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!

 

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CALH HOLDS FINAL PUBLIC MEETING, SEPTEMBER 18, 2018

In a historic turn of events, on June 25, 2018, Green Group Holdings/Pintail Landfill abandoned their application bid for a landfill at the old Rainey Ranch location on Hwy 6 just north of Hwy 290.  To update supporters one last time, the Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead (CALH) held its 14th and final Public Meeting on Tuesday, September 18, 2018, at the Hempstead Theatre.  Bob Gage, CALH MC, outlined the agenda for the evening which included an assessment of how CALH and the community won this battle and updates on the current status of Pintail Landfill and CALH, both legal and financial.

In his commentary, Bill Huntsinger, CALH President, attributed the victory in large part to the power of the people who came together to form CALH and expended over 200,000 volunteer man-hours of hard work with a clear focus on the goal at hand, to Stop the Landfill.  Community support of successful fundraisers afforded the opportunity to hire excellent legal representation from the law firm, Hance Scarborough.  “We came together as a community and accomplished what was thought to be impossible.  The odds were against us and yet we won,” Mr. Huntsinger concluded.

Words of thanks and praise followed in comments by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, Rep. Cecil Bell, Waller County Judge, Trey Duhon, Hempstead Mayor, Michael Wolfe, and Waller County Commissioner, John Amsler.  Sen. Kolkhorst shared that Green Group representatives came to her office many times over the years, telling her that there was no stopping their project.  Yet she remained firm and suggested they look elsewhere rather than over the recharge zone of an important aquifer.

CALH has been fortunate to have Rick Welch as a member of the organization whose knowledge and tenacity has proved invaluable over the years.  As the next presenter, Rick brought the audience up to date on recent legal proceedings which have gone against Pintail, leading to their June 25, 2018 decision to abandon pursuit of a landfill application on this site, after 7 years and 2 rejected applications.

Finally, Mike McCall, CALH’s Treasurer, advised attendees that CALH will keep the organization intact for 2 years from June 25, 2018, and that currently CALH has approximately $124,000 in the bank.  Due to CALH’s 501c3 status, the group is legally limited as to how the remaining funds may be used.  One use being considered is to assist Waller County to develop a Waste Management Plan for local governments as defined in Chapter 363 of the Health and Safety Code, which might prevent others trying to place a landfill on an unsuitable site in the county.  CALH plans to keep the community advised of any developments and, although reducing activity via social media, etc., the Facebook page and website will remain open.  Mr. McCall thanked everyone for the many tasks performed to assist CALH over the years, then concluded his presentation by saying, “All in all, we have accomplished something very rare.  Our attorneys have told us that organizations like ours are formed often but very seldom can sustain the activity to the end; however, we did it.  This community found the wherewithal to do what many said could not be done.  We should all take pride in this tremendous accomplishment.”

During the evening, CALH leaders Bill Huntsinger, Mike McCall and Wayne Knox received a standing ovation for their efforts, expertise and dedication to the cause from a very appreciative audience.  Fittingly, the meeting was concluded with a prayer led by CALH member, Jimmy Dishroon.  Jimmy has led CALH spiritually throughout this long battle and has no doubt inspired many to pray for God’s help.  These prayers were answered and Jimmy is owed many thanks for keeping the group humble and mindful of Who was in charge of the final outcome.  The 150 or so attendees were then invited to join in a celebration with cake and punch while a video which captured people, moments and activities from the past 7 years was shown.  It was an uplifting conclusion to a small yet significant chapter in Waller County history.

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