Group forms to protest landfill (June 29, 2011) –

Just say no.

That was the message from a packed courtroom during Tuesday’s session of Waller County Commissioners Court, when residents came to protest a proposed landfill near Hempstead.

The landfill was not on the agenda, but seven people took advantage of the public comment period to protest the landfill and to accuse Judge Glenn Beckendorff of keeping the project secret for six months. By law, no one on the court could respond.

After the meeting, Beckendorff issued a statement: “As Waller County Judge, I am committed in working and promoting the interests of all Waller County citizens. Every concern will be addressed and answered in order to protect all of our residents and their interests.”

Most of those who spoke were members of a new organization called Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead. Even before Monday’s formal announcement of the landfill by GreenFirst LLC, residents organized to oppose the plan and even had signs posted on the property that say “NO LANDFILL”.

CALH was formed to “expose the effort and to protest the landfill within the community, before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and at the State Capitol,” the group said in a press release issued by Michael M. McCall, who lives north of the site on Kelley Road.

McCall was one of those who addressed the court.

“The public deserves to know what you know about this issue,” he said, handing the commissioners and open records request.

Tom Brown, who lives on Kelley Road, led off the comments by accusing Beckendorff of backstabbing him.

“The judge has been in my home a half dozen times … I put up signs for him,” Brown said before turning to address Beckendorff directly. “You’ve introduced me as the person most responsible for getting you elected. It’s astounding to me that you’ve been working on this for six months – six months this has been going on – and you would let this happen.”

Billy Frazier, who owns Frazier’s Ornamental and Architectural Concrete located just south of the proposed site, was also upset at Beckendorff for withholding information for so long.

“This has been in process for some time and people just found out about it a few days ago,” he said.

Frazier said he was concerned about “hundreds of garbage trucks coming through, dripping their stuff along the way.”

He said he worked hard to make his place of business at the intersection of highways 290 and 6 a gateway to Hempstead. He said he coined the slogan “Hempstead, gateway to the Bluebonnet Trail.”

He said now it looks like Hempstead will be known as the “future smell of the garbage trail.”

Peter Galanos compared the commissioners to government policy czars by the way they wield their power.

“I’ve been a landowner here for many years and I had to find out about this at the hardware store,” he said.

Galanos said the intersection of the two highways has the potential to be “written up in the Wall Street Journal.” A landfill, he said, would ruin that potential.

“What in the world are you thinking about? What in the world are you doing?” he asked.

Jackie Craver, who said she has been in the chamber and economic development fields, was looking at the situation from a business perspective. She said she didn’t like what she sees.

“Think about the future of all of Waller County,” she implored the court.

Tim Junek was the only person to speak in defense of the commissioners.

“I don’t believe the commissioners court has kept this a secret from us because that’s not the way they work,” he said, drawing stifled laughter from the audience.

He said he trusts the elected officials to act in the best interests of the people of Waller County.

“They’re trying to find the right thing to do and the right thing to do is not build a landfill in Waller County,” he said.

McCall was next with his comments and open records request. Bill Huntsinger was the last person to address the court about the landfill. He said he has been in real estate for more than 40 years.

“I stand here to tell you that the intersection of highway 6 and 290 is one of the premier intersections in the whole of Waller County,” he said. He added that construction of a landfill will “have a dramatic affect on the economic value of this community.”

In its press release, the group CALH said the landfill would stigmatize the county and bring down property values.

“If this landfill is allowed to proceed, the City of Hempstead, the Hempstead ISD and northern Waller County will never recover from the stigma a landfill will bring,” CALH said.

“GreenFirst LLC of Canton, Ga., represented by Mr. Oscar L. Allen and Thad Owings, is in Hempstead working on an environmental impact study and application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a permit to turn the Rainey Ranch into a household waste landfill. The manager of GreenFirst LLC is Mr. Earnest Kaufmann of Canton.”

The group said the landfill would be located within two miles of the county courthouse.

“Their plan for the property is to build an industrial park fronting on Highway 6 for approximately ¾ of a mile. Behind the industrial park will be constructed a system of 20-foot high berms to hide the 215 acres of landfill behind them,” the group said. “Neither Mr. Allen nor Mr. Owings could or would say how many cubic yards of garbage is being planned for the life of the site or how high the solid waste will be piled up on the site.”

“When challenged on his comment that property values will not be affected, Mr. Allen would only shrug his shoulders in response. Neighbors believe that just the rumor of such a development has damaged property values for up to 10 miles around the planned project, which would include all of Hempstead and surrounding area,” the group said.

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