CITIZENS STILL AGAINST THE LANDFILL IN HEMPSTEAD – THE STORY IN BRIEF

Ironically, while doing volunteer community service picking up trash in the area in June 2011, a local citizen inadvertently learned that a 723 acre property known as the Rainey Ranch, along Hwy 6 near Hwy 290 in Hempstead, was going to be turned into a municipal solid waste landfill. It was also understood that local County government officials had been working in secret with Green Group Holdings, a Georgia-based company, on the Pintail Landfill project. Soon after, the Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead (CALH) was formed by a large group of citizens who clearly realized that this location over the Gulf Coast Aquifer recharge zone, and so near to the City of Hempstead, was the wrong site for such a hazardous facility.

After more than a year of controversy, the actual filing of a permit application, and the questionable stalling by locally elected Waller County officials, a march by thousands of concerned citizens on Waller County Courthouse on February 12, 2013, still did not persuade these then-current elected officials that this 250 acre landfill was clearly detrimental to the northern part of Waller County. That evening, among the many hundreds of citizens giving landfill-opposing public comments, City of Hempstead Mayor, Michael Wolfe, made a promise to take the issue on behalf of his City all the way to the Texas Supreme Court if necessary. Despite vocal opposition by their citizens, those Waller County officials voted in favor of Pintail Landfill, sealing the deal by choosing to amend the landfill ordinance and sign Pintail’s host agreement. The City of Hempstead sued the County and CALH joined with the City in that suit. In December 2014, a Waller County court found that there were 13 counts of violations of the Open Meetings Act, the Public Information Act, and record retention requirements, and the original landfill siting ordinance was re-instated and the host agreement invalidated. Those elected officials who sided with Pintail either lost their re-election bids or decided not to run for re-election. Their April 2015 appeal of the case was found baseless by the 1st Court of Appeals.

Proof of the unsuitability of the site and confirmation of what locals had been telling the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for years came on July 17, 2015, when a site visit by CALH representatives, as requested by CALH and ordered by the court, showed groundwater spewing from one of the piezometers designed to measure the water table elevations at the site. This discovery led to the TCEQ rejection and return of Pintail’s first MSW application for non-compliance with state regulations, a fact that Pintail had to readily admit.

In June, 2016, Pintail/Green Group Holdings purchased the property which they had previously only held under an Option to Buy Agreement. Their second application, filed in July 2016, was returned by TCEQ in December 2016 based on the applicability of ordinances now in place in the City of Hempstead and Waller County. Pintail has since filed suit against the TCEQ, questioning their right to reject this second application and the lawsuit is now pending in Travis County.

More than six years, 2 MSW landfill applications submitted and rejected, 4 TCEQ Public Meetings, 2 trials, 1 Contested Case Hearing, hundreds of hours of depositions, $2 million dollars raised and spent on legal fees, 43 garage sales, 4 dinner/auction fundraisers, and support by Rep. Cecil Bell and Senator Lois Kolkhorst leading to 2 Legislative Bills written and testified to should all equal an end to the Pintail Landfill at this location, one would think, and a return of Waller County’s beleaguered citizens to their peaceful lives.

Apparently, Pintail/Green Group Holdings have the budget to continue their litigious ways as they continue their costly pursuit of Pintail Landfill on Hwy 6 in Hempstead. 

Thus, CALH must continue to work to raise funds to ensure a just outcome for Waller County. Our recent and fourth dinner/auction fundraiser, ‘We STILL Stand United’ held on Saturday, July 29, 2017, raised an incredible $104,777.99 net revenue. Thanks to CALH’s outstanding team of volunteers, the generosity of businesses and community members with donations and sponsorships, and the unwavering support of a committed community. These funds will be put to use as our attorneys have filed a Plea of Intervention  in the GGH/Pintail lawsuit against TCEQ, with CALH joining TCEQ in the defense of this Travis County District Court case, giving us an important voice in the litigation.
CALH remains committed to stopping the proposed Pintail Landfill simply because ‘When you are Right, you Fight to Win!’.

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Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead – PRESS RELEASE

Pintail’s Petition for a Contested Case Hearing Denied

AUSTIN, Texas-October 4, 2017

On Wednesday, October 4, 2017, the three TCEQ Commissioners, Dr. Bryan W. Shaw, Chairman, Toby Baker, and Jon Niermann, considered Pintail Landfill’s Petition for a Contested Case Hearing in their regular monthly meeting which took place in Austin. This was Item No. 3 on the agenda and arguments and deliberations on the matter lasted approximately 25 minutes.
Pintail’s attorney, John Riley, opened the hearing with a brief statement contending that Pintail should be granted a Contested Case Hearing based upon their claim of a governmental takings under Chapter 2007 of the Texas Government Code.  This opening was followed by arguments from the TCEQ Executive Director’s (ED) attorney, Anthony Tatu, and the TCEQ Office of Public Interest Counsel’s (OPIC) attorney, Garret Arthur, both presenting reasons why such a Contested Case Hearing should not be granted.  Testimony concluded when Pintail attorney Riley offered his final rebuttal arguments.

The TCEQ Commissioners asked a few questions of Riley, then focused their attention and discussion on two main issues:  firstly, whether the return of Pintail’s second application constituted a governmental action as defined in Chapter 2007 and, secondly, the validity of Pintail’s argument that their MSW application should be grandfathered from Hempstead’s local landfill siting ordinance.

On the first issue, Pintail argued that the agency had changed their policy regarding the requirements for a valid landfill siting ordinance, basing this argument on a TCEQ attorney’s responses to questions during a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting in 2005. However, the TCEQ Commissioners unanimously agreed that those 12-year old opinions were not official TCEQ policy and further that no change in any policy had been made in the decision to return Pintail’s second application based on the existing Hempstead and Waller County ordinances. Therefore, no governmental action as defined in Chapter 2007 had occurred and Pintail was not entitled to a contested case hearing based upon this argument.

The second assertion by Pintail, namely that their MSW application should be grandfathered from the City of Hempstead siting ordinance because they were granted a Registration for a Transfer Station under Chapter 361 of the Texas Health and Safety Code before the ordinance was passed, was also rejected by the Commissioners. As Chairman Shaw stated, Chapter 361 covers many types of facilities, from pet cemeteries to citizens’ recycling collection facilities to hazardous waste landfills and a MSW landfill could only be grandfathered by an existing authorization under Chapter 361 for a specific site if it was of a similar risk to health.  The Commissioners all agreed that Pintail’s assertion clearly did not follow the logical intent of the legislature when the statute was written, ruling that the transfer station registration did not grandfather Pintail’s second landfill application.

At the end of discussions of Item 3 on the lengthy agenda, all three TCEQ Commissioners voted to reject Pintail Landfill LLC’s request for a Contested Case Hearing.

Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead (CALH) spokesperson, Bill Huntsinger, was pleased with this outcome and stated, “We are grateful to the TCEQ Commissioners for this finding, which relieves both CALH and the taxpayers of this state of additional and significant time-consuming and expensive legal action”.  The battle to stop the proposed Pintail Landfill at a 723 acre location on Hwy 6 near Hempstead has been ongoing for over 6 years, costing CALH and supporters almost $2 million to date, funds raised by garage sales and dinner/auctions.  Huntsinger reminded supporters that Pintail’s lawsuit against the TCEQ is still active in Travis County District Court. That suit is an appeal of the return of Pintail’s second application based largely upon their claim that the TCEQ should have found the local landfill siting ordinances invalid. 

Watch video of the TCEQ proceedings,
selecting item 3

Click here to see all photos

 

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