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HOUSTON—Houston doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what happens in Hempstead. But a small town fight over a giant garbage dump has attracted two of the highest profile combatants in the big city’s public arena.
Drive up Highway 290 right past the sign welcoming you to Hempstead and you’ll see another sign with a decidedly unwelcoming message. A billboard surrounded by bags of garbage decries a proposed landfill that Waller County officials want to authorize along a stretch of Highway 6. It’s a stretch of highway that many people consider the gateway to Hempstead.
If you take the Hempstead exit, get used to seeing those signs around town. Fence posts scattered around the county bear placards saying “Stop the landfill.” Another billboard showing a little girl drinking a glass of dirty water proclaims “Waller County should not have to drink Houston’s garbage.”
A Georgia-based company called Green Group Holdings wants to turn a 723-acre patch of prairie into a huge landfill that would stand roughly 15 stories tall. The idea is supported by commissioners in Waller County, which would receive payments for each ton of buried garbage.
But the deal has touched off a firestorm of controversy in a county all too often divided by racially and sociologically charged disputes. Many opponents of the landfill are suspicious that its proposed location is near lower-income neighborhoods with larger minority populations than the higher-income communities like Katy in the southern part of the county.
Into this fray come two famously combative hired guns from Houston. Wayne Dolcefino, the former longtime investigative television reporter, has been retained by landfill opponents. Rusty Hardin, the high-profile defense lawyer, says he’s been retained by county commissioners who are now the subject of a criminal probe pursued by two special prosecutors.
“It’s going to destroy this little town,” Dolcefino said. “It’s going to destroy Prairie View. They’ve come to me, the citizens’ group hired me, to assist them in finding out who knew what when. This is a smelly deal, and not just because of the garbage.”
Dolcefino, who launched a one-man communications consulting business after his departure from the airwaves, says he’s just doing for the citizens group in Hempstead County what he used to do as a reporter.
“I’m working a lot harder for less money,” he said.
Hardin said some of the Waller County commissioners have personally retained him, but a dispute has erupted over whether he should be paid with taxpayer funds. Earlier this week, commissioners tabled a proposal to pay Hardin out of county coffers after the district attorney issued an opinion saying they couldn’t do it.
Crowds of landfill opponents have been packing public meetings on the proposal for months now. Now, in addition to the passions surrounding the controversy, a couple of prominent names are stirring up the pot, insuring the Waller County landfill controversy will become an even bigger stink.