By Brooke A. Lewis  | Houston Chronicle Reporter | June 25, 2018

Waller County leaders and residents on Monday cheered a Georgia company’s decision to abandon plans for a 250-acre acre landfill near Hempstead, saying they look forward to moving beyond an environmental fight that has dominated public debate for seven years.

Green Group Holdings LLC said in a news release Monday that it was dropping its remaining court appeals and withdrawing any pending requests for approval, citing public opposition and the prospect of a court battle that could go on and on.

“When I looked at the length of time that it would take to go through the permitting process if we were even successful in court and just the level of opposition and divisiveness this has caused in the local community, I just came to the conclusion that we should dismiss the appeals that are pending in the court system and withdraw any other efforts on our part to continue to permit and operate a landfill on this property,” said David Green, the company’s CEO, in a phone interview.

The move ends a bitter fight over the landfill proposal — one that led to a court verdict that past county commissioners failed to show transparency, the ouster of commissioners who backed the project, a well-funded movement to oppose the plan and numerous court rulings blocking the plan.

Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, who successfully campaigned on his opposition to the landfill in 2014, said the company’s decision was best for the county.

“I commend Green Group for finally coming to the point to realize that this is not the best place for their project,” Duhon said Monday. “I wish it would’ve happened sooner, but I’ll take it.”

Mike McCall, the treasurer of Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, was still pinching himself Monday. McCall has been involved in the fight since the beginning, and said he’s been proud to watch his community come together to protect the area.

“After seven years, I don’t know what I’m going to think about when I wake up because it’s a new world,” McCall said. “What do you say when everything you’ve worked so hard for seven years looks to be coming to fruition in the way that you wanted it to go? We’re thankful. We think it’s the right decision.”

The scuttling of the plan follows a judge’s February ruling affirming the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decision to reject the landfill’s most recent application.

Local residents had long opposed the plan for the landfill off Texas 6, about 60 miles northwest of downtown Houston, saying they feared it would be a drag on the local economy and harm a source of drinking water.

Opposition dates back to June 2011, when a citizen who was voluntarily picking up trash learned about the plans to transform a tract known as the “Rainey Ranch” into a landfill. Opponents formed Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, and went on to hold community fundraisers and 43 garage sales to raise more than $2 million for the fight.

Thousands marched to the Waller County courthouse in 2013 to protest the plans, but elected officials advanced the project, which was to be built in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the small city of Hempstead.

That city filed a lawsuit in February 2013 against Waller County, a suit that was joined by Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead.

The following year, a jury found that Waller County officials had violated transparency laws when they met in closed session and in private with the landfill’s developer. That fall, landfill opponents captured a majority on the commissioners court.

But the company persisted, filing two separate applications with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Both were denied. The company was dealt another blow when a judge affirmed the commission’s decision earlier this year.

Duhon said he feared the landfill would have contaminated the water supply in Hempstead, which is the county’s seat. Some opponents cited the proximity to Clear Creek, which flows into the Brazos River.

“You start contaminating the water supply for the county seat, you end up turning the whole area into a wasteland,” Duhon said. “Who’s going to want to live or work in an area where you have your groundwater contaminated?”

Green said the company would still pursue other potential locations for the landfill. He said he believes a solid waste disposal site is needed in Texas because of its expanding population and natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey.

“I hope and really do feel like this facility could’ve been designed and operated safely, but this has been such a fatiguing and expensive journey for all of the participants,” Green said. “It’s time to put this behind us, so we at Green Group can focus on our other projects that we have.”

Bill Huntsinger, the president of the citizens group, said he was extremely happy about the news. But he added that he hoped other communities wouldn’t have to spend years fighting the next landfill proposal, and that companies seeking to build one learn from what transpired in Waller County.

“It’s been a grueling effort on everybody’s part for seven years of our lives,” said Huntsinger. “We hope that out of this comes some good. It shouldn’t have to be this grueling. That shouldn’t be the case.”