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TCEQ rejection of Hempstead landfill application upheld

Sweet.

StopHwy6Landfill

A yearslong battle over the construction of a landfill in Hempstead has come to an end for now after a judge ruled in Austin on Friday that Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decision to return the landfill’s application should be affirmed, according to court records.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had already rejected Pintail Landfill’s second application to build, but the company wanted that decision overturned. The trial took place on Thursday in Travis County’s 250th Civil District Court, where Judge Karin Crump the next day issued her ruling.

“It’s another court victory. It’s been a very long fight,” said Waller County Judge Trey Duhon. “From the beginning we were very clear, that this was absolutely one of the worst spots that you can possibly locate a landfill.”

The landfill, which would be built north of Hempstead off Texas 6 in Waller County, has been opposed for years by community members because they felt it would negatively affect their water supply and economic future. A local group, Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, has actively worked against the construction of the landfill, raising more than $2 million for the cause through community garage sales and other fundraisers.

See here for the most recent update. You would think this would be over by now, but the judge’s ruling can be appealed, so it ain’t over yet unless Green Group throws in the towel. One hopes this time the message will sink in. Congrats to CALH for the latest victory.

Hempstead landfill application denied again

Good.

StopHwy6Landfill

A state commission has denied a new application to build a landfill in Waller County, saying ordinances adopted by the county and the city of Hempstead now prohibit a garbage dump in the area.

A highly charged debate over proposals to build a landfill rising as high as 151 feet above ground has been going on for about five years.

The Georgia-based Green Group Holdings, LLC, has pursued the project, while a local advocacy group, Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, and current local elected officials oppose it.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last year rejected an original application filed by Green Group, citing an alleged failure of the company to account for how high the water level might get in the area of the proposed Pintail Landfill. The commission returned an appeal of that rejection in the spring, saying it came too late.

The company, meanwhile, went ahead and bought the 723-acre property in June and filed a new application. It reiterated its commitment to meeting required standards and stated a belief that it should be grandfathered in under old laws — before the local ordinances had been adopted to prohibit a landfill at the site, which is north of the city of Hempstead off Texas 6.

But, in a letter dated Thursday, Earl Lott, waste permits director for TCEQ, wrote that the ordinances prevented the agency from granting the new application. For any questions, Lott directed the company to contact its staff attorney.

“We are evaluating all options in light of the recent decision,” said David Green, president of Green Group, in a written statement.

See here for the most recent update, and here for a somewhat hard to read copy of the TCEQ letter. The next step, if there is one, would be legal action to challenge the ordinance. We’ll see what if anything Green Group does.

Hempstead landfill application resubmitted

Here we go again.

StopHwy6Landfill

A Georgia-based company on Wednesday announced it had initiated a new application to build a controversial landfill in Waller County, bringing renewed attention to a project that a citizens group and several county commissioners have actively opposed.

Earlier this year, Commissioner John Amsler had described the landfill as “dead” though at the time the proponent, Green Group Holdings LLC, was exploring ways to still bring the project to reality.

On Tuesday, the firm filed the first two parts of an application for construction of the Pintail Landfill with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, agency spokeswoman Andrea Morrow confirmed.

The portions submitted deal with whether the land can be used for waste disposal. They will be reviewed to decide whether the application can go forward, Morrow wrote in an email.

[…]

Green Group’s new application follows the rejection last fall by TCEQ of a previous proposal, which found the company had not adequately accounted for how high the water might rise in the area. TCEQ this spring also denied an appeal of that rejection, saying the appeal came too late.

In a news release, Green Group said the company was “confident” its new application would meet “all applicable design and location standards.” The new proposed landfill will be on a smaller portion of the of the original site.

News of the filing concerned Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, which has actively opposed the proposal, believing that it would negatively impact the area’s water supply and economic vitality.

After first opposing the plans five years ago, the grass-roots group has kept a close eye on the project. Members of the group last month predicted the fight would continue when the company finalized the purchase of a 723-acre parcel where it plans to build the landfill.

“CALH remains strongly opposed to Pintail Landfill,” treasurer Mike McCall said Wednesday on behalf of the group. “We have got a lot of work to do to fairly evaluate that application. … Until that happens we are not going to have any further comment.”

See here and here for the background. On the one hand, there’s no reason to think that Green Group can’t fix the problems that caused their initial application to be rejected. On the other hand, the county government in Waller is unanimously opposed to this project, which wasn’t the case back when it first came to light some years ago. I never have faith in the TCEQ to be on the side of the people, but I do believe that Green Group has a much higher hill to climb this time around. We’ll see how it goes.

Hempstead landfill fight still not over

As with all things, it ain’t over till it’s over.

StopHwy6Landfill

Green Group Holdings recently purchased the 723-acre parcel where the company had planned to build the landfill before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality turned down the project.

The move means the Georgia-based Green Group hasn’t given up on the project, known as the Pintail landfill. David Green, vice president of the company, said it would continue to explore how to move forward.

“The Pintail property has been under option to purchase for a number of years,” Green said in a statement last week. “After much consideration, we have decided to exercise the option and purchase the property.”

Citizens Against the Landfill, a grass-roots group in Hempstead, said the company’s purchase of the land indicated that the 5-year-old fight over the project would continue. The group contends that the landfill would harm the area’s water supply and economic future.

“As much as we hate to admit it, at this point we are convinced that the battle is not over,” the group said in a statement that called for a new round of fundraising.

See here and here for the background. Green Group would have to submit a new application for the permit, so any new attempt to make this happen would begin more or less from the beginning, and would face opposition that has already organized and extracted a settlement from county government stemming from the initial attempt. It would be difficult for them, in other words, but not impossible. Those who do not want to see this landfill get built will need to stay on guard.

Recycling contract impasse

Uh, oh.

The city of Houston’s curbside recycling program could be put on hold after negotiations between Waste Management and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office reached an apparent impasse over a new contract Tuesday.

Though Turner said he remains committed to recycling and his office said he will be “pursuing any and all available options” before the current contract expires March 16, the standoff could see Houstonians’ recyclables trucked to a landfill as early as next week.

The mayor acknowledged the breakdown Tuesday after Waste Management rejected Turner’s attempt to shorten a proposed four-year contract extension to one year.

“They control the market. It’s like a monopoly,” Turner said of the Houston-based Fortune 500 company that long has held the city’s recycling contract. “I support recycling. But asking people to accept a bad deal now and in the future is not good business, and I’m not prepared to allow the city to be hijacked by Waste Management or any one company. I want a good deal, but I also expect people to be good corporate citizens and not utilize their monopolistic status.”

[…]

Waste Management for years has been processing and reselling Houstonians’ recyclables, taking a $65-per-ton fee from those revenues and giving 70 percent of any money left over to the city. If the firm’s costs exceeded the fee the city paid, Waste Management swallowed the difference.

With plunging oil prices dragging commodities below $50 per ton, however, the firm has been renegotiating contracts. The deal before council, which was being negotiated before Turner took office, would see the city pay a processing fee of $95 per ton for at least four years. Turner’s office said he now agrees with council that such a term could trap the city in an unfavorable rate even after the market recovers.

Turner instead had sought to shorten the deal to one year in exchange for a higher, $104-per-ton fee.

Waste Management rejected that deal Tuesday, shortly before the mayor faced residents pleading with the council not to end the city’s recycling program only one year after it was expanded to give all homeowners the popular 96-gallon green bins.

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See here for the background. The Press has an explanation for why we are in this predicament.

Melanie Scruggs, program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, says a major pratfall with Houston recycling is Waste Management’s monopoly over the city.

