Proposed Landfill Raises Alarm in Hempstead – Austin American Statesman

Proposed Landfill Raises Alarm in Hempstead

Marvin Jeffery cuts Richard Turner's hair at Official Cutz in Hempstead. Jeffery wants to see economic growth in the town, but 'not with other people's waste.' Photo by Ricardo Brazziell/AMERICAN-STATESMAN











Glenn Shankle once was executive director of the state environmental agency, then a lobbyist for landfill companies. Now he's helping Hempstead residents fight the landfill. Photo by Ricardo Brazziell/AMERICAN-STATESMAN






















By Asher Price

HEMPSTEAD — Beneath the shade of a hackberry tree on an empty lot behind a ramshackle building on a sweltering early afternoon, a half-dozen older men gathered, as has become habit, on falling-apart chairs around a makeshift table, to jaw like-mindedly about a proposed landfill a couple of miles from the center of town one they say will be bad for the community.

“Any time you pile up waste that high, it’s going to stink,” said Harrel White, an 80-year-old former watermelon farmer and Hempstead native.

In many ways, the landfill fight in this rural Texas town two hours east of Austin has a standard shape: An out-of-state corporation is accused of siting an unsightly dump near a largely poor, largely minority community. The landfill company says the accusations are unfair and that the dump will contribute jobs to a stricken area.

The twist here is one of the background players.

Glenn Shankle — the former executive director of the state environmental agency and a lobbyist for landfill companies himself, including one whose permit for a radioactive waste dump he controversially supported just before leaving said agency — is now a hired gun for the community.

Unlikely as the partnership may be, Shankle, 59, hobbled by old track injuries suffered as a runner at then-Kealing Junior High School, may be the opposition’s best hope.

Getting involved

In Shankle’s telling, over a breakfast of heavily buttered toast, bacon and a Dr Pepper in downtown Austin, he resisted the community group gig when first approached about it.

“I told them at the time I don’t do protest work,” he said.

He had grown leery, after a career at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, of the methods of environmental groups, he said, and was unsure that he could fight a landfill while also serving as a landfill lobbyist.

“Once you predominantly do industry work, it puts you in an awkward situation,” he said.

Having survived some health scares, however, he had been casting about how he ought to fulfill God’s plan, as he put it. Then, family members who had attended Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college eight miles outside of Hempstead, opposed the landfill and pressed him to intervene.

“I slept on it and prayed on it,” he said. His conclusion: Prairie View should not suffer because of a “scar” to the landscape.

Prairie View President George C. Wright said his school has not taken a position on the landfill.

Shankle now does behind-the-scenes work for Stop Highway 6 Landfill, a group bankrolled chiefly by Bill Huntsinger, a retired Houston real estate developer who moved to Hempstead a dozen years ago.

Waller County has no authority to stop the landfill. Shankle will guide the group in trying to stymie the landfill in the state and federal regulatory process. Shankle also will try to influence lawmakers when they return to Austin for the next legislative session.

The landfill would be put on a 723-acre former ranch now crowded with goat weeds, just north of the city limits in Waller County. The spot looks like the bucolic spreads owned by Huntsinger and the pretty, horse ranches of his neighbors and stands in contrast to the plots with dilapidated homes occupied by poorer Hempstead residents and to the vacated car dealerships concentrated a few miles away on the other side of U.S. 290.

Huntsinger says the landfill will crimp residential property values, leading to a drop-off in valuable tax base for the school district.

Other anxieties are common themes in landfill face-offs: increased traffic from trucks hauling in waste; environmental consequences to the underground water supply and the nearby Brazos River; and damage to the community’s flagging economic development.

Hempstead is home to about 5,770 people, about 63 percent of whom are minorities. According to 2010 census data, the median household income in Hempstead was $31,806, compared with $49,646 statewide. At least 1 in 5 are below the poverty line; statewide, the figure is 16 percent.

In downtown Hempstead, at Official Cutz, 29-year-old barber Marvin Jeffery said he was skeptical of the landfill’s touted benefits.

“I want Hempstead to bring in more revenue, but not that way — not with other people’s waste,” Jeffery said. “Give people something to live for other than work at McDonald’s or at a taco stand.”

Following is Bill Huntsinger’s response to the author of the Austin American Statesman article:

August 12, 2012

Thank you for writing about the proposed Pintail Landfill in Hempstead, Texas. Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead (CALH) or Stophwy6landfill is a grassroots group working to stop a huge corporation from building a massive dump just 1 mile from historic Hempstead and 4 miles from Prairie View A&M, the 2nd oldest University in Texas. These towns are 76% and 96% minority respectively. We are ordinary citizens up against Green Group Holdings, LLC and their team of lobbyists, lawyers, engineers, and advertising agencies. We are concerned about our surface and ground water and many other environmental issues. The proposed landfill is a personal issue for those living across the street from the proposed site, but the greater issue is the damage to Hempstead, Prairie View, and all of Waller County. Locating a landfill almost as large as the city itself at the Gateway to the City of Hempstead is wrong. Quality development will go elsewhere. The stigma and economic loss will be permanent. Finally, just to set the record straight, I am not bankrolling the group. I worked FOR a real estate developer for 41 years and drive a Camry with 80,000 miles on it. I have worked hard all of my life to be able to live in the country, drink clean water, and breath fresh air…NOT to live by a dump. Still, this is not about me. This is about the citizens and future of Waller County. So, come on people…join the fight, and help us save a little Texas town! Thank you,

Bill Huntsinger


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