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Why a Gas Station Is Being Submerged in Washington, DC's Most Polluted River

It's a comment on our oil dependency, of course.

by Jason Koebler
Jul 18 2014, 4:20pm
Image: Mia Feuer

An artist who recently made a hockey rink out of petroleum is planning to sink a gas station in the middle of Washington, DC's Anacostia River, one of the most polluted waterways on the eastern seaboard.

It won't actually be pumping out fuel, of course—that'd be the kind of thing that gets you branded as a supervillain, or at least as an international oil conglomerate. Instead, Mia Feuer is making a full-scale gas station canopy, complete with glowing signs and lights that are powered using solar panels and wind turbines. 

You couldn't miss the symbolism if you tried, but it's still a powerful message and it'll certainly be jarring to see an honest-to-goodness gas station sitting in the middle of a river. In fact, it's got the city's backing; the work is set to be displayed between September and December as part of the city's 5x5 public art festival.

Feuer, as you'd expect, is hoping to spark conversation about the nation's reliance on oil, the pollution we've put in our waterways, and climate change and sea level rise.

A mockup by the artist. Image: Mia Feuer

If you're going to do something like this in DC, the part of the Anacostia she's chosen is perfect. It's located just off of Kingman Island, which is quite literally a trash island, built on top of a former landfill. It's a popular kayak and bike riding spot and the gas station will be visible from Benning Road, one of the city's larger commuter roads. 

"I imagined being able to see this jarring image in the landscape from traffic," she said (and there will be traffic—that cursed road is always backed up). "You can see it from the car or from the metro, by foot, by bike or kayak. It's become a pretty complicated endeavor."

As I mentioned earlier, it's not Feurer's first shot at the country's reliance on oil—earlier this year, she built a hockey rink out of a black synthetic ice made out of shale oil

Not everyone is all that thrilled with the plan. Yesterday, Anacostia River cleanup group United for a Healthy Anacostia River (which includes many DC businesses, nonprofits, and residents) asked the DC government's Commission on the Arts and Humanities to stop Feuer.

"While we understand and many of us appreciate the global climate change message that the artist is trying to deliver, we are unified in our view that sinking a gas station in the Anacostia is simply the wrong thing to do," the group wrote.

"If the public misunderstands the art's intended message as permission to put gas or oil in the river, the project could single-handedly set back the river restoration and undo years of effort … to convince people to keep oil out of the water," it continued.

If that happened, it'd surely be a very bad thing. But it seems unlikely that someone will see a glowing gas station replica in the river and think "hey, it's cool to dump oil here." 

The city has yet to respond to the letter, but Feuer is moving ahead with a crowdfunding campaign to build the thing, which is moving steadily towards its goal. Pretty soon, a cadre of cranes, barges, and trucks—oil fueled, no doubt—will be dropping an honest-to-goodness gas station in the middle of a river.