“Dallas owns its own landfill and they have a recycling facility at the landfill, so it’s a win-win for them,” says Scruggs. “Austin, in addition to a citywide recycling ordinance, has two different companies: one on the north side of [the Colorado River], and the other on the south side.”

“There’s not a competitive market for recycling in Houston. Waste Management is the only one in town and it puts the city in a difficult decision,” adds Scruggs. “The city of Houston is trying to put as much pressure on Waste Management for a shorter and cheaper contract because they want to save money.”

I don’t know what the solution to this is if Waste Management won’t go for a shorter-term deal, which I think the city is correct to pursue. Not recycling isn’t an option, unless you really want to see Houston get another large round of negative national publicity. The timing of this just couldn’t be worse, and we’re a week away from the current contract expiring. It’s a mess. For those of you who want to do something that might help, the Texas Campaign for the Environment has a customizable email message you can send to the city. Calling your Council members (district and At Large) is never a bad idea, either.

Waller County landfill plan appears to be dead

Maybe.

StopHwy6Landfill

A Waller County commissioner on Wednesday declared victory in a years-long battle against an outside company’s proposal to develop a landfill there.

“I am proud to say the landfill is dead,” Commissioner John Amsler said as the regular commissioners court meeting got underway.

However, a company representative said Wednesday that Green Group Holdings, LLC, is continuing to explore ways to move forward with the project.

[…]

County and city ordinances regarding landfills now prevent one from being built at that site, meaning a new application would be rejected, County Judge Trey Duhon said by phone Wednesday.

Green Group Holdings, LLC, had been looking to grandfather in an application due to a transfer facility permit they had already gotten for the location, but the county’s attorney learned recently that the state agency did not agree that would be the case, Duhon said.

“That effectively kills the landfill,” Duhon said, though he noted the company already has invested significantly in the project.

Or maybe not.

And yet, in a written statement on Friday, the chief executive officer of Green Group Holdings, LLC, said they were continuing to pursue the project that several commissioners such as Amsler promised during their election campaigns they would fight.

“We are assessing other avenues to move the project forward,” CEO Ernest Kaufmann wrote in a statement.

[…]

In his statement, Kaufmann wrote that Green Group believes TCEQ “has misinterpreted” the rules regarding how a permit application can be grandfathered. And he disagreed with Amsler’s conclusion: the agency’s recent interpretation of the impact that the transfer station registration would have on a resubmitted application “does not mean the project is ‘dead,’ ” he wrote.

A representative of an advocacy group called Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, which has long fought the project, expressed they weren’t celebrating just yet.

The group has spent $1.8 million to fight the project, “a travesty in and of itself,” says Mike McCall, the group’s treasurer.

And while McCall said the group agreed with TCEQ’s decision that a new application should not be grandfathered in under old law, he said he won’t be convinced the group is done until they take away their equipment at the site. Until then, said McCall, who lives north of the proposed landfill site, the group would remain vigilant.

“I’m a CPA by profession, and I like to dot my I’s and cross my T’s,” he said. “I’m not satisfied that Pintail is through yet.”

As the first story notes, Green Group has not appealed the TCEQ rejection of their application for a permit; the application they had submitted was ruled “deficient” because it had not accurately accounted for the landfill’s potential effect on groundwater. That initial application is presumably their best chance to get this landfill done, since local laws have since been changed to ban them. There’s still the possibility of other legal action, and I’m not aware of a deadline for appealing the TCEQ ruling, so it’s still too early to say this is over. We’ll see what card Green Group plays next.

Landfilling

Really interesting story about a place most of us would not think to visit.

The open face of the Atascocita landfill in Humble slopes downward, where trucks unload the cast-off scraps of daily life. Bulldozers spread the debris to a depth of a few feet before trucks with spiked tires take turns compacting the heap, lumbering over the uneven surface.

Some 500 trucks dump garbage here each day and the mound keeps growing – but not as fast as it did just a decade ago, thanks to consumers’ recycling and composting habits and an effort by manufacturers to use lighter-weight materials for packaging. Population growth is what keeps the garbage pile growing now. Nationally, per-capita disposal rates have dropped close to the levels of the 1990s.

Houston-based Waste Management, the nation’s largest municipal waste company, said it lost $188 million in revenue last year, and $133 million the year before from lower volumes of all the materials it collects in trash and recycling. The company runs 247 solid waste landfills in the U.S. and Canada.

Its landfill management business, however, has fared better than collection and recycling, the company reported. Its landfills also accept waste from other collection companies that pay to drop the trash there. About 70 percent of the waste that comes in to Atascocita arrives on Waste Management trucks.

There, 25 employees process 4,500 tons of trash per day six days a week. Starting at 5 a.m. they’re screening for hazardous waste and taking trucks’ weight on scales. Others check the more than 30 pipes that gather gasses from completed landfill, herd trash trucks in and move screens around the open landfill to catch stray paper on windy days.

[…]

Nationally, in 2013 we sent 11 million fewer tons of trash to landfills than we did in 1990 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Last year Texans each produced 6.58 pounds of waste per day. Though that’s higher than the last several years, the number didn’t drop below 7 pounds per person from 2000 until 2009, when the recession led to less consumption and less trash.

But according to the EPA, the amount of waste each American tosses reached its lowest point in 2013 since 1990. The agency estimates that about 2.89 pounds of trash per person each day actually ends up in a landfill.

Texas’ numbers are calculated differently to include some construction waste and don’t account for diversion to recycling and compost.

Recycling is cutting out a lot of the waste we now send to a sealed, compacted mound of trash.

The EPA reported that in 2013 more than a third of waste was recycled. Of the total 254 million tons of waste generated by American households and businesses last year, 87 million tons were diverted from landfills. We’re also using less paper, in the office and for the newspapers we read, reducing a lot of waste.

“Part of it is more aggressive recycling and part of it is from the packaging perspective there’s been a lot of light-weighting,” said Chuck Rivette, regional director of planning and project development for Waste Management.

Most packaging uses less material than it did several decades ago. Plastic water bottles use as much as 50 percent less plastic and thin plastic pouches have replaced bulkier plastic bottles and boxes.

“Even if you bought the same number of bottles an didn’t change your habits, your (trash) generation’s gone down,” said Anne Germain, director of waste and recycling technology for the National Waste & Recycling Association.

Like I said, a good read, and you’ll likely learn something from it as I did. The city’s goal needs to be to continue the downward trend of each person’s waste per day. More recycling – I was glad to hear multiple Mayoral candidates talk about bringing recycling to apartment complexes – and more composting would be good starts. If that means instituting a trash fee – to fund such activity and to help ease the current budget shortfall – then so be it. However we do it, that’s the destination we need to aim for – more recycling, more composting, less trash sent to landfills.

TCEQ rejects application for Hempstead landfill

Back to the drawing board.

StopHwy6Landfill

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality this week returned a company’s application to construct a landfill in Waller County, calling the application “deficient.” It was the latest blow to plans for the highly controversial project about 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston.

Green Group Holdings, LLC, a Georgia-based company that develops and operates waste management facilities, did not adequately account for how high the water level might get in the proposed area, a discovery that was made after years of vetting the application, according to a letter Monday from TCEQ to the company.

Actively opposed by a local citizens group, the Pintail landfill project was designed for a site north of Hempstead off Texas 6. The landfill’s maximum height would have been about 151 feet above the ground, with a volume of 35.7 million cubic yards available for disposal, according to the TCEQ application overview online.

