THE FIGHT IS OVER!

CALH Press Release June 27, 2018

On Monday, June 25, 2018, Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead (CALH) learned that Green Group Holdings LLC (GGH) will no longer pursue a permit to build the Pintail Landfill in Hempstead.

The press release issued by GGH announced that the company will abandon pursuit of the Pintail Landfill permit on the property along Hwy 6 near Hempstead, bringing welcome news that CALH and its many supporters have been waiting to hear for a long time.  Based on past experience, however, some will not feel totally at ease until the property is sold by GGH and a beneficial use for the property is found.  Nevertheless, it does appear that CALH’s members and supporters have achieved the near impossible and a huge victory for our small, determined community by never accepting the ‘It’s a Done Deal’ argument.

There have been a few other occasions along the 7-year journey when CALH had considered that the landfill fight might be over: winning an important court case or twice having Pintail’s application returned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), for example.  However, Pintail attorneys would come back with one court action after another.  In response and undaunted, CALH volunteers would simply host another Public Meeting to inform and update citizens on recent and anticipated happenings, hold another $10,000+ 2-day garage sale (there were 43 in total), or one of 4 large fundraising dinner/auctions.  And the people, regular, everyday generous citizens came out in support by the hundreds.

The foundation of CALH’s success has to be the justness of the cause.  In the words of CALH’s President, Bill Huntsinger, “Fighting the landfill was just the right thing to do.  We believe that the site selected was not well suited for a landfill.”  The clear understanding by citizens and volunteers of the serious consequences of such a questionable project location served to unite the community toward a common goal and, remarkably, sustained that effort to this day.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst explained CALH’s achievement in a recent press release as the “unwavering support of a citizen group who banded together to launch a self-funded legal battle against a corporate giant”.  The Senator’s work on our behalf is also to be commended as she was undoubtedly an important supporter and ally in this battle. Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., who worked on our behalf during the last session, also praised the “dedicated and passionate support” of local citizens in a recent statement. In addition, the City of Hempstead and Waller County played a vital role by passing ordinances controlling where landfills could be located.  The City and County also used significant resources in support of this effort to stop the landfill.  Other keys to the victory include generous volunteers who were willing to share their valuable time, expertise and skills, a positive leadership philosophy and an amazing team effort.  CALH is grateful to each and every individual or business who aided the battle in any way over the past seven years.

This win is for the lifelong County residents, often several generations deep, as well as the many newcomers to the community, plus all who share the valuable water supply.  Perhaps most importantly, the win is for future generations who will not have to deal with all that this ill-sited landfill would have forever brought to the area, and that gift makes all the hard work and effort worthwhile.

The events and cast of characters which have been involved in this landfill drama in a small rural community west of Houston might be the perfect material for an interesting book or movie, except that many would find it absolutely unbelievable!  Yet, this saga speaks volumes about the community of Waller County and the proud people who live here.

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 then filed suit against the TCEQ, questioning their right to reject this second application.  CALH joined TCEQ as Intervenor in the matter and the case, Pintail Landfill LLC vs TCEQ/CALH, was heard on February 22, 2018, in Travis County District Court.  Within 24 hours of hearing the case, the Honorable Judge Karin Crump issued a Final Judgment, affirming the TCEQ’s rejection of Pintail’s second application.  This outcome marks yet another victory for CALH and its battle to stop the Pintail Landfill project.  However, the ruling was appealable and Pintail did in fact appeal this Final Judgment on March 16, 2018.  Thus, TCEQ/CALH are preparing to see Pintail in Travis County’s 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, Texas, at some future date.

Seven 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.

Regardless of Pintail’s decisions moving forward and with so many positives in our favor, including a highly supportive community and a just case, CALH remains steadfast and prepared to continue the fight until the Pintail Landfill project is defeated once and for all!

