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Clean Harbors Faces Strong Opposition To Hazardous Waste Disposal Site

Strong opposition to a proposed hazardous waste disposal site near Altair was voiced at a public meeting held on Thursday, Dec. 1, in Columbus.

A gathering estimated at more than 200 people attended the meeting conducted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in the auditorium of Columbus High School, which lasted three and a half hours.

About a dozen people asked questions during the meeting and another 32 made public comments.

All of the comments were opposed to granting the permit.

Participants were told that the executive director of the state agency will consider the comments and respond to them, probably in 60 to 90 days.

If a contested hearing is granted, a proceeding similar to a trial will be held and a final decision by the three-member state commission would come after that, a process expected to take a number of months.

A representative of State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, who had requested the meeting, also read a statement from the senator opposing the permit.

In addition, before the meeting a number of members of the steering committee of The Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition issued a statement opposing the permit.

The steering committee members opposed to the project included the county judges from Matagorda, Wharton, Fayette, and Bastrop counties.

An official with the Lower Colorado River Authority, John Hofmann, also filed comments expressing concern about the facility and requesting a contested hearing.

During the Thursday meeting there were technical arguments and emotional appeals.

Statements of opposition were frequently greeted with applause and cheers.

The application for the permit from the TCEQ for the construction and operation of a hazardous waste disposal site was made by Altair Disposal Services, LLC.

The notice of the TCEQ meeting states the company has applied for “a hazardous waste permit to authorize the construction and operation of a new non-commercial landfill for the disposal of hazardous waste and industrial solid waste.”

The facility is proposed to be located at 5464 Highway 71, near an existing landfill site operated by Clean Harbors Environmental.

The company is proposing to open a new landfill at their site in Altair for disposal of incinerated hazardous industrial waste from a facility the company owns in Deer Park.

The proposal has drawn opposition from Colorado County commissioners, the Colorado County Groundwater Conservation District and the Rice School District.

In addition to those who spoke at the meeting, more than 400 people have filed comments about the permit application, with a large majority of comments opposed.

The Colorado County’s resolution opposing the permit noted there are “highly porous and permeable” sand and gravel deposits in the area.

The commissioners also noted that the possible mismanagement of the site could affect local groundwater and surface water in the county.

Phillip Retallick, chief compliance officer with Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc., discussed the application and answered questions.

Altair Disposal Service is a subsidiary of Clean Harbors, which operates a municipal waste disposal site at the location currently.

The proposal calls for waste to be trucked in from an incineration facility that Clean Harbors owns in Deer Park.

Currently waste from the incineration is disposed of at the location of the incineration facility in Deer Park, but that site will be out of space in approximately four years.

Retallick estimated earlier that about 20 to 25 truckloads of waste would be brought to the landfill weekly.

He said that there would be more stringent engineering for the hazardous waste site than the current municipal landfill site.

Retallick said two synthetic liners would be installed below the location where the waste will be stored and will have dual leak detection system.

He said that will be placed on top of three-foot layer of impervious clay.

In addition he said 13 new monitoring wells will be added to supplement 40 existing monitoring wells.

In answer to questions, Retallick said waste will include heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, chromium, and mercury “in very low concentrations.”

He said the company will be required to post substantial financial assurance, which he said totals “tens of millions of dollars” to ensure there is money to cover costs of any corrective measures, such as dealing with a leak from the site.

Retallick estimated the facility would be able to take hazardous material for 50 to 60 years and said the company would be committed to monitoring and maintaining the site for 30 years after it closes.

“We believe the project will be a safe and secure project,” he said.

An official with the TCEQ said that the proposed landfill will have the capacity of holding 2.3 million yards, the equivalent of 3.3 million tons.

The landfill would be located on 66 acres, adjacent to the existing municipal landfill. The company owns approximately 500 acres at the location.

“It’s the wrong location,” Colorado County Judge Ty Prause said. The proposed site for hazardous waste disposal would be above the best aquifer in the state.”

Because of concerns about the proposal he said the county has hired attorneys and consultants to evaluate the proposal.

“I’ll willing to bet you, if this permit is granted, nobody from Clean Harbors or Altair would move here, and drink the water or breathe the air,” Prause said.

Attorneys representing the county said the site should have to meet more stringent standards of a commercial facility and said they expressed concern that material coming to the facility would not be inspected once it arrived at landfill.

They also said there are other facilities in Louisiana and near Robstown that are currently licensed to accept hazardous waste.

County Commissioner Darrell Kubesch said:

“If you cannot guarantee something may go wrong, trillions, I ain’t talking millions or billions, I’m talking about trillions, need to be put in a liability fund for potential hazardous exposure.”

Jim Brasher, general manager of the Colorado Groundwater Conservation District, said his agency was “very much opposed to this hazardous waste facility as it’s currently sited. If water escapes from this facility its going right into the aquifer system and you ain’t getting it back.”

Another speaker, Travis Wegenhoft added:

“You don’t want to put your outhouse next to your water supply.”

Bill Hefner, superintendent of the Rice Consolidated Independent School District, also expressed his district’s opposition.

In her statement, Kolkhorst said: “This permit would enable a large disposal facility in a populated area that could create a nuisance to local residents.”

And she added, “The disposal of large amounts of incinerator ash over the next 60 years will irreparably damage property values in the area for generations to come.”

She concluded her statement, saying, “I feel that this location’s proximity to the Colorado River and shallow groundwater formations make it unsuitable for any future project of this type.”   [-end of story-]


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