Agency staff spent more than 1,300 hours over four years working with the company on the permit application, pointing out more than 400 points to be addressed, wrote Earl Lott, the agency’s waste permits division director, in the letter.

“Despite this significant effort, the application is still deficient,” Lott continued. “Elevated seasonal high water levels have been discovered at the proposed landfill site, substantially affecting the basis under which the draft permit was prepared.”

[…]

“For the integrity of the municipal solid waste landfill program, this is not where we want to be at this point in the process,” Lott wrote. “The application has already undergone extensive technical review, a draft permit has been prepared and the matter has been referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. It is at this point that momentous site information is discovered which significantly alters the approach to the design of the facility.”

Green Group Holdings can now walk away from the project, draft a new application or appeal the decision. An appeal must be filed within 23 days of the decision. The company has not yet decided what it will do next, according to a written statement.

“We are surprised by the action and are in the process of evaluating our next steps,” the statement said.

Citizens Against the Landfill counts the application’s return as a victory, but doesn’t believe the fight is finished,

“It’s a victory but it’s not over,” Huntsinger said. “When they leave town and say, ‘We’re not coming back to Hempstead with this site, that’s when it’s over.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the TCEQ’s letter to Green Group. I have a hard time imagining that they will give up the fight, but their choices aren’t very good at this point. Congrats to CALH for all their hard work, whatever comes next.

More good news for Hempstead landfill opponents

This could be the end of the line for the proposed landfill.

StopHwy6Landfill

Opponents of a proposed landfill in Waller County won another victory in a years-long legal fight to prevent the project. The executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a decision supporting the Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead’s request for summary judgment on the permit application.

“This is the best news we have received thus far in this case, which has been going on three to four years now,” county judge Trey Duhon wrote in an e-mail. “It is clear that the current application does not meet state requirements for a landfill, as the landfill opponents have been saying all along.”

[…]

“We’re pleased to see that decision by the executive director which acknowledges the position we’ve taken all along,” said Bill Huntsinger, president of the Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, representing opposition in the small town roughly an hour northwest of Houston.

Following the decision from the executive director, it falls to the administrative law judges of the State Office of Administrative Hearings to make a determination about the permit. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would then rule on the findings.

“We are hopeful that the judge will do the right thing and dismiss the application,” said Duhon.

[…]

In his decision, the executive director of the state’s environmental commission, Richard Hyde, wrote, “the current application does not meet TCEQ rule requirements by the Applicant’s own admission.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The final step in the process is the actual Contested Case Hearing, which is set for November 2. At that hearing, the case – which may take two weeks – will be heard by two Administrative Law Judges with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). At the end of the hearing, these SOAH Judges will issue a “Recommendation for Decision” to the Commissioners of the TCEQ, and then finally the TCEQ will make its decision. (There’s currently a vacancy on the TCEQ, awaiting an appointment from the Governor, so I suppose this could affect the timeline.) One presumes the decision by the Executive Director of the TCEQ bodes well for the landfill opponents, but there’s still that hearing to go through. Stay tuned.

Hempstead landfill clarification

I recently blogged about an update to the Hempstead landfill story, in which Green Group Holdings asked to amend its original filings regarding groundwater levels. I received an email on Monday from a Green Group representative, who sent me the following additional information:

  • On August 12, 2015, the Administrative Law Judges presiding over the hearing on the landfill permit application for the Pintail Landfill in Waller County granted a continuance of the hearing process to allow Pintail to evaluate new information regarding groundwater levels at the proposed site following recent extreme rainfall amounts.
  • TCEQ rules contemplate the incorporation of new groundwater data into the engineering design for a landfill.
  • Because of our commitment to environmental stewardship and engineering excellence, we believe that further evaluation of this new information is the responsible course of action and we requested a delay in the hearing process to allow for it.
  • This is consistent with Pintail’s approach to meet or exceed applicable requirements. For instance, the surface water detention ponds at the Pintail Landfill will have significantly more capacity than required. The surface water management system at a municipal solid waste landfill is required by rule to be designed and constructed to manage the rainfall from one 25-year storm event. However, the Pintail facility’s ponds are designed to manage stormwater from two back-to-back 100-year rainfall events.
  • For the Pintail site, groundwater levels in the 15 piezometers were measured over an 18-month period, from July 2011 until December 2012, including two 3-month periods during which rainfall in the area of the Pintail site was more than 150% of normal (see attachment for additional information).
  • The higher groundwater levels recently measured at the site followed a 3-month period in which rainfall amounts were well over 200% of normal.

Emphasis in the original. The attachment in question can be seen here. In the original Chron story that I blogged about, the folks fighting the landfill asked for a summary judgment denying the permit and dismissing the case after this happened; I haven’t seen any new stories relating to this, so I don’t know what the status of that is. In any event, I wanted to be as accurate as I can about this, so here you go. Thanks to Green Group for the feedback.

Hempstead landfill would indeed hurt the environment

Raise your hand if this surprises you.

StopHwy6Landfill

Pintail Landfill developers backpedaled from arguments that their proposed dump site outside Hempstead would not harm the environment, agreeing for the first time this summer that their review of groundwater under the property was flawed.

Environmental testing by opponents in preparation for a November hearing found that groundwater is several feet closer to the surface than Pintail reported in its 2011 permit application. If constructed as proposed, landfill officials admitted in related state filings that the dump site would be underwater, violating regulations designed to protect against groundwater contamination that could affect drinking supplies.

Opponents celebrated the admission as vindication of their years-long battle to block the 250-acre landfill that would be visible from U.S. 290 and primarily receive trash from Houston 50 miles away.

Green Group Holdings, the Georgia-based developer behind the landfill, asked TCEQ for permission to amend its application just days after opponents submitted the revelatory geological report to the state administrative court scheduled to review the permit in a contested case hearing. An attorney for Green Group and Pintail did not return emails or phone calls requesting comment.

Instead of allowing Pintail to amend its application – and take that revised plan into the hearing – landfill opponents have asked state administrative law judges to issue a summary judgment denying the permit and dismissing the case.

“My client, along with the City of Hempstead, have collectively spent over $1 million fighting this landfill,” said Blayre Pena, attorney for the nonprofit advocacy group Citizens Against a Landfill in Hempstead. “It would be a true miscarriage of justice if Pintail is allowed to admit their application does not meet statutory and regulatory requirements and then be given the opportunity to send it back to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to fix it.”

The contested case hearing originally had been scheduled to start Nov. 2, but Pintail’s request has delayed that at least several weeks, assuming the judges don’t deny the permit outright.

“We are playing the waiting game,” Hempstead Mayor Michael Wolfe said. “While the TCEQ did not take a position on the city’s motion to dismiss, we are hopeful they will see the light and realize there is only one acceptable answer to this situation: Deny Pintail’s application.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I wonder what motivated this admission – the story doesn’t give any indication, and it’s not something they’d do if they didn’t have to. Whatever the case, I agree with Mayor Wolfe. Groundwater is precious enough in this state. The last thing we need is to put any of it at risk of contamination by a landfill. Let’s hope the TCEQ sees it that way as well.

Hempstead landfill update

From the inbox:

StopHwy6Landfill

After several postponements, the Contested Case Hearing on the proposed Pintail Landfill permit has been set for November 2, 2015, in Austin.

Assuming no further delays, the case will be heard by two Administrative Law Judges with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). The trial is expected to take about two weeks. This proceeding to determine the facts is the last step before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Commissioners make their final decision on the Pintail Landfill permit application.

The proposed landfill permit was not stopped by last December’s trial in Waller County.

