County to remain in landfill suit
By LPR Staff
As he reviews facts, figures and cost cuts for the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, Caldwell County Judge Kenneth Schawe made a plea on Monday morning for his colleagues to reconsider the County’s status in a pending Contested Case Hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings regarding
the highly-controversial 130 Environmental Park project.
The project, which has been met by strong resistance from a vocal group of area residents, includes a proposed landfill near the intersection of FM 1185 and Highway 183, a prospect that has many Caldwell County residents up in arms.
However, Schawe noted, as the Contested Case Hearing proceeds, legal expenses could be driven up.
“We were told at the very beginning that there was going to be no cost,” he said. “And we’re going to get into a situation that we don’t want to be in.”
Commissioner Neto Madrigal argued the Court was never under the impression that there would be no cost to the County to be involved in the litigation, and that the Court needs to “be at the table to monitor what’s going on.”
A longtime proponent of supporting road projects and employee pay raises, Commissioner Joe Roland said he understands the nature of the budget constraints, but worried that backing out of the Contested Case Hearing at this juncture would set a precedent for other County lawsuits, and look as though the Commissioners would be willing to “back down” from other pending litigation.
A host of landfill opponents, many affiliated with Environmental Protection for Caldwell County (EPICC) encouraged the County to stay the course, in an effort to defeat the landfill project and keep Green Group Holdings from doing business in Caldwell County.
Several said that EPICC, also a party to the Contested Case Hearing, would be willing to share experts and research, as a means of offsetting the costs to the County, but also noted any expenditures involved in preventing the landfill project would seem miniscule in comparison to the potential costs of mitigating the “disaster” of the landfill at a later date.
Last month, the County joined in a Joint Litigation Agreement with EPICC and Texas Justice for All, LP (TJFA), which presumably addresses the cost of sharing resources and experts. However, the details of that agreement have not been made public, pending a request for an Attorney General’s Opinion on the disclosure of the agreement under an Open Records Request by this newspaper.
Lockhart resident Linda Hinkle stood alone at the meeting to ask, as a citizen, that the Court reconsider their participation in the Contested Case Hearing, calling it “litigation that the County doesn’t need to be spending our money on,” and reminding the Commissioners that the County has many needs on a budget already stretched tight. Hinkle opined the issue should be put on the ballot, and brought to vote by the entire community.
Commissioner Alfredo Munoz suggested the Court should consider retaining their party status in the litigation for the time being, but ask for a workshop to discuss a proposed Host Agreement that was offered up by Green Group Holdings back in 2013, but which the Court has summarily refused to discuss or consider.
“I’m not going to say that I’m in favor of it,” he said. “I just want to see what’s out there, and I think we owe it to everyone to [look at the whole picture] and see what’s out there in the Host Agreement.”
Munoz’s suggestion, made in the form of a motion, passed the Court 4-1, with Roland offering the one dissenting vote.
In other business, the Court considered the possibility of applying for assistance through the Texas Department of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an assistance grant to remove debris from private property in connection with the Memorial Day Weekend flooding event.
According to Caldwell County Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey, much of the cleanup in the public right-of-way has been completed in the areas hardest hit by the flooding.
However, he said, there are property owners without the means and ability to clear debris from their properties, and he is hopeful that additional state and Federal funding will be available to help.
“The Stafford Act, which gives FEMA the opportunity to remove debris from private property is pretty restrictive,” he said, noting that most of the properties impacted will likely be ineligible. “We’re working diligently to find the revenue for this.”
Ritchey said he has been working with several agencies, including the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, to find the funds and means to remove debris, including vehicles, construction debris and “every type of debris you can imagine” from the San Marcos River and its banks.
Likely, additional funding will require an appropriation approved by the Texas Legislature.
The Court gave Ritchey the green light to continue searching for funding for cleanup.
In brief news:
After a short public hearing, the Court offered their blessing to the Lone Star Subdivision, off FM 20 near Callihan Road.
They reinstated a contract with Aulick and Associates to assist with transportation planning services in relation to the SH 130 Concession funds construction projects.
They considered, but ultimately opted to table, a proposal to cut the Veterans Service Officer position from a full-time to a half-time position.
They also tabled discussion on appointing a Constable to fill the vacancy in the Precinct 3 Constable’s Office, left by the recent death of Margarito “Junior” Zapata.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court meets routinely on the second, third 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 are webcast at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.