 

Latest News

LONG BATTLE OVER PROPOSED WALLER COUNTY LANDFILL COMES TO END

By Brooke A. Lewis  | Houston Chronicle Reporter | June 25, 2018

Waller County leaders and residents on Monday cheered a Georgia company’s decision to abandon plans for a 250-acre acre landfill near Hempstead, saying they look forward to moving beyond an environmental fight that has dominated public debate for seven years.

Green Group Holdings LLC said in a news release Monday that it was dropping its remaining court appeals and withdrawing any pending requests for approval, citing public opposition and the prospect of a court battle that could go on and on.

“When I looked at the length of time that it would take to go through the permitting process if we were even successful in court and just the level of opposition and divisiveness this has caused in the local community, I just came to the conclusion that we should dismiss the appeals that are pending in the court system and withdraw any other efforts on our part to continue to permit and operate a landfill on this property,” said David Green, the company’s CEO, in a phone interview.

The move ends a bitter fight over the landfill proposal — one that led to a court verdict that past county commissioners failed to show transparency, the ouster of commissioners who backed the project, a well-funded movement to oppose the plan and numerous court rulings blocking the plan.

Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, who successfully campaigned on his opposition to the landfill in 2014, said the company’s decision was best for the county.

“I commend Green Group for finally coming to the point to realize that this is not the best place for their project,” Duhon said Monday. “I wish it would’ve happened sooner, but I’ll take it.”

Mike McCall, the treasurer of Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, was still pinching himself Monday. McCall has been involved in the fight since the beginning, and said he’s been proud to watch his community come together to protect the area.

“After seven years, I don’t know what I’m going to think about when I wake up because it’s a new world,” McCall said. “What do you say when everything you’ve worked so hard for seven years looks to be coming to fruition in the way that you wanted it to go? We’re thankful. We think it’s the right decision.”

The scuttling of the plan follows a judge’s February ruling affirming the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decision to reject the landfill’s most recent application.

Local residents had long opposed the plan for the landfill off Texas 6, about 60 miles northwest of downtown Houston, saying they feared it would be a drag on the local economy and harm a source of drinking water.

Opposition dates back to June 2011, when a citizen who was voluntarily picking up trash learned about the plans to transform a tract known as the “Rainey Ranch” into a landfill. Opponents formed Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, and went on to hold community fundraisers and 43 garage sales to raise more than $2 million for the fight.

Thousands marched to the Waller County courthouse in 2013 to protest the plans, but elected officials advanced the project, which was to be built in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the small city of Hempstead.

That city filed a lawsuit in February 2013 against Waller County, a suit that was joined by Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead.

The following year, a jury found that Waller County officials had violated transparency laws when they met in closed session and in private with the landfill’s developer. That fall, landfill opponents captured a majority on the commissioners court.

But the company persisted, filing two separate applications with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Both were denied. The company was dealt another blow when a judge affirmed the commission’s decision earlier this year.

Duhon said he feared the landfill would have contaminated the water supply in Hempstead, which is the county’s seat. Some opponents cited the proximity to Clear Creek, which flows into the Brazos River.

“You start contaminating the water supply for the county seat, you end up turning the whole area into a wasteland,” Duhon said. “Who’s going to want to live or work in an area where you have your groundwater contaminated?”

Green said the company would still pursue other potential locations for the landfill. He said he believes a solid waste disposal site is needed in Texas because of its expanding population and natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey.

“I hope and really do feel like this facility could’ve been designed and operated safely, but this has been such a fatiguing and expensive journey for all of the participants,” Green said. “It’s time to put this behind us, so we at Green Group can focus on our other projects that we have.”

Bill Huntsinger, the president of the citizens group, said he was extremely happy about the news. But he added that he hoped other communities wouldn’t have to spend years fighting the next landfill proposal, and that companies seeking to build one learn from what transpired in Waller County.

“It’s been a grueling effort on everybody’s part for seven years of our lives,” said Huntsinger. “We hope that out of this comes some good. It shouldn’t have to be this grueling. That shouldn’t be the case.”

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