The December trial was necessary to clarify whether former County officials acted legally in adopting, first, an amended version of the County’s 2011 landfill location control ordinance and, second, a Host Agreement. A jury of Waller County citizens decided that those officials did violate the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act.

The issuance of the TCEQ landfill permit remains to be decided. The application was referred to SOAH for a determination of the facts through a “trial” called a Contested Case Hearing (CCH). Such hearings include depositions, affidavits, expert testimony, and cross-examination relative to the many disputed issues in the application.

After the evidence is heard, the SOAH Judges will issue a “Recommendation for Decision” to the Commissioners of the TCEQ.

Along with Waller County, the City of Hempstead and several other Parties, Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead (CALH) is preparing for the CCH.

For over four years now, the landfill has been fought to a standstill and the Applicant still does not have a permit. Neither does it own the property.

Up against the big money of Green Group Holdings and their financial backers, CALH has had to budget tightly and fund every dollar with donations and fundraisers. If you are not aware, CALH has held 26 garage sales so far, each averaging about $10,000. These sales are so well stocked by wonderful donations and so popular with shoppers that we have had to rename the event ‘more than a’ Garage Sale. In addition, we have held annual dinner/auction fundraisers called ‘We Stand United’ in both 2013 and 2014, where tickets were sold out prior to the event and proceeds exceeded $100,000 each.

To date, most of the preparation work for the CCH has been done and paid for from donations, fundraisers and settlement funds from the December trial. However, it is estimated that another $300,000 will be needed by CALH to cover the remaining expenses of the upcoming CCH battle. Without lawyers to finish preparing for the case and to try it before the SOAH Judges, the fight could be lost.

This is why CALH is preparing to host ‘We Stand United 3’ on Saturday, July 25, 2015, at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Hempstead, Texas. All committees are working feverishly to make this event as successful as its predecessors. The community is coming together as always with donations, table sponsorships and ticket sales. If you would like to see a community working together in a positive, united way, we invite you to attend this event on July 25. Please see the flyer attached for details. We also invite you to visit our website and Facebook page to learn more about our organization and its activities.

Please contact us at StopHwy6Landfill@gmail.com for further information.

See here and here for previous upadates, and here for more on the July 25 fundraiser. I have been a supporter of this effort to keep the landfill out, and I continue to wish CALH well. I had been a little concerned that the legislation passed this session to restrict contested case hearings might stack the odds against them, but I have been assured that it will not affect theirs. It’s still a concern going forward for others, but that’s a subject for the future. Regardless, I’ll be following it and will check for updates in November.

Waller County approves landfill lawsuit settlement

Missed this when it first came out.

StopHwy6Landfill

After two fraught years of legal battle, the lawsuit over a proposed Waller County landfill came to a quiet close Friday with a deal that ensures the civil case against the county will not be appealed but that does not prevent the landfill from being built.

The county commissioners court’s 3-2 vote Friday morning to approve the settlement comes two months after a jury found that commissioners violated transparency laws in agreeing to host the 250-acre landfill near the small city of Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. The settlement voids the county’s 2013 ordinance and host agreement authorizing the waste site while stipulating that the county will pay $570,000 in attorneys’ fees incurred by the plaintiffs, the city of Hempstead and the group Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead.

However, the fate of the project remains in limbo, as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, not Waller County, has final say over whether the landfill gets built. The landfill company’s permit application is scheduled to be reviewed in a contested case hearing in August.

“This landfill has caused a lot of damage in this county,” County Judge Trey Duhon said before voting to approve the settlement, which he said he believes is in the county’s best interest, fees and all. “I hope this is an opportunity for this county to start to heal.”

[…]

Following the commissioners court’s discussion and approval of the settlement, retired state District Judge Terry Flenniken signed the final judgment, calling the case to a close before some 30 attendees, many of whom had been present throughout the trial.

“This is what Waller County wanted,” said Brent Ryan, an attorney for the landfill company, Pintail. He reiterated that the company is moving forward with its plans for the waste site.

Now the county is shifting attention to the contested case hearing in August over Pintail’s permit application, and to developing a comprehensive waste management plan.

“With this order,” Duhon said, “our work is just beginning.”

See here and here for the background. As the story says, this is still far from over. I can’t say I have much faith in a state agency to do the right thing on an environmental issue, but I suppose anything is possible. We’ll find out in August. The Stop Highway 6 Landfill webpage is back up and running, and their Facebook page is active, so you can keep on top of things in the meantime. An email sent from Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead to supporters about the settlement is beneath the fold, and a copy of the agreement itself is here.

(more…)

Settlement talks in Waller County landfill suit

Here’s an update on where things stand with the litigation in Waller County over the proposed landfill outside Hempstead. A jury in December ruled that Waller County Commissioners Court violated Texas’ open meetings laws in deciding to allow the project to move forward, but the question of whether or not that made the landfill itself illegal has not been determined.

StopHwy6Landfill

The plaintiffs – the city of Hempstead and a citizens group opposed to the project – were expected to ask the presiding judge Wednesday to decide outstanding legal questions in the civil case, including the validity of the county’s 2013 ordinance allowing the landfill, said Blayre Peña, an attorney for the citizens group.

However, the Jan. 21 hearing was postponed at the last minute in light of ongoing settlement talks.

[…]

“I’m hoping that by next week we get something that we can act on,” [Waller County Judge Trey] Duhon said.

If no settlement is reached, a hearing will be held Feb. 20 in retired state District Judge Terry Flenniken’s court.

See here for the background. If the end result is that the 2013 ordinance is invalidated and the landfill is barred, you can be sure there will be further litigation. Given Greg Abbott’s hostility to local control, one wonders if the state might get involved at that point. One way or another, this is a long way from over.

Saving money by throwing away less

Good strategy all around.

As a committee mulls an ambitious and controversial “one bin” project that could overhaul recycling and waste collection in Houston, the city’s traditional mode of getting rid of trash just got cheaper.

A renegotiated contract with the city’s primary waste hauler, approved by City Council late last month with little fanfare amid a deluge of end-of-year requests, is set to save the city about $600,000 annually, according to the city’s Solid Waste Management Department.

The $226 million contract to handle much of the city’s waste belongs to BFI Waste Services of Texas, whose parent company is industry giant Republic Services. The coveted contract underwent a massive rewrite in 2009 that did away with a painful “put or pay” clause that meant the city had to deliver a guaranteed amount of waste or cough up the monetary difference. Through the life of the contract, those changes will save the city an estimated $70 million.

The most recent savings, smaller but still significant as the city whittles away at a looming budget deficit, come courtesy of lowered tipping fees – the amount, per ton of trash, the city pays at the gate to a company to process its waste at transfer stations and landfills. Those fees can add up, and in some large urban cities run more than $50 per ton. In Houston, the city has now scaled the fees back by about $1.50 per ton, amounting to about $23.50 per ton. Set annual price increases will continue as scheduled, but the city has essentially reset the clock on its landfill fees to a few years ago.

“We’ve been very mindful and particular with how we spend the public dollar,”Solid Waste Management DirectorHarry Hayes told City Council members last year during a budget meeting.

The city is Republic’s biggest local customer, deputy solid waste director of operations Victor Ayres said , which offers some leverage in negotiating lower rates. The city has sent less trash to the landfill during the past five years. In fiscal year 2014, the city sent 628,978 tons to the landfill, 10,000 tons fewer than the year before and about 21,000 tons fewer than in 2012.

