Case Hearing grows to include politicians, property owners
By LPR Staff
Three hours of testimony on Thursday morning yielded new activity in the State Office of Administrative Hearings’ (SOAH) Contested Case Hearing regarding a landfill project in Caldwell County.
As requested by the permit applicant, Green Group Holdings, LLC, the matter was referred from the Texas
Commission on Environmental Quality to SOAH, in an effort to move the process forward and avoid the expanded timeline required for a contested referral to the Administrative Law division of the State of Texas.
Before Presiding Judges Casey A. Bell and Sharon Cloninger, an army of attorneys discussed which parties should and should not be admitted to the hearing as “affected parties,” defined by Bell as those who have interest in the approval or denial of the permit, over and above the interests of the “general public.”
Represented by Austin attorney Marisa Perales, the grassroots group, Environmental Protection in the Interest of Caldwell County was the first to request party status, a move to which Green Group attorney Brent Ryan did not object.
Perales also offered her services in “navigating the process” to a variety of individual property owners from areas near the proposed site. Those individuals, too, were admitted without objection from Ryan.
Fireworks started to fly, however, the owners of a newly-purchased property, Texas Justice For All (TJFA) asked for affected party status.
The real estate investment partnership headed by president Dennis Hobbs recently acquired a property on Homanville Trail, very near the site of the proposed landfill. Hobbs, according to testimony delivered during the hearing, is employed as an executive assistant at Texas Disposal Systems, a rival landfill located in Creedmoor.
Perales, who was also on record defending TJFA, suggested Ryan and Green Group’s objections to TJFA’s entry in the case, in particular the line of questioning regarding Hobbs’ employment and the possibility that TJFA is funded by Texas Disposal owner Bob Gregory, were not relevant to the matter at hand – specifically, that as a neighboring property owner, TJFA had a right to be included in the proceedings.
Ryan hammered at Hobbs, asking him not only to clarify Gregory’s position with TJFA, but also to confirm the business model for TJFA, which Ryan said was to purchase properties near landfills with the assurance that the property values would increase.
Over Green Group’s objections, the Judges opted to allow TJFA to enter the contested case hearing as an affected party.
Ryan also argued that Caldwell County should not be admitted as an affected party, noting the county holds no property ownership in the area. However, because of the County’s interests in the area, specifically with regard to safety and general enforcement, Caldwell County has also been admitted as an affected party.
The Judges did deny, however, a request from the City of Niederwald’s City Administrator Richard Crandal to be admitted as an affected party.
Crandal testified the City of Niederwald was concerned about the location of the facility, in light of their recent and projected patterns of growth. However, he could show no resolution that offered him the authority to seek status on behalf on the City, nor could he say with certainty how far Niederwald’s city limits are from the proposed site, or how the City would be negatively impacted by the development.
Having been added to the contested case hearing as “affected parties,” each individual and entity now involved has a series of rights and responsibilities, Bell said. In addition to the right to be present at hearings and depositions, the parties have the right to present evidence, and ask for discovery and production of documents from the applicant. However, they also have the responsibility to answer discovery requests and to be deposed.
“We were pleased with the outcome of the Preliminary Hearing and believe that the schedule agreed on by all parties is reasonable and fair,” Green Group representative David Green said “We respect the rights and responsibilities that are attached to party status, and the Preliminary Hearing gave us the chance to create a record of ownership of one of the opponents and the authority of a County under Texas Statutes.
As we continue to move through this process, we remain confident in the technical merits of our project and look forward to continuing our efforts to be an active member of the community.”
The date of the next appearance before SOAH is expected to be in January 2016. However, prior to that time, Bell has encouraged the parties and the attorneys involved to attempt to communicate to resolve issues and, if at all possible, to mediate the case.