites. The discovery of toxins resulted in the closure of waste facilities across the country, including many in Connecticut. Reacting to limited disposal options, businesses and individuals increasingly resorted to illegal dumping.
Disposal restraints induced the proprietors of the demolition company Connecticut Building and Wrecking, Geno and Russell Capozziello, to engage in illegal dumping. Trashmore began to grow after Bridgeport’s landfill at Seaside Park closed in 1987. The cost of transporting debris to further locations and rising tipping stretched the company’s financial resources. To cut costs, the Capozziellos used their property at 329 Central Avenue as an illegal transfer station. They took the debris from local projects to the site where salvageable materials were separated, and the rest transported elsewhere. Eventually, however, the brothers stopped removing the debris. The trash began to accumulate, and to add insult to injury, the Capozziellos began to accept debris from other companies for a fee.
Frustrated that appeals for Mount Trashmore’s removal were rebuffed by the administrations of Mayors Thomas Bucci and Mary Moran, local activists and politicians united to bring national attention to the issue and pressured city and state officials to act. In the summer of 1991, community organizations began planning a campaign to remove Trashmore. Following the city’s filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on June 6, 1991, Reverend Vernon Thompson of East End Baptist Church thought of a way to gain support and draw attention to Mount Trashmore. Aware that civil rights activist Jesse Jackson was concerned about the critical state of American cities, Thompson and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance invited Jackson to Bridgeport.
On June 23, 1991, Jackson came to Bridgeport. His objective was to use Bridgeport’s bankruptcy to draw attention to the nation problem of financially struggling post-industrial cities. During his visit, Jackson went to Mount Trashmore, which was the physical embodiment of urban blight and decay. Sympathetic to Geno’s claims that he could not remove the dump because of financial difficulties, Jackson called on elected officials to take responsibility for the cleanup. Jackson brought national attention to the problem when he returned in August 1991 for the Connecticut March to Rebuild America. Thousands of people joined the 54-mile march from Bridgeport to the state capital in Hartford, to demand federal action in support of financially strained cities. Inspired by the march, a coalition of Bridgeport community organizations and residents organized with the single goal of removing Mount Trashmore.
The Coalition to Rebuild Bridgeport maintained the pressure that the Hartford march placed on officials to redress Trashmore. They organized protests, sent letters, and planned lawsuits. The Coalition was known for its direct-confrontational means of protest such dumping trash on the state capital. Concurrently, the East End Baptist Church under the leadership of Reverend Thompson hosted 82 weekly marches, from the church to Mount Trashmore. Only a short distance away, the dump negatively affected church attendance. The protests helped gain media attention and political support for the removal.
Despite the support garnered for Trashmore’s removal, the question of who was financially responsible hindered the cleanup process. Government officials did not think that it was the responsibility of the state to use tax dollars for the cleanup, but rather it was the obligation of the perpetrators. However, claiming financial difficulties, the Capozziellos failed to take any steps to address the problem. The Connecticut Superior Court sentenced them to spend their weekends in jail until the lot was cleared. While state officials fought with the Capozziellos, however, residents of the East End continued to endure the sight and smell of Mount Trashmore. They argued that rather than the Capozziellos, it was the government’s responsibility to protect its people from harm.
Active in the campaign was rising politician Joseph Ganim. Ganim provided legal advice to campaign activists, and participated in the church’s weekly marches. His visibility during the campaign, combined with the unpopularity of Moran’s decision to file for bankruptcy, led to his victory in the 1991 mayoral elections. Once in office Ganim and state Representative Ernest Newton negotiated a deal with the state Department of Environmental Protection for covering the cleanup cost. The DEP allocated $500,000 to the City of Bridgeport and the city agreed to allocate an additional $250,000 for the clean-up effort. Following the incineration of Trashmore in January 5, 1992, and the transfer of the property from the state to the city in August 1993, the East End community held one last symbolic march to the Central Avenue lot. It was an emotional day that some of the former activists continue to hold dear. To them the Mount Trashmore campaign was a critical point in Bridgeport’s social history. It proved that the community had the responsibility and power to change the city for the better.
1 “Dump Protest Moving to Hartford,” New Haven Register, 19 December 1991; “Bridgeport Dump Protesters Bring Mountain to Weicker,” New Haven Register, 20 December 1991; “Emergency Response and Spill Prevention,” Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, http://www.ct.gov./deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2692&q=322572&deepNav_GID=1648, accessed 12 April 2017.
2 For more information on the environmental justice movement see Andre Hurley, Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary Indiana, 1945-1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Luke W. Cole and Sheila Foster, From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2001); Robert Bullard, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990).
3 General Accounting Office, “Siting of Hazardous Waste Landfills and Their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities,” GAO-83-168 (Washington, DC, 1983); David Pellow, Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002), 52-53, 108-109; “State Waste Dumps to Stay Closed,” Hartford Courant, 21 December 1985; “Down in the Dumps,” Hartford Courant, 17 December 1989.
4 “Dump’s Co-operator May Have Fled,” New Haven Register, 21 November 1991; Commissioner of Environmental Protection v. Connecticut Building Wrecking (Superior Court of Connecticut, August 28, 1991), 1991 Westlaw 172847; “One Chapter of Mount Trashmore Saga Ends,” Connecticut Post, 1 January 1993; “Moving a Mountain,” Fairfield County Weekly, 1 January 1994; Chris Taylor, interview with author, 10 January 2017.
5 George R. Dunbar, Back from Broke: The Fall and Rise of Bridgeport (n.p.: Self-published, 1993); Vernon Thompson, phone interview by author, 27 December 2016.
6 “Thousands Join in Jackson March,” Bridgeport Post, 12 August 1991; “The March to Hartford,” Bridgeport Post, 18 August 1991; “Jackson March Gets Scant Attention in Washington,” Bridgeport Post, 14 August 1991; “With a Song on Their Lips: Weary but Firm Marchers Prepare for Capitol Rally,” Bridgeport Post, 17 August 1991; James Dancy, interview by author, 4 January 2017; Thompson interview.
7 “Fondly Remembering an East End Activist- Brian Hariskevich Dies at 63,” Bridgeport News, 29 May 2008; “Bridgeport Dump Protesters Bring Mountain to Weicker;” “Moving a Mountain.”
8 Dancy interview; Thompson interview.
9 Commissioner of Environmental Protection v. Connecticut Building Wrecking; “Dump Protest Moving to Hartford,” New Haven Register, 19 December 1991; “Judge Comes Down Hard on Polluters,” New Haven Register, 26 November 1991; “His Name is Trash: Introducing Geno Capoziello and His 12 Hard-Working Brother Who Dumped on Connecticut,” Hartford Courant, 27 October 1991.
10 Ronelle Williams, “Trashmore Demonstrators Celebrate,” Folder, Mount Trashmore 1994, Bridgeport History Center; “State Will Pay to Move Mountain of Trash,” Hartford Courant, 1 January 1992; Ernest Newton, interview with author, 3 January 2017; “Election Over, Mayor Forgets Trashmore,” New Haven Register, 27 September 1992; Dancy interview; Joseph Ganim to the Honorable Common Council, 2 March 1992, in Bridgeport Common Council Archives, Office of the City Clerk, Bridgeport, Connecticut; Bridgeport Common Council, Special Meeting, Bridgeport Connecticut: Office of the City Clerk, 11 May 1992; “Trashmore Removal Ends Silently,” Connecticut Post, 6 January 1993; “Neighbors Hail Demise of Bridgeport Trash Pile,” New York Times, 5 August 1993.