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The landfills of Waller County

There are three things I find remarkable about this story about a proposed landfill in Waller County, near Hempstead.

A Georgia-based company wants to build a landfill and industrial park just outside the city on Texas 6 and Kelley, on what is now 723 acres of private property known as the Deywood Ranch.

Officials with Green Group Holdings said they plan to invest about $40 million in what they are calling the Pintail Landfill and Pintail Industrial Park, bringing much-needed jobs to the community that has fallen on hard economic times since the closure of Hempstead’s biggest employer, Lawrence Marshall Chevrolet, in 2009.

Hempstead Mayor Michael Wolfe said the extra revenue and jobs would be inconsequential when compared to the negative effects a landfill would bring.

“This does not substantiate driving the economy in my personal opinion,” Wolfe said. “I don’t see this as (having) an immediate impact.”

[...]

Opponents also fear their property values will drop and the peaceful country life they are accustomed to will be disrupted by the sounds of as many as 200 trash trucks thundering through their community.

Oscar Allen, senior vice president of GreenFirst, LLC, a subsidiary of Green Group, said that the negative reaction is typical. He also said that most property value fears are exaggerated.

“Property values are not affected as much as people believe,” Allen said.

“In our experience and the industry’s experience, landfills do not decrease property values,” the company’s website states. “In fact, property owners near other landfill projects have sold their property for sizable profits.”

As someone who grew up a few miles from the Fresh Kills landfill, all I can say is that I’m surprised Allen’s trousers didn’t spontaneously combust when he said that. Things may be different now, but forty years after Fresh Kills was first built there was very little development of any kind in its vicinity. The West Shore Expressway was a mostly empty stretch of road, even as the rest of Staten Island was being built out. I’m sure just the smell of the landfill, which the prevalent winds would carry a long way, was enough to keep people away. Allen’s statement is ludicrous on its face.

More than 100 residents crowded into the Waller County Courthouse to voice their objections at a recent Hempstead City Council meeting. Mayor Wolfe said he recommended that the council oppose the landfill.

County Judge Glenn Beckendorff said he hopes residents read about the project before they take a stand.

“Nobody wants a landfill, but they’re a necessity of life,” Beckendorff said. “We will do our best to keep the quality of life in Waller County.”

Beckendorff said he’s known about Green Group’s landfill proposal since May, but a nondisclosure agreement prohibited the county from releasing the information to the public immediately.

I’m a little surprised that Waller County would be so apparently unconcerned about how the city of Hempstead might feel about this new neighbor. Harris County and Houston don’t always see eye to eye, but I’d expect that an equivalent public outcry plus official disapproval from our Council in a similar situation would mean something to the County. I’m also surprised that the county could be subject to an NDA like that. How would the potential development of a landfill not be considered public information once it became known to public officials? If the idea was to not upset Green Group’s ability to get permits before the poo started hitting the fan, I’d say that’s a feature, not a bug. Something seems rotten about this, and it’s not just the future air quality near Hempstead.

Finally, on a tangential note, I have to ask: Do we really need this much extra landfill capacity? Presumably, the developers envision trash from Houston and Harris County as being their main supply source. Given the long term recycling deal that Houston is seeking to make, one hopes that our long-range forecast for landfill space needs is at least leveling off, if not actually turning downward. I am told that the city’s Solid Waste department currently collects about 2,000 tons/month of single stream from 105,000 homes. Project that out to 375,000 homes and you get a little over 7,000 tons per month. Now consider that as of the year 2000 there were 717,945 households and 782,009 housing units – I’m not sure which is the proper figure to use for an apples-to-apples comparison here – and you could potentially double that number or more if we get on a long term path towards bringing single stream recycling to the whole city, and that’s even before we talk about businesses, restaurants, and so on. (For comparison, according to Solid Waste the city collects about 48,000 tons of trash each month.) Point being, there’s a whole lot Houston can, should, and hopefully will do to throw whatever projection Green Group is making out the window. Maybe before they build a big dump near people’s houses we ought to be absolutely sure it’s something that’s really needed, and not something that hopes to induce demand by its presence. See this letter to the editor from Texas Campaign for the Environment for more.

UPDATE: Via Swamplot, meet Stop Highway 6 Landfill. Not a lot of love in the Swamplot comments for these folks. I understand where that attitude is coming from, but I think it misses the bigger picture, which is that we should be working towards not needing more landfill space. The potential for Houston, and hopefully Harris County, to cut down the amount of solid waste it generates is enormous. Isn’t that the better way to go?

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6 Comments

  1. Come on Charles, you don’t believe people are rushing in to buy homes and live downwind from a landfill? I mean think of all of the perks, short trip to dump your heavy trash, the nice warm glow of methane gas emmissions at night while you are sitting on the back porch or having a BBQ. It is a dream, I bet most of those high powered landfill execs live right next to where they work too right?

  2. [...] amazing what a change in market conditions can do. Part of the issue is that there are fewer and fewer places to add landfill space that don’t run into stiff opposition from the locals, part of it is as [...]

  3. angelsprite says:

    Since the article was written, a large meeting was held with the TCEQ, a landfill landshark attorney who refused to give his name until finally a TCEQ rep gave it FOR him, and about 600 of us “locals”. “Locals” are private property owners who are citizens of the USA with the right to quiet enjoyment of their property, plus the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, under the Bill Of Rights. The State has tried to PAVE our county under foreign infrastructure bank owned toll roads, they’ve tried to put through huge pipelines that go all the way from Canada to MEXICO (that gas ain’t for us, folks), and now they want to put in SEVERAL regional hazardous and solid waste processing facilities that will burn off toxic oil field waste, putting toxic gases into the atmosphere in huge volumes within 40 miles of Houston’s population. Even if you forget the residents of Waller, Houston isn’t far enough away from this thing to be adversely impacted by it. You have 4 million people in the greater Houston area and you want THIS hazardous waste burning, gigantic, multistoried incinerator burning off all that, with the captures only turned on during inspection? There are already 23 of these things operating in the US today. No wonder there is so much cancer, leukemia, cardiovascular disease, etc. If you don’t care about us “locals”, at least think about your own health. They are trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

  4. Mr. Estrella says:

    People in Waller County want to be left alone to prosper. Knowing this is what Beckendorff manipulated with his back room deals with this land fill. We need a new Waller County judge.

  5. Mr. Estrella says:

    New County judge is what we need.

  6. [...] written before about a battle in Waller County over a proposed landfill that would be built there. While [...]

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