By Kathi Bliss
A 250-page opinion released on Friday dealt what appears a devastating blow to opponents of a municipal waste landfill project to be located in rural Caldwell County.
After several months of waiting, parties to a Contested Case Hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) learned that the judges had issued their opinion on issuance of a permit for 130 Environmental Park, the project spearheaded by Atlanta-based Green Group Holdings.
The upshot of the 250 pages – the permit should be granted.
A grassroots group of local residents, coalesced into “Environmental Protection for Caldwell County” (EPICC) teamed with Texas Justice for All (TJFA), a property development group with ties to Texas Disposal Systems, in an effort to fight the permit. They were joined by Caldwell County, with input from the Plum Creek Conservation District.
Over two weeks of testimony, the opponents attempted to deconstruct Green Group’s permit application, questioning not only the science used to deem the site appropriate for the landfill, but also the impact the landfill’s location would have on surrounding properties, residents, and the County in general.
After weighing hours of testimony, thousands of documents and the legal questions at hand, the judges recommended that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) press forward with approval of the permit.
“The ALJs (administrative law judges) have examined all the issues argued by the parties and conclude that, but for the noted deficiencies within the Application, 130EP has met the TCEQ’s requirements for a Type I MSW landfill permit,” the proposal for decision reads. “If the Commission finds that the noted deficiencies do not warrant the denial of the Application, the ALJs recommend that the Commission issue the Draft Permit…”
In their opinion, the Judges did note a concern about the proximity of the proposed landfill facility to the Site 21 reservoir, and asked the Commission to determine whether “situating a MSW landfill in very near proximity to the 100-year floodplain and immediately upstream of a flood control structure needed to protect human life, is compatible land use.”
However, the Opinion also revealed that the judges believe that 130 Environmental Park’s application meets the technical requirements for issuance of the permit, and if the facility is operated within the parameters laid out in the application, there would be no negative impact on surface or ground water, that the traffic impacts had been properly analyzed and approved, and that the site was designed in accordance with the regulations laid out by the State of Texas to protect the environment.
The “deficiencies” noted by the Judges include a failure of 130 Environmental Park to include a Plum Creek Conservation District easement, a lack of approval from the TCEQ executive director regarding the boring plan, and the lack of a floodplain development permit from Caldwell County. Those deficiencies are among hundreds that the Judges reviewed prior to recommending approval of the permit.
The Judges recommended that approval of the permit be contingent upon certain changes, including expanding the permit boundary to include the proposed access road and landscaping proposed by 130 Environmental Park, and making the facility’s operating hours consistent with TCEQ standards, with operations taking place between 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., with no heavy traffic between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The letter issued by Judges Kerri Jo Qualtrough and Casey A. Bell invited the parties to file exceptions or briefs regarding the Opinion no later than March 9, 2017, with replies to those request due no later than March 20. TCEQ will take up the matter at a later time, to be determined by the Chief Clerk of that department.
“We are extremely pleased with this outcome of the contested case hearing,” 130 Environmental Park representatives posted on social media on Monday. “The ALJs’ findings validate what we have been saying about the proposed site and project for more than three years.”
Legal counsel for EPICC did not immediately return an electronic request for comment.