TCEQ and WMI learn a few things from citizens in Luella
By Sara M. Starkey
Aug 30, 2003
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They all gathered at the Tom Bean Middle School, Thursday evening, August 28, 2003. The multi-purpose auditorium drew a reasonable crowd of concerned citizens who wanted to participate in the second public hearing on the permit application of Waste Management Incorporated for the vertical expansion of the Luella based Hillside Recycling & Disposal Facility. At 7pm the meeting was opened by the TCEQ representative with introductions, and a brief overview of the MWI project by Rick Losa.

Mr. Losa, a Waste Management employee, indicated at the beginning of the meeting that he and his staff are responsible for operations of the company landfills. He reported to the attendees that the facility was approximately 179 acres, with the ‘footprint’ of the actual municipal solid waste Type I facility being 130 acres of that property. He indicated that WMI purchased the existing landfill in 1986, which had been owned and operated by the Bob Lee family since the mid-1960’s.

A few of the citizens came to the microphone and asked about prior permits and the current permit stipulations. State Representative Larry Phillips spoke to the members of the meeting directly on behalf of the citizens requesting that they be heard by the TCEQ panel. He spoke, specifically about the air quality at Hillside in Luella, and compliance determinations by the agency. One of the Attorneys for TCEQ did note the history of Hillside as having been ‘poor’, but the attorney for Waste Management, John Reilly, immediately rose and interjected that the reports indicate that Hillside has an ‘average’ rating. The actual report shows average for July, and another reading of ‘average by default’. It seems they were both correct. The TCEQ attorney really was on the mark. In March and April, 2003, the TCEQ index reported:

‘"Waste Management of Texas, Inc.", "Hillside Recycling & Disposal Facility", "Sherman", "Grayson","04","MSW 523A; Air Acct GI0292Q", "47.5", "Poor", "04/17/03","04/18/03".’

Barbara Erickson, formerly Rep. Ron Clark’s Chief of Staff and currently on the staff of Senator Craig Estes, confronted the panel members of TCEQ and WMI representatives regarding the federal regulations governing landfills, noting for the record that regulations did not exist before 1990 and went into effect in 1993. A WMI representative stated that WMI would be excavating portions of the old landfill area to place a liner under it where none had ever been installed. That particular comment brought a flood of concern over excavation of the old waste, what the impacts would be for the environmental and health risks, and questions regarding where the old waste was to be moved. Mrs. Erickson noted for the record that Senator Estes and his entire staff are very interested in this issue.

There was no indication from TCEQ or WMI that any core sample studies of the landfill had been conducted. Waste Management Inc. is the largest municipal solid waste business in America. Their representative admitted at this meeting that they do not know what was buried in the old portion of the landfill, but they proposed to expose it by excavation, obviously in hopes of quieting the concerns over the unregulated waste beneath their facility.

Rep Phillips noted that there were several areas of concern that had not been addressed in the application for the Hillside vertical expansion, including the unknown variables for risk, the possibility for catastrophic events, and variables for the impacts of the expansion. His remarks to the panel brought a swell of applause from the audience.

Jacque and Jerry Peace, Luella residents and owners of property that borders the landfill, made some excellent points in the public hearing. The final presentation was a visual and oral documentary of the history of the Hillside facility given by Hunter Graham. The slide show, managed for the presentation by David Harrison, detailed the historical watershed problems that have plagued the area and have not been properly addressed at the Hillside facility, and Mrs. Peace played a video of torrential water runoff from Hillside, including visual documentation of pumping of water over a county road by WMI.

Other speakers were from the Choctaw 16 group that oversee the watershed of Grayson County. They oversee 186,000 acres and have been the constructors and managers of the Choctaw watershed project built in 1973, which was designed to retain silt from the area for fifty years. The lake has been overtaken by the slit from Hillside, and there were no answers given at the meeting regarding restoration of the lake. When the TCEQ engineer was questioned about whether the Hillside facility was located in the 100 Year Flood Plain, he said that it was not. Another speaker brought forth information that determined a portion of the facility was located in the flood plain and that the TCEQ had based its position on outdated data.

