TCEQ approves amended landfill permit

By Kathi Bliss

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

More than four years of battle came down to the decision of three men on Wednesday morning, as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality took up Type I Municipal Solid Waste Landfill Permit No. 2383, more commonly known in Caldwell County as “The 130 Environmental Park” landfill permit.

With little more than an hour of input and discussion, three Commissioners opted to accept the recommendation on the State Office of Administrative Hearings Administrative Law Judges, and grant the permit.

Though opponents, including Caldwell County, Environmental Protection in the Interest of Caldwell County (EPICC), a grassroots organization founded by Caldwell County property owners who live near the site, and Texas Justice For All (TJFA), an organization run by Texas Disposal Systems president Bob Gregory, expressed a broad range of concerns about the suitability of the site, including worry about the Plum Creek Conservation District Site 21 dam, the three-member panel of Commissioners opted to follow the recommendations of the Administrative Law Judges, established in a letter dated May 10, 2017, which recommended approval of the permit.

Though SOAH had noted concerns about the applicant, Green Group Holdings’ (Green Group) boring plan, the Commissioners overruled the notation, instead agreeing that Green Group’s initial boring samples had complied with the spirit of the rules governing them.

The only issue the TCEQ Commissioners seemed to take issue with was Green Group’s request for expanded hours of operation, which organization president David Green has said in the past would allow 130 Environmental Park to provide extended community outreach, including weekend collection days. TCEQ regulations allow for standard operating hours, which were already approved in the permit; Commission Chair Bryan Shaw initially suggested that the permit be approved in large part, but that the expanded hours of operation be remanded to SOAH for further consideration.

Rather than extend the process, Green Group, through their attorney Brent Ryan, informed the panel they were willing to accept standard operating hours.

In the four years since the application for the permit was filed, Caldwell County has been a battleground between the Georgia-based Green Group, Austin-based attorneys and property owners with an alleged stake in avoiding competition, and a group of residents concerned about protecting their homes and property values.

Caught in the middle has been the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court, many of whom have tried to walk the delicate balance between the interests of Caldwell County residents in the area, the interests of the other residents of the County, and the promise of a Host Agreement contract with Green Group, which could provide benefits to the County’s residents, including trash clean-ups and tipping fees.

This decision, and it’s likely appeal, comes at a time when the Caldwell County Commissioners Court is already struggling with a tight budget and the laws that require the County pass a balanced budget.

In the face of growing needs in staffing, infrastructure and law enforcement, the Commissioners have been mindful of the costs of the Contested Case Hearing; the County’s presence as an affected party, once hoped to be a clear message to TCEQ that the landfill was not welcome, has cost upwards of $112,000 in attorneys fees so far, with billing records only available through Dec. 26, 2016.

Though Caldwell County Judge Kenneth Schawe declined to comment on the record, it is expected that the Caldwell County Commissioners will soon discuss whether they intend to step away from future litigation, or if they will continue.

The opponents of the permit have the option to petition TCEQ for a reconsideration of the permit and, if that fails, to file an appeal to the Travis County courts. As this story was breaking at press time, it was unclear whether the opponents intended to further litigation, and representatives could not be immediately reached for response.

“We are pleased the TCEQ Commissioners voted to approve the permit for the 130 Environmental Park facility,” said Green Group president David Green through an intermediary on Wednesday. “After an almost four-year process, this decision validates all the scientific work and evidence that has been completed, along with public meetings, the TCEQ staff administrative and technical review, and the SOAH hearing. We are looking forward to moving the project forward.”

A citizens’ committee has been working with Schawe and Commissioner Hoppy Haden to negotiate the terms of the Host Agreement. The terms of that contract remain fluid, and may change with the TCEQ decision. Follow the Post-Register for more information on this story as details and reactions continue to come to light.

kathibliss@post-register.com

 

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