October 6, 2015
A Georgia-based waste company that has proposed a landfill for Caldwell County has been dealt a significant setback by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on another proposed landfill in another part of the state.
Calling the application of Green Group Holdings to build the Pintail Landfill in Waller County, about two hours’ drive east of Austin, “deficient,” the TCEQ, in an unusual move, sent it back to the company.
In a letter that sounds exasperated, the state agency declined to give the company an opportunity to amend its permit — essentially appearing to tell it to start again from scratch.
The tipping point seems to have been the late discoveries of elevated water levels during certain seasons at the landfill, throwing further controversy on an already controversial proposal.
“For the integrity of the municipal solid waste landfill program, this is not where we be want to be at this point in the process,” says the Oct. 5 letter from Earl Lott, director of the waste permits division of the agency to Ernest Kauffmann president of Green Group.
“Over the last four years, the agency has worked closely with your consultants to ensure that the technical portion of the application meets all necessary requirements. Specifically, the TCEQ staff has spent over 1,300 hours reviewing the Pintail application and found over 400 instances of deficiencies,” says the letter.
Despite the effort, however, the new information about the water levels make the application unacceptable, according to Lott’s letter.
“Pintail noted that these water levels affect significant aspects of the landfill design and that changes will need to be made to the permit application that affect nearly every aspect of the application,” says the letter. “Importantly, Pintail also acknowledged that the permit application no longer meets TCEQ’s municipal solid waste rules.”
The letter concludes: “The application has already undergone extensive technical review, a draft permit has been prepared and the matter has been referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. It is at this point that momentous site information is discovered which significantly alters the approach to the design of the facility.”
Company officials are “surprised by the action and are in the process of evaluating our next steps,” Green Group said in a prepared statement.
The company has also proposed a landfill in Caldwell County, one that could take waste from communities in the Austin area. That disputed proposal — it faces pushback from some neighbors and at least one major competitor — is expected to go before an administrative law court next year, and then will go before the TCEQ.
Michael McCall, who lives a quarter mile from the proposed Waller County landfill and is treasurer of a group opposed to it, says he feels vindication.
“We have some extremely talented people in this community, from science backgrounds, engineering backgrounds” — people who doubted, McCall said, some of the claims about the soil quality and water table.The company’s application had been submitted during a record drought, he said, skewing information about the underground water.
His group gained access to the landfill site during the discovery phase of an administrative court hearing on the matter and found different water information.
“And everybody is on a water well here,” he said.
He said he is “hopeful” that he and his neighbors have staved off the landfill. He said his group has spent $1.7 million on their efforts, raised through garage sales, auctions, and a settlement with the county over allegations that it had violated open meetings act.
The most significant upshot might be that the landfill proposal may no longer be insulated from ordinances passed by the county and the city of Hempstead that would restrict its construction. Parts of the original application had been filed before those ordinances were passed, allowing the project to be grandfathered.
But the letter from the TCEQ appears to categorically reject the application, giving Green Group instruction on how to “make arrangements to pick up your application file.”