Waller County battles landfill – Joe Southern, yourhoustonnew.com

After a record-setting, marathon meeting Tuesday, the Waller County Commissioners Court took its first step toward stopping a landfill from being built off Highway 6 about a mile north of Hempstead.

In a meeting that lasted almost seven hours, including two executive sessions lasting a combined four hours, before a crowd so large it had to be moved to the larger, third-floor courtroom, the commissioners voted unanimously to set Aug. 3 as the date it will vote on an ordinance that severely limits where landfills can be located in Waller County.

The ordinance, submitted by a citizens’ group in opposition to the proposed Pintail Landfill, is designed to stop Green Group Holdings, LLC, from building a landfill at what many called the gateway to Hempstead and Waller County. Nearly 30 people spoke in opposition to the landfill during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Former Waller County District Attorney Larkin Eakin Jr., who drafted the proposed ordinance, led off the comments by saying that his proposal sets limits on where privately-owned landfills can be constructed. His plan would eliminate the site on Highway 6 as well as most of the county.

“We must not have these landfills checker-boarded throughout the county,” he said.

The ordinance he drafted and the commissioners amended limits landfills to “Any area within a two-mile radius of any privately-owned solid waste disposal site holding a currently or previously valid permit for solid waste disposal issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and/or its predecessor agencies as of the Date of Adoption of this Ordinance, but not afterwards.”

The ordinance excludes municipal landfills and also sets provisions for due process. It is estimated that there are seven qualifying landfill sites under the ordinance in Waller County. By state law, landfills cannot be located within a certain distance of an airport or in environmentally sensitive areas.

“This will have a devastating environmental and economic impact on our community,” attorney Carol Chaney said of the proposed landfill.

Calling it a “life or death situation” she told the commissioners “there is no middle ground here; you’re either for the citizens or for the landfill company. You have the power to stop this and we are pleading with you to do so.”

Billy Frazier, who owns a business nearby, asked the commissioners to consider the children, grandchildren and generations yet to be born. He asked them not to believe what the representatives of Green Group Holdings tell them about the safety of landfills.

“It’s like putting on a piece of wax paper and a rubber band and leaning over and saying ‘it’s alright sweetheart, I’m wearing protection’,” he said.

Tom Brown, whose property is next to the proposed site, first apologized to Judge Glenn Beckendorff for comments he made about him at a previous meeting when he felt Beckendorff was in secret negotiations to bring the landfill here. He then noted that 1,000 feet of the property is in Clear Creek, which flows into the water supply for Sugar Land and other communities southwest of Houston.

“That water is consumed by a half a million people,” he said.

John Amsler called the landfill vote a defining moment for the judge and four commissioners.

“The leadership of the county will be defined today,” he said. “This decision will determine the socioeconomic future of the little town of Hempstead and all of northern Waller County.”

Jackie Craver, who has been active in many community projects, introduced the court to Larry Tegeler, an auto dealer who recently purchased 10 acres of the former Marshall Dealerships lot with plans to open a used car business. He told the commissioners, and Odis Styers in particular, if they had told him about the landfill when he first contracted the property he would have been within his 90 days to back out of the deal.

“If a Walmart comes in here, you’re better off than if you have a dump,” he said.

Another property owner said they were in negotiations with Walmart and other big-box companies to develop property around highways 6 and 290 before the recession hit. They said the landfill would be a deal-killer for those companies.

No one spoke on behalf of Green Group Holdings or its subsidiary, GreenFirst, LLC, the companies proposing the Pintail industrial park and landfill.

After the public comments, the commissioners went into discussion on the proposed ordinance. After Styers moved to approve it, with Sylvia Cedillo making the second, Cedillo immediately moved to table the vote. Stan Kitzman seconded it. Cedillo reminded the audience after a sea of groans that she is an attorney and said that she had some issues with the ordinance as written, as did the county’s legal counsel.

“We may be passing legislation that on its face may be its very undoing,” she said.

Styers said he was ready to vote now and Commissioner Frank Pokluda said the ordinance could be postponed to Monday, giving the attorney enough time to review and revise the ordinance. Kitzman gave the example that one of the designated newspapers the legal notice of the ordinance is to be published in has been out of business for 15 years.

After seeing a strong, negative reaction to tabling the ordinance, Cedillo withdrew her amendment to the motion and Kitzman reluctantly withdrew his second. The court then went into a three-hour executive session with attorney Larry Simmons to revise the ordinance.

When the commissioners returned to regular session, the revised ordinance was approved for legal publication. The public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Aug. 3.

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