By Kathi Bliss
Over the objections of one commissioner and a host of usual suspects, the Caldwell County Commissioner’s Court chose on Monday morning to bring a controversial contract back into the spotlight.
In September 2013, landfill conglomerate Green Group Holdings asked to open negotiations on a host agreement that would put certain protections and rewards in place, should the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approve a permit for their Lytton Springs-area landfill project. Rather than negotiating, the seated Commissioners’ Court chose to put the agreement in a proverbial “drawer,” tabling negotiations indefinitely.
That drawer popped open on Monday morning as three out of four commissioners opted to schedule a workshop with their attorneys, the community, and Green Group representatives to talk about the agreement.
“Without asking for terms that are good for the county, how will we ever know if it’s possible,” newly-elected Commissioner Hoppy Haden said. He noted environmental and enforcement concerns he said could and should be addressed in the agreement, that the County should have in place regardless of the outcome of the Contested Case Hearing currently pending before the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
As expected, the very notion of opening discussions with Green Group drew ire from the gallery, with many vocal opponents making their feelings known.
“I will fight this until I’m dead, because I can’t live next to it,” said Patton King, whose family owns property adjacent to the proposed landfill site. His property, he said, is often used as a Boy Scout camp and retreat for various non-profit groups.
Frank Sughrue questioned “what the County would have to sell” to obtain upwards of $25 million in host fees offered in an original draft of the host agreement, and cautioned the Court that entering the agreement would set a precedent for other developers to request concessions in return for payment to future courts.
Representatives from Texas Disposal Systems, a competing landfill located in the Niederwald area, said entrance into a host agreement is tantamount to “using County resources to offer preferential treatment to a for-profit industry,” in opposition to another business. However, they failed to note that, via a joint litigation agreement, Caldwell County is already working with one for-profit business, Texas Disposal, in opposition of another – Green Group.
Former Commissioner Neto Madrigal chastised the Court, reminding them that a prior Court had voted against negotiating the agreement, based on what they believed to be the will of the citizens at that time.
Showing a fury he rarely exposes at the table, Commissioner Joe Roland vehemently opposed opening any discussion about the host agreement.
“Once we sign it and it’s in their pockets they can do whatever they want,” he said. “We need to forget all about it. We’re not going to get anything from them, even if they promise it to us.”
Still, after discussion on the issue, Roland’s colleagues voted to set a workshop so the Commissioners could discuss the terms of the host agreement, initially offered as a template and “jumping off point” in 2013.
“We’re happy to have these discussions back on the table,” said Alfonso Sifuentes, a senior project manager for Green Group, and the local lead on the 130 Environmental Park project. “We’ve always had an open door to negotiate a host agreement, and we think it’s great that we can finally start this important discussion.”
In other business, the Commissioners briefly discussed, and then tabled, the reintroduction of a committee intended to review and update the Caldwell County Development Ordinance.
Newly-elected Commissioner Ed Theriot ran much of his campaign on the idea of updating the ordinance, and brought the Court a proposal to reinstitute the committee during his first meeting on the Court.
The notion hit a snag, though, when Theriot, Haden and Roland each used one of their two potential appointment slots to the committee to appoint themselves. Civil Attorney Jordan Powell expressed concern that, were a quorum of Commissioners seated on the committee, all meetings would have to be conducted in the same vein as Court meetings; she cautioned strongly against three Commissioners being on the committee.
However, neither Haden, Theriot or Roland was willing to back down from their desire to be seated on the Committee, and talks hit a stalemate.
In brief news:
The Court agreed to schedule a workshop with several department heads to discuss the migration to a bi-weekly pay schedule during the 2017 budget year.
They approved the submission of an Emergency Management Performance Grant, and agreed to keep the outdoor burning ban off for the time being.
The County paid bills in the amount of $514,988.47.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court routinely meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the second floor courtroom of the Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public and available for online viewing at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.