Can you imagine having to pay more for not providing enough garbage to the landfill? It’s so wrong on so many levels I can’t even wrap my mind around it. The city is going in the right direction here, and saving a few bucks in the process, but there’s a lot more to be done. Recycling rates, or diversion rates if you prefer, are still well below the national average. A big part of it is that too many people just don’t have a recycling mindset. I get ill at the sight of so many aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic containers pitched into trash cans wherever I look. That’s part of the allure of the One Bin proposal, for which the RFPs are still being evaluated by the city. But whether we go that way or not – and please, I’m not looking to get bogged down in that debate right now – just having people think twice before they toss their beverage container or whatever into a waste bin would be nice. Throwing it away like that is wasteful in more ways than one.

Waller County pledges more transparency after landfill verdict

More transparency is good. Beyond that, we’ll see what happens.

StopHwy6Landfill

Incoming Waller County leaders are pledging more transparency in the wake of a jury’s verdict that sitting county commissioners illegally discussed a contentious landfill project in closed-door sessions and in private with the project’s developer.

“Transparency and open government were significant issues during the recent campaign,” said County Judge-elect Trey Duhon. “This jury verdict sends a statement that we must do a better job of operating our county government… Business as usual will no longer be tolerated in Waller County.”

Duhon was one of three landfill opponents elected to the commissioners court in November – elections that followed victories by two other landfill opponents in 2012, John Amsler and Jeron Barnett. Come January, landfill opponents will have a majority on the commissioners court.

While the outgoing county judge and commissioners maintained they had little choice but to agree to host the 250-acre landfill just outside the city of Hempstead, a county jury found after a three-week trial that the panel’s majority had violated the state’s Open Meetings Act and Public Information Act on multiple occasions.

Incoming commissioners say they plan not only to step up the fight against the landfill but to change the way that the county does business.

“It’s the dawn of a new era in Waller County,” Amsler said after Thursday’s civil verdict. “For many years, we’ve had a reputation of questionable politics. Now, we’ve turned the lights on in Waller County.”

[…]

Thursday’s verdict does not block the landfill, but nonetheless creates momentum for those opposed to the project, who fear it would hurt property values and pollute an aquifer that serves the Houston area.

Retired Judge Terry Flenniken is expected to rule on the jurisdictional question of the case on Jan. 21. He also could invalidate the 2013 ordinance based on the finding that commissioners met illegally.

Armed with the civil court’s ruling, landfill opponents, including incoming county leaders, also will seek to convince the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to reverse its preliminary decision to issue a permit.

Brent Ryan, attorney for Pintail Landfill, a subsidiary of Georgia-based Green Group Holdings, said he is confident the project will move forward.

“We’re in full compliance with the law,” he said. “We’re used to seeing people who don’t want us to build a landfill. We’ve dealt with that before. What we’re not used to is the kind of vicious attacks on local officials that we’ve seen here, and who frankly made it clear from the beginning they would have stopped us if they could.”

Cry me a river, dude. Background on the story is here, here, and here. As I said up front, more transparency is always good, but if the TCEQ doesn’t agree to at least review their decision to grant a preliminary permit, it will be hard to be all that cheerful about it. That landfill is a bad idea even if everything had been done on the up and up. I hope this verdict gives its opponents the ammunition they need to make the TCEQ see that.

Landfill opponents win in Hempstead lawsuit

Good news.

StopHwy6Landfill

A jury on Thursday found that Waller County commissioners met illegally in closed sessions among themselves and with developers of a controversial landfill proposal over more than two years before agreeing to host the project.

After a three-week jury trial that was the talk of this rural county, the 12-member jury sided with the city of Hempstead and a citizens group that had challenged the Commissioners Court’s February 2013 approval of the 250-acre landfill just outside the Hempstead city limits.

The verdict does not block the landfill, but it does represent an important victory for those fiercely opposed to the project, who fear it would hurt property values and pollute an aquifer that serves the Houston area.

[…]

Landfill opponents say Thursday’s victory will strengthen a separate case as they contest a draft permit issued two years ago to the developer, Pintail Landfill, by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The judge presiding over Thursday’s civil case, retired Judge Terry Flenniken, could invalidate a 2013 ordinance allowing the landfill now that a jury has found commissioners met illegally. That would reinstate a 2011 city ordinance that had prohibited the landfill, said Corey Ouslander, attorney for the city of Hempstead. Pintail maintains that the ordinance has no weight because it was adopted after they had filed their application with the state.

Flenniken is also set to rule at a Jan. 21 hearing on whether the county had authority to approve the project given that 106 acres falls within Hempstead’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, a bubble around it that could be pulled within city limits once the population increases.

A ruling in opponents’ favor on that element could allow the city to block the project through health and safety codes or other means, Ouslander said.

The developer maintains that it has the necessary permits to proceed, regardless of the verdict.

“We plan to build a state-of-the art facility that will be an asset to Hempstead and to Waller County,” said Brent Ryan, attorney for Pintail Landfill, a subsidiary of Georgia-based Green Group Holdings.

See here and here for the background. A copy of the charge of the court, which includes the questions the jury was asked to resolve and their answers, is here. This may be a short-lived victory for the plaintiffs regardless of this verdict or the rulings to come from Judge Flenniken, as the landfill developers plan to go forward anyway and claim that all they need is TCEQ approval, but it’s still a good win. We’ll see what happens from here. KUHF has more.

Hempstead landfill trial update

It’s complicated.

StopHwy6Landfill

For many in the courtroom, a judge’s promise Friday that the Waller County landfill trial would conclude “before Santa Claus comes” was welcome news. Earlier in the week, they had lamented the possibility that the trial – one over an issue that has divided the rural county for the past two years – would pause and not conclude until February, due to a crowded court calendar.

Yet both the landfill developer’s attorney and members of incoming county commissioners agree that whatever the verdict, the controversy over the proposed 250-acre waste site will be far from over.

“Whatever happens,” Pintail Landfill attorney Brent Ryan said Friday, “we’re going to move forward with the project.”

County Judge-elect Trey Duhon, a landfill opponent, agreed.

“The end of this trial is not the end of the story,” Duhon said.

[…]

Whatever the jury decides – the trial is now expected to continue through Tuesday, pause, and then resume again on Dec. 16 – it is unlikely that Waller County will be left with definitive answers.

The reasons are twofold.

Ryan, Pintail’s attorney, said that the company will proceed with the project regardless of whether the jury invalidates Waller County’s 2013 landfill ordinance and host agreement. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, not the county, has the final say over the landfill, and the commission is still reviewing Pintail’s permit application. That proposal is expected to be reviewed in a contested case hearing this summer, commission spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said.

If the state commission were to approve the project and Waller County’s ordinance were invalidated, Ryan said Pintail would be free to develop the project – it just wouldn’t have to provide Hempstead or the county with benefits that had been agreed to.

See here for the background. Originally, the trial was expected to conclude in February due to a crammed court calendar, so I suppose a December conclusion counts as good news. The thought that this won’t settle the matter of whether the landfill can be built or not, and that the decision rests with the TCEQ, is rather unsettling. I’m not exactly sure how that is, but whatever. The point is, one way or the other this fight will go on.

Hempstead landfill fight goes to court

An update on a story I’ve been following for a few years.

StopHwy6Landfill

For the last two years, Waller County and the city of Hempstead have been pitted against each other in a high-profile legal battle over a proposed landfill in the city’s outskirts, a project many in the area see as both an economic and an environmental liability.

The proposed 250-acre Pintail Landfill has galvanized area residents and, in March 2013, prompted a lawsuit over the legality of the county’s agreement to allow the facility in an area just north of Hempstead, within the county’s borders. Since then, the case has been appealed numerous times – and its trial delayed accordingly – with the county submitting its most recent appeals just two weeks ago.