Rick Losa had said that the facility was currently permitted for 773 feet and the landfill was nearly at capacity, but a TCEQ report utilized by Mrs. Peace, indicated that the facility was permitted for less than was stated by Mr. Losa. Hunter Graham stated that a local surveyor had determined the level of Hillside at 767 mean feet above sea level, which seemed to indicate that Hillside is currently over permitted capacity or at near capacity. In addition, the WMI reps indicated that to take the vertical expansion to an additional 143 feet in height, they reported that the grade incline would be 4:1. That steep grade projection was reported by some learned citizens to be a dangerous design with the soil types and quality of our area and the rainfall schedules for Grayson County. The TCEQ information on-line indicates that the Hillside permit has a current duration through 2023.

There were intelligent and well-informed citizen speakers in attendance. Questions about grades, watershed, load variables, regulations, violations, Court ordered injunctions and durations through April, 2005, indicating stringent compliance requirements peppered the TCEQ members and WMI for the duration of this meeting. County Commissioners David Whitlock of Precinct Two (Luella is included in Precinct Two) and Johnny Waldrip of Precinct One were both in attendance and spoke of their positions of objection to the expansion of Hillside. County Commissioners had unanimously passed a resolution objecting to the expansion of Hillside this year.

The rules of the meeting, were that those who registered to speak could ask their questions and make their statements, but they would not receive any comments from TCEQ for at least two months. It was reported that TCEQ would be investigating this permit for at least another six months. They took back to Austin, many fine examples of why the permit for expansion of Hillside should be denied.

A record and history of violations and complacency by Waste Management and the TNRCC/TCEQ for 17 years was vividly portrayed. The citizens of the Luella area proved, with dignity and decorum, that Hillside has been bad for their community, bad for their health, bad for Grayson County, a bad influence, and bad for business.

In closing, Jacque and Jerry Peace had caught, cooked, and brought for the panel, some fish from their pond, that has been continually contaminated by spillage and runoff from Hillside. Jaci walked along the front row offering a sampling to the TCEQ members and the WMI representatives. None of them wanted to partake. The only one that took a piece and ate it was John Reilly, the attorney for WMI.

Vertical Landfills are becoming the cost-effective solution to landfill operations and extension of permits. Many are incorporating gas recovery systems to give back to the communities, an energy source that offers a great benefit and savings to those areas. Denton received a sizable grant from North Texas TCOG, and has been developing a gas recovery project that has either begun construction or is very near its start.

However, WMI did not offer that option for Hillside. Though they said that the facility services Grayson and its surrounding counties, and the vertical expansion was a needed project for the future of this area, they did not really say where the waste was coming from that would be placed at Hillside. They did not offer any consideration for compliance solutions or to rectify the concerns of the many who spoke to this member panel.

In closing for the evening, the very eloquent and dignified group walked about the room shaking hands and greeting one another. It was all very civil, but this issue is far from over. Before ending her presentation, Jaci Peace said that a contested hearing would be requested.

Rep. Phillips said this morning, "I am pleased that the citizens came forward and made a strong case against the proposed vertical expansion." He has expressed on several occassions that he is definitely against the expansion [Hillside] and will be there to help the citizens fight it, and he continues to prove that he is standing shoulder to shoulder with the citizens of District 62.

TCEQ has never denied a permit for a landfill. TASWA, Texoma Area Solid Waste Authority, Inc.  was recently granted a permit for the facility near Whitesboro. Grayson County has a brand new facility, being constructed under the stiff rules and regulations governing landfills. The recommendation tonight to TCEQ was to let Hillside finish out their existing permit (ten years), and put the shutdown and 30 year maintenance program in place.

Reports and articles about landfills, MSW technology, and studies of landfills around the globe are easily accessible through Internet searches. It has been reported that the landfill of ancient Rome is still releasing toxins into the environment, 2000 years after closure. A citizen speaker noted for the panel that many MSW owner/operators are closing landfills that had questionable or unknown contents so that the 30-year mandatory maintenance plan could begin early. He said that many won’t breathe easy until the clock stops ticking.

Once the requirements are met for the completion of the maintenance after closure, the companies are no longer responsible for the facility. The clock is ticking on Hillside. The local citizens are making sure that it is being heard - loud and clear. Close it, they say, and let the new TASWA facility being constructed with better technology and a superior plan of operation, manage the future needs of the area. As one of the citizens concluded about WMI and Hillside, ‘…just let them go away.’

Hunter Graham in erosion area on his ranch near Hillside.

The silt-filled lake near Hillside.

Pumping after a rain

Forget the pump - Cut the Dam