By Kathi Bliss
Despite scheduling conflicts with the Chisholm Trail Roundup, nearly 200 people turned out at the Lockhart Junior High School to make their voices heard about the landfill being proposed in northern Caldwell County.
The meeting, the first of a series Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) public hearings, revealed a nearly even split in supporters and opponents of the project, which most agree will have a lasting impact on Caldwell County and its residents.
The nature of that impact, however, is the point of dispute.
For nearly four hours, opponents and supporters expressed their viewpoints, combing over the best and the worst the 130 Environmental Park has to offer.
Many, including Byron Friedrich and Leslie Holder, discussed the possibility that the landfill site, some 250 acres on the 1,200-acre tract, is located above aquifer formations, and that the risk is too high that a landfill malfunction could contaminate the water table.
Others, including Ann Collier, asked the Commission to consider the traffic impact, because the site is located at one of the most dangerous intersections in Caldwell County, where several have lost their lives in traffic accidents already this year.
The impact of additional truck traffic – particularly dump truck traffic – they said, would be disastrous for the community.
Still others, such as Frank Sanchez, accused Green Group Holdings, who is spearheading the project, of “environmental racism,” the fact that they “came into town and hired a Mexican to talk about new jobs…”
Sanchez’s comment drew sparks from Green Group supporters, prompting the TCEQ moderator to remind all speakers to be respectful of one another.
Jody King, who owns property across from the landfill site, spoke passionately about her contributions to the community, in the form of thousands of volunteer organizations to “make Lockhart and Caldwell County better.”
King, who said she was speaking not necessarily as a neighboring property owner, but as an individual with a vested interest in the community, expressed fear that a landfill being built on a main thoroughfare between Lockhart and Austin would damage that hard work, and send the community backward in time.
On the other hand, individuals like Amelia Smith, a Lockhart and Caldwell County real estate broker, came forward to remind the community that the project does have supporters, both within the business community and the community at large.
Smith told the panel that knowledgable real estate agents consider the proposed site of the landfill to be a “no-man’s land,” because it is well known, she said, that there is no water on the property.
Additionally, she said, her professional experience shows evidence that landfills do not cause property to devalue, citing personal knowledge and research showing that property values in the Creedmore area have remained stable since the construction of the Texas Disposal Systems Wildlife Ranch and landfill.
Marcos Villalobos, one of the most vocal supporters of the project, said he was initially against it, but that Green Group representatives had sat with him and addressed his concerns, to his satisfaction, he claimed.
Additionally, he provided TCEQ with 70 letters of support from other members of the community who are not opposed to the project.
As the process continues, TCEQ will schedule another public hearing, and will also continue to accept written comments either for or against the permitting process.
According to Green Group Holdings vice president David Green, the meeting was a success.
“What we really believe is that we want the public to have their voice heard,” he said. “We were pleased that there was a balance, and visible and vocal evidence of support for our project.”
At past hearings, vocal supporters have been few and far between.
Representatives of Environmental Protection for Caldwell County (EPICC), the grassroots organization spearheading opposition to the project, did not immediately return requests for comment. However, social media chatter after the meeting suggests that they, too, feel the meeting was a success and will continue working to block the landfill from being built.
Submit written comments to TCEQ at the Office of the Chief Clerk, TCEQ, Mail Code MC-105, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, Texas 78711-3087 or electronically at www.tceq.texas.gov/about/comments.html.
For more information on the 130 Environmental Park project, both in favor of and against the project, visit www.greengroupholdings.com or www.bumpthedumpcc.org.