County, landfill to negotiate Host Agreement
By LPR Staff
Despite strong and long-standing objections from several members of the community, the Caldwell County Commissioners Court has decided to enter into negotiations with Green Group Holdings.
Though the parties remain locked in litigation as a result of the County’s status as an “Affected Party”
in the Contested Case Hearing pending before the State Office of Administrative Hearings, the Commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to authorize their attorneys to begin discussing the possibility of a Host Agreement with the controversial corporation.
Supporters say the Host Agreement will ensure the County’s protection, and offer financial compensation should Green Group be successful in their bid for a TCEQ permit to build the 250-acre landfill as a part of their multi-use 130 Environmental Park Project.
Detractors, however, refer to the agreement as a “hostage agreement,” and allege it will strip Caldwell County and their residents of rights and protections, in the event the project moves forward.
“Don’t we always tell our children not to take gifts from strangers?” asked Byron Friedrich, a longtime, vocal opponent to the 130 Environmental Park project. “Why do they want to give us this money? It’s sugar to make the medicine go down.”
Friedrich, along with other opponents, relied heavily on references to Green Group Holdings’ Pintail project, in Hempstead. The equally contentious project is also in a Constested Case Hearing status, and Green Group Holdings has recently asked for a continuance in those proceedings to address inconsistencies in their permit application, specifically regarding the depth and location of the water table near the site.
“In Waller County, they came through with a defined plan, and they are following it to a tee,” said Robert Kohler. “I’m concerned about the frantic nature with which they’re pushing this Host Agreement now.”
The measure, however, was brought forward not by Green Group Holdings’ representatives, but rather by Commissioner Alfredo Munoz, who last week suggested his colleagues stay the course as a party to the Contested Case Hearing, but also examine all aspects of the project, including the possibility of negotiating the Host Agreement.
Despite rumors that Commissioners or County Judge Kenneth Schawe have engaged in “behind-closed-doors” negotiations of the initial Host Agreement, Green Group Holdings representative David Green said the draft presented to the Court on Monday was the same as the draft initially presented in September 2013.
“Thank you for inviting us to come here today and follow through on the commitment that we made two years ago, that we were ready to talk [about the Host Agreement] whenever you were ready,” he said.
Green said because of the County’s involvement in the Contested Case Hearing, and the mere passage of time, there were aspects of the initial draft that are no longer relevant. Instead, he offered a broad outline of subjects the agreement would cover, including payment of “host fees,” restrictions upon the types and generation of waste that might be accepted, and the size, structure and use of the landfill.
Additionally, Green said, the Host Agreement would cover issues such as partnerships in community cleanups, a commitment to an industrial park component to the project, and a citizens’ advisory committee to act as a liaison between Green Group Holdings and the community with respect to operations and policies.
“We are further down the road than we were when we first presented the Host Agreement,” he said. “And the Contested Case Hearing is still on the table, and we have to deal with that fact. If you authorize counsel to get together with us and talk, we are willing to do that, and will in good faith try to address any issues that are raised.”
Members of the public came forward to encourage the Court to do exactly that, over objections from opponents to the landfill project.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of and everything to be gained,” said Alan Fielder. “You’re experiencing some budget issues that you’re talking about, and the schools recently passed a bond that will raise taxes considerably. Anything that will help generate revenue is a good thing.”
“It’s important opportunity to negotiate safeguards, in the event they sell to … someone else,” said Hoppy Haden. “If they don’t get their permit, then you’ve lost nothing.”
On a motion from Commissioner Neto Madrigal, the Court voted without opposition to allow civil counsel to move forward with discussions and negotiations on the agreement. Civil Attorney Jordan Powell, along with outside counsel from Allison, Bass and Magee will begin the process of negotiating the agreement, with redline changes brought back to the Court for review and consideration in a workshop tentatively scheduled for Sept. 21.
In other business, the County will finally move forward in the marketing and sale of two vacated buildings on the Square, the old Justice Center and the former Caldwell County Tax Office.
Powell explained that a four-member committee reviewed the Requests for Proposals invited from all local real estate companies for the listing and sale of the properties. Based on their review, Powell said, the recommendation of the committee is to list the Judicial Center property with Countywide Realty, and the Tax Office with Harrison Partners Realtors.
Schawe abstained from the vote because of his professional interests in the local real estate community. Commissioner Joe Roland, who has long expressed his opposition to selling the Judicial Center property, also abstained from the vote, presumably because he does not approve of selling the property.
The remaining three Commissioners voted in favor of entering listing agreements for the potential sale of the properties.
In brief news:
The County will continue contributing to employee retirement at a rate of 4 percent, leaving the County’s retirement fund 99.2 percent vested for the coming fiscal year.
They chose to leave the outdoor burn ban in place.
The Commissioners approved a change to the position of Veterans Service Officer that will make the position part-time, with the Officer in office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
They discussed, but tabled, a budget amendment that will bridge the gap for Precinct 3, in both the Justice of the Peace and Constable’s Offices, while a replacement for late Constable Margarito “Junior” Zapata is sought.
They also considered, but ultimately tabled discussion on the budget and tax rates for the coming fiscal year.
The Caldwell County Commissioners routinely meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the second floor courtroom of the Historic Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public and are webcast at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.