On Monday, the long-disputed case may finally go to trial.

“It’s going to be a real big trial for Waller County,” said County Commissioner John Amsler, who is named in the petition against the county but who opposed the landfill along with Commissioner Jeron Barnett. Amsler said he can’t remember any lawsuits of this magnitude in the county of more than 45,000 residents.

[…]

The trial, which is scheduled for Monday in retired state District Judge Terry Flenniken’s court, has been a long time coming, having been twice delayed from its original April date.

And although both the First Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court denied Waller County’s most recent jurisdictional appeals in the final hours before the Thanksgiving holiday, it is still possible that the trial may be pushed back yet again.

James Allison, an attorney representing Waller County, cited outstanding questions about the county’s authority in Hempstead’s extraterritorial jurisdiction as the reason for the county’s most recent appeals. Friday, he reasserted the need for the trial to be postponed.

See here, here, and here for my earlier posts on this. This Chron story from August was about the judge denying a motion to move the trial elsewhere, and aiming for a November date to pick a jury. Close enough, I guess, assuming this doesn’t get delayed again. My sympathies are firmly with the plaintiffs here, for reasons stated in my previous posts. Landfills are yesterday’s solution. The goal should be for there to be no more need for them. The Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead website appears to be no longer active, and I couldn’t find a Facebook presence for them, but wherever they are, I’m with them. Good luck, y’all.

One Bin For All RFPs

Yesterday was a big day for the One Bin for All proposal.

Thursday [was] the deadline for private companies to submit bids to the city to build and run the facility. The bid guidelines call for a 75 percent diversion rate — that is, only 25 percent of solid waste should end up in landfills. The rest would be recycled, composted or converted into energy sources.

Currently, the city recycles 6 percent of its waste and diverts 19 percent overall, mostly lawn waste. Those numbers are well below state and national averages.

[…]

[Sustainability Director Laura] Spanjian pointed to a brand-new facility in Montgomery, Alabama, as proof that a one-bin system can work. Kyle Mowitz, the CEO of Infinitus Energy, which runs the Montgomery facility, said it has achieved 60 percent diversion since opening in April.

“I would’ve never done this project three years ago,” he said.“The technology wasn’t there.” Recent advances in optical technology and air density classification, Mowitz said, have “gone through the roof,” making mixed waste processing more practical.

“This is really the first facility in the country that’s doing what we’re doing.”

Mowitz, who said he expects to start turning a profit over the next year, added that the diversion rate should go up once the facility adds an anaerobic digestion system, in which microorganisms break down organic waste that might otherwise end up in landfills. The Houston plan also calls for anaerobic digestion. Critics argue that the technique may not work for unsorted municipal solid waste streams, which lack the uniformity that the microorganisms prefer.

“The problem is the critters are very finicky,” said Reid Lifset, a researcher at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “If you don’t give them the organic materials they want, it’s hard to run a successful process.”

Paper and steel industry groups have opposed One Bin for All. In a letter to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who supprts the plan, Gregory L. Crawford, executive director of the Steel Recycling Institute, which represents steel manufacturers, warned that the program “would produce unacceptable levels of contamination” in steel cans.

Mowitz disputed that argument, saying the Montgomery facility has had no problem selling recyclables “at a premium.”

The RFPs were issued in April. I sent a query to the Mayor’s office yesterday afternoon asking how many proposals were submitted, from whom, and if information about them were posted somewhere. I have not yet received a response, but when I do I will write about it.

As we know, the One Bin proposal is controversial, with several environmental organizations, banding together under the Zero Waste Houston banner, leading the opposition. Here’s their latest response to One Bin For All.

“No facility like this has ever achieved anything close to what our recycling goals are in Houston—and most have been outright disasters.” Melanie Scruggs with Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “City officials have set a 75% recycling goal for this proposal, but when we researched similar facilities, none have ever exceeded 30%. It’s been shown over and over that real, successful recycling will never be possible if the City tells residents to mix their garbage with recyclable materials in the same bin.”

The new report examines dozens of “one bin”-style waste facilities (known as “dirty material recovery facilities,” or dirty MRFs) that have failed in other cities or are only used as a last resort for the garbage stream. Their research contradicts claims made by proponents at the City who say the technology is now capable of recycling the vast majority of residential trash.

The report also cites massive air pollution problems with trash gasification or pyrolysis, which are incineration technologies the City of Houston is also considering under its proposal. Not a single trash gasification incinerator has operated successfully in the U.S., but overseas they have caused health-threatening pollution violations such as dioxin emissions.

“Bad proposals like incinerators and landfills have a way of uniting communities against a known threat to their health and safety, not to mention the safety of the workers in the facility who would be sorting through Houston’s trash.” Dr. Robert Bullard, dean at Texas Southern University and “Father of Environmental Justice” said. “Wherever the City attempts to build the ‘one bin’ incinerator, that neighborhood is going to fight it because no one wants all the City’s trash coming into one community, and nobody wants more air pollution.”

Opponents point out that such an incinerator would likely be built at an existing waste facility, all of which are in working-income communities that are already saddled with disproportionate pollution problems. And it wouldn’t be the first time: The report also shows that Houston has a well-documented history of siting incinerators and landfills in communities of color. In 1979, The City contracted with an experimental “mini-incinerator” technology that the industry promised would be “pollution-free.” Those mini-incinerators were shut down when such claims proved to be false.

“The City needs to quit trying to make bad ideas work and stick with the good ideas that other cities are implementing, such as real recycling and curbside composting.” Ms. Scruggs said. “We’re all very pleased with the expansions of the big, green bins, and we know Houston residents can and will recycle where they live, work and play, if given the opportunity. That’s the foundation of moving toward a more sustainable city.”

The Zero Waste report is here. It’s long and detailed, and largely boils down to the arguments that “mixed materials recovery facilities” are more about incineration than recycling, while separating organics from recyclables is much more effective at actually reducing waste. Melanie Scruggs of the Texas Campaign for the Environment wrote a guest post here recently discussing how Houston could improve its recycling rate with the big green bins that are now being used. Zero Waste also produced two letters, from coalitions of paper recyclers and steel recyclers that advocate for keeping organics away from these items. Finally, there’s a report by Dr. Bullard about the likely effect on minority neighborhoods, since they tend to be where waste facilities get located.

The city’s argument is that modern technology renders most of the objections moot. Zero Waste marshals a lot of evidence against that, and I’ll leave it to you to read their report and judge for yourself. Perhaps we’ll get a better feel for the city’s rebuttal when we see the proposals that they received.

UPDATE: Got a press release this afternoon saying the city got five proposals, and “will have a recommendation by the end of the year”. I will have more on this next week.

Still fighting the Waller County landfill

I’ve written before about a battle in Waller County over a proposed landfill that would be built there. While the landfill has moved closer to being approved, it’s not yet a done deal, and its opponents are still fighting against it.

“This landfill has done more to divide our county than anything I’ve ever seen. It breaks my heart,” said Waller County Judge Glenn Beckendorff.

Those opposing the proposed Pintail landfill have so far sent a near record 6,000 emails and letters to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, urging the agency to deny the permit.

But Green Group Holdings President Ernest Kaufmann contends the protest typifies the “not in my backyard” syndrome that happens whenever his company tries to put in a new landfill.

“Unfortunately, it’s the same argument that you hear wherever you go. It’s always about the groundwater and the smell,” he said. “But our landfills are engineered to be very safe.”

Waller County, which currently has no operating landfills within its borders, transports its waste to Harris, Fort Bend and other counties.

Kaufmann said the landfill is needed to meet needs of the community. “Growth in Waller County and the surrounding area is inevitable,” he said.

According to state records, the proposed landfill will be about 17 percent larger than the average landfill in Texas.

Pintail’s application estimates 161 vehicles a day will haul about 429,000 tons of garbage – none coming from outside the state – to its site each year. That number is expected to grow to 292 vehicles a day once the landfill is fully established, the application states.

The disposal area would be confined to 223 acres with other acreage used as a buffer or a potential industrial park.

Eventually, over decades, a mountain of waste would be dumped there. It will rise roughly 150 feet, or as tall as a 15-story building. Only about 5 percent will come from Waller County.

Boy, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want that in their backyard. Opponents of the landfill cite factors such as water contamination and discouraging other development in the county; the proposed site is off Highway 6, not far from Prairie View A&M. While these are very valid concerns, I think building giant new landfills anywhere is a bad idea. Frankly, it’s not clear to me that the demand will be there for this landfill, what with cities seeking to reduce the amount of waste they generate, and the amount they have to spend on things like landfill space. Landfills are yesterday’s solution, not tomorrow’s. As much as anything I’d be worried about being stuck with an albatross. I hope the folks who are asking the TCEQ to deny the permit have some luck getting through to them on this.

Curbside composting

Way to go, Austin.

City officials are asking Austinites in 7,900 households in five parts of the city to separate their banana peels, egg shells, meat, chicken bones, milk cartons, leaves and any other organic material from their household trash and put the material into a new rolling garbage cart.

The one-year trial run will cost the city $485,000. That includes new green 96-gallon composting carts — the same size as the blue recycling bins that now dot the city. Residents also get indoor 2.4-gallon food scrap receptacles, the contents of which can be dumped into the green carts, and educational and promotional materials.

To combat the yuck factor, officials are distributing information about the reasons for composting, a natural process that breaks down organic materials into a nutrient-rich, soil-like material.

As usable as compost is, nearly half of the materials that end up in landfills can be composted. With a city goal to send no waste to landfills by 2040, compost collection is a natural next step, said Richard McHale, a manager at Austin Resource Recovery.

The city is not adding any equipment or staff for the program, McHale said.

Sanitation workers will pick up the compostable material weekly. But instead of hauling the stuff to the landfill, it will be taken to a private composting company just east of Texas 130.

[…]

A roughly yearlong restaurant composting pilot at 14 establishments wrapped up in the fall. At least 40 percent of landfill waste was diverted, and in some cases nearly 80 percent was, according to a presentation to the Zero Waste Advisory Commission in November by Resource Recovery waste diversion planner Woody Raine.

McHale said he hopes to expand the compost curbside program citywide within three years. He had no cost estimate for a citywide program. For now, city officials also won’t answer questions about how a citywide composting program would affect monthly utility bills.

“As we are able to determine participation and diversion amounts through the early phases of this initiative, we will be better able to determine any fiscal impacts the program will have when the program is fully implemented throughout the city,” Resource Recovery spokeswoman Lauren Hammond said. The department anticipates “that organics diverted from the landfill will help offset expenses related to curbside collection programs.”

The city of San Antonio has also done a pilot program for curbside compost collection, though I don’t know where that now stands. Austin has done some other things in recent years to encourage composting. I’ll be very interested to see how this goes. Houston does have separate collection for yard waste, but you have to use compostable bags that are not cheap and not terribly sturdy. Austin’s program is in the right direction, and it’s likely the way we’ll all have to go eventually. It will take awhile for people to get used to it, and I daresay some kind of fee structure that strongly incentivizes properly separating one’s trash will help spur that along. We compost at home, and really, it’s not that big a deal. I hope to see something like this in Houston in the near future.

More on the landfills of Waller County

Last July I wrote about a proposed landfill in Waller County near Hempstead and the residents who are fighting against it. The Statesman has an update on the story.

In many ways, the landfill fight in this rural Texas town two hours east of Austin has a standard shape: An out-of-state corporation is accused of siting an unsightly dump near a largely poor, largely minority community. The landfill company says the accusations are unfair and that the dump will contribute jobs to a stricken area.

The twist here is one of the background players.

Glenn Shankle — the former executive director of the state environmental agency and a lobbyist for landfill companies himself, including one whose permit for a radioactive waste dump he controversially supported just before leaving said agency — is now a hired gun for the community.

Unlikely as the partnership may be, Shankle, 59, hobbled by old track injuries suffered as a runner at then-Kealing Junior High School, may be the opposition’s best hope.

In Shankle’s telling, over a breakfast of heavily buttered toast, bacon and a Dr Pepper in downtown Austin, he resisted the community group gig when first approached about it.

“I told them at the time I don’t do protest work,” he said.

He had grown leery, after a career at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, of the methods of environmental groups, he said, and was unsure that he could fight a landfill while also serving as a landfill lobbyist.

“Once you predominantly do industry work, it puts you in an awkward situation,” he said.

Having survived some health scares, however, he had been casting about how he ought to fulfill God’s plan, as he put it. Then, family members who had attended Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college eight miles outside of Hempstead, opposed the landfill and pressed him to intervene.

“I slept on it and prayed on it,” he said. His conclusion: Prairie View should not suffer because of a “scar” to the landscape.

[…]

Landfill company Green Group Holdings CEO Ernest Kaufmann said no more than 250 acres of the 723-acre site will be dedicated to the landfill, which will hold municipal waste from a 40-mile radius around the landfill — with an eye to serving the ever-growing Houston market. Kaufmann said its operation could last roughly 40 years.

“We’re not taking hazardous waste. We’re not taking sewage sludge,” said Kaufmann, whose company calls the project Pintail. The rest of the land might be used for ranching, recreational purposes, as an industrial park or left as open space. The company, which says it will invest millions of dollars in the project, has proposed paying fees to Waller County for each ton of waste collected and a donation of $150,000 for county fire safety equipment.

It estimates the project will create at least 20 full-time jobs at the landfill.

“This is not in a disadvantaged neighborhood,” he continued. “What you have here is some very wealthy people stirring that up. We pay a lot of attention to where we locate facilities and who we’re impacting and who we’re not impacting.”

Huntsinger and others are skeptical of the company’s pledges because, they say, Green Group could sell its permit.

Huntsinger is Bill Huntsinger, a retired Houston real estate guy who moved to Hempstead and is funding the Stop Highway 6 Landfill effort. Green Group has an array of high-priced lobbyists working for it, and rather to my surprise has hired environmental lawyer Jim Blackburn as a consultant. The main thing I get from this story is that the process hasn’t advanced much in the past year and may not advance any further this year, as consideration of the landfill application may happen in 2013. I said last time and I’ll say again, I think this is a bad idea. We shouldn’t be in the business of building more landfills, we should be in the business of waste reduction so that we don’t need more landfills. I wish I had faith that the TCEQ would give this a very critical review, but I don’t. I fear we’ll eventually be stuck with it.

Tyson Sowell: Making Plans for a Brighter Future

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Tyson Sowell

In my previous article, I talked about the phasing out of single-use check-out bags being just one step the City needs to take in addressing its growing waste problem. In the past, Houston has looked at waste in an ad hoc fashion doing a little here and a little there hoping that it will eventually we’ll get there but without having a real idea as to where there is. And this is the fundamental problem with how we talk about the waste problem.

Houstonians produce more than 13 million pounds of waste per day or more than 4.7 billion pounds per year. Of this astronomical amount of waste, only about 18% actually gets recycled. That is a lot of waste filling up our landfills every year.

By 2030, Houston’s population is expected to increase by about 700,000 people, increasing waste generation to 6.3 billion pounds per year. Houston will always be far behind in the recovery of these valuable resources if it continues ad hoc business as usual waste policies.

Believe it or not, waste is actually a valuable commodity. Most of what we throw away are resources that could be reprocessed and used in the creation of new products for cheaper than extracting virgin materials. The sale of these resources makes money for the city and the reprocessing of these resources can create jobs right here in Houston.

In fact, the Tellus Institute released a study last November that found that if the US were to recover 75% of these wasted resources, more than 2 million jobs could be added to the “green economy.” In Texas, this equates to more than 50,000 jobs.

So how do we literally stop throwing away jobs and money?

The City of Houston really began addressing this problem back in 2007 and over a few years recycling services expanding. However, most recently recycling service expansion has slowed and the rate at which the City plans to expand is too slow to address the waste problems the City will face in the future.

Currently, only third of city serviced residents – mostly people in single-family homes – have the large carts for recycling. Another third have the small bins but the City wants to phase those out and another third having nothing. This means that if the City seeks to expand recycling services it still must address those homes without any recycling now and those with the small bins.

Additionally, about half of the City’s residents live in multi-unit dwellings, which the City does not provide waste services, or get waste service from Home Owner Associations. These arrangements, along with commercial entities, make improving recycling rates in Houston difficult using our current ad hoc method for solving this problem.

This means that in order for Houston to really begin solving the waste problem, adding thousands of jobs to the new “green economy,” and making Houston a leader in resource recovery, the City needs to create and implement a comprehensive, long-term, resource recovery plan. This plan needs to layout and have benchmarks for how and when Houston will begin diverting a substantial percentage of our waste from landfills and putting those resources back into our economy.

Houston is the global leader in oil and gas production, a leader in construction and development, the most diverse city in the country, and is a national powerhouse for medical and biomedical research. There is no reason Houston can’t lead in resource recovery and lead the nation in a “green economy” and a brighter future. We have the talent, the intelligence, and the opportunity to create the model city for the 21st century.

Tyson Sowell is the Houston Program Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment – a statewide, grassroots, environmental policy advocacy organization. You can learn more at texasenvironment.org, at facebook.com/texasenvironment and follow on twitter at twitter.com/txenvironment.

Compost recycling in San Antonio

And now that I’ve mentioned compost recycling, here’s a look at how it’s working in San Antonio.

At New Earth’s composting site off Interstate 10 on the far East Side, it is easy to pick out the pile generated by the city’s pilot composting program. No other heap has bright bits of plastic strewn like confetti throughout its mix.

“It’s evil,” company President Clayton Leonard said of the shredded Whataburger cups and H-E-B bags. “We don’t want that.”

A portion of the waste coming to New Earth is from the city’s new curbside collection service for organic material, the latest endeavor to reuse more and throw out less. But it is running into some of the same problems the city has encountered with more conventional recyclables such as plastics and glass: Too many residents don’t understand how to properly sort their garbage or don’t want to bother.

“Our residents are slowly getting it,” city Solid Waste Department Director David W. McCary said.

The organic waste program is being tested at more than 25,000 households, concentrated in four sections of the city. This week, the city will have distributed the last of the wheeled green carts for the test program for the exclusive disposal of organic waste — anything from chicken bones to grass clippings.

The hope is that tons of organic material will be collected by the city and sent to New Earth for processing into salable compost. In turn, the city will spend less on dumping waste in the landfill.

The start of the composting program couldn’t be better timed since the winter holidays are a peak time for food waste.

But for it to succeed on a large scale, residents will have to learn to keep plastics and glass out of the green composting cart. Otherwise, Leonard said, New Earth can’t sell the finished compost and make it worth its while.

I’ll be very interested to see how they deal with that problem. Landfill space is getting more and more scarce and expensive, and you can’t easily create more of them because people tend to object. The sensible answer, which also happens to be the best environmental choice, is to reduce the need for landfill space, and composting is a huge component of that. That’s going to mean a little more inconvenience for people, who will have to get used to putting food waste into another bin, but it beats the alternatives.

The city’s goal is to divert 60 percent of garbage from landfills by 2020. In the past five years, San Antonio has increased its recycling rate from 10 percent to 25 percent.

But the national average is 34 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Austin claims a 38 percent recycling rate.

[…]

To reach the 60 percent diversion rate, McCary said, the plan is to gradually reduce the frequency of the garbage pickup and charge according to the volume of garbage. Those who compost and recycle would pay less than those who don’t — a pricing system already adopted by some major cities.

The landfills the city depends on are going to be full in 70 years, according to state estimates.

That’s exactly what they should be doing. Put the cost where it belongs, on those who insist on being wasteful. Sooner or later, something like this will come to Houston, too.

Trash into treasure

Waste Management Inc. is looking at ways to turn trash into energy, which is the next best thing to actual treasure.

“In my mind, it’s pretty simple why we’re doing it: If we don’t figure it out, somebody is, and they’ll take the waste away from us. If we lose the waste, we’ve certainly lost the business,” said Carl Rush, vice president of the company’s organic growth group, the chief vehicle for its energy investments.

The shift in thinking comes at a time when U.S. landfill collections are hitting a plateau as Americans recycle more, consumer products makers reduce packaging and many large corporations adopt “zero waste” goals.

Demand for renewable energy and fuels also is increasing, in response both to regulations requiring them and to public concerns about the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and their environmental impact.

The confluence of trends has pushed Waste Management’s leaders to take a hard look at where the company is headed, and has brought a slow and sometimes reluctant culture change to a business that had been set in its ways.

“Five years ago it would have been, ‘just put it in a hole and don’t worry about it,’ ” Rush said. Today, company officials try to avoid even using the term trash. Instead, it’s “materials” or “resources,” he said.

“It’s remarkable to me to see the change that’s taken place just in the mind-set of the people in this company.”

It’s 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 mentioned the push everywhere to cut down on the amount of solid waste that gets generated. When faced with a declining revenue stream from an existing product line, what else is there to do but look for new ways to monetize assets? I commend Waste Management for seeking innovative solutions rather than trying to change the politics of it.

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?

Compost or else

Go, San Francisco!

Trash collectors in San Francisco will soon be doing more than just gathering garbage: They’ll be keeping an eye out for people who toss food scraps out with their rubbish.

San Francisco this week passed a mandatory composting law that is believed to be the strictest such ordinance in the nation. Residents will be required to have three color-coded trash bins, including one for recycling, one for trash and a new one for compost — everything from banana peels to coffee grounds.

The law makes San Francisco the leader yet again in environmentally friendly measures, following up on other green initiatives such as banning plastic bags at supermarkets.

Food scraps sent to a landfill decompose fast and turn into methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas. Under the new system, collected scraps will be turned into compost that helps area farms and vineyards flourish. The city eventually wants to eliminate waste at landfills by 2020.

Awesome. Houston offers a separate compost pickup, but it’s voluntary and frankly I doubt more than one person out of ten is familiar with it. When the city decides to get serious about increasing recycling rates and cutting down on its landfill use, this is the kind of approach I want it to take. Speaking as someone who has a compost pile in his backyard, the marginal effort it takes to separate this kind of trash from the rest is miniscule. There’s no reason we couldn’t do this, and no reason I can think of that we shouldn’t. Via The American Scene.