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City moves toward removing tons of waste from East Austin tract

Thursday, January 28, 2010 by Bill McCann

A two-acre, city-owned tract tucked into the Homewood Heights neighborhood in East Austin is by all outward appearances a friendly neighbor to the homes around it. The property is wooded and has its own natural spring. It is listed on city books as being used for drainage and potential park use, although there are no current plans to develop it into a park.

 

But the tract also has an unwanted feature—it once was used for illegal waste dumping.

 

The city, which found hazardous wastes at the site, has been working on the problem for nearly three years. It will be almost another two years before the wastes are removed from the tract and from some adjacent private properties. The total cost, including assessment studies, planning and removal of contaminants, could exceed $1.8 million, including a preliminary estimate of $1.3 million for waste removal.

 

Oscar Garza, East Austin Environmental Initiative Coordinator at the Watershed Protection Department, gave the Environmental Board an update on the cleanup project last week. Several board members were quick to suggest that the department should look at opportunities for federal funds to help pay for the cleanup. Board members also suggested that once cleanup is completed, the city should work with the neighborhood to identify funds from nonprofits or other sources to develop the property into a local “pocket” park.

 

Neighbors called the dump to the city’s attention in the spring of 2007 when the community planned a cleanup, Garza said. The city ended up hauling 25 truckloads – 75 tons of trash from the site.

 

City staff subsequently also found buried on the property what appeared to be incinerated wastes – melted metal, ash and glass. Some of it turned out to be buried on adjacent private properties as well, according to Garza.

 

Analysis showed that some of the material contained lead, arsenic and the pesticide DDT. The city fenced off the tract, began undertaking a detailed assessment, informed appropriate authorities and began a dialogue with the neighborhood, Garza said.

 

“We chose to remove as much of the contents as possible, including from private property,” Garza said. He pointed out that because the city tract is in a ravine, waste materials buried on private properties could migrate back down to the tract unless all of the material is removed.

 

The tract, known as the Rosewood site, because it is just north of Rosewood Avenue, is similar to numerous dump sites that the city has found around town over the years. The dumps, some of which go back half a century or more, were used long before the environmental movement and when the city was much smaller and the dumps were then on the outskirts of town.

 

The department currently is working with a consultant on a remediation design plan for the tract, Garza said. The city expects to complete that plan by July, and then take it through the city approval process. The schedule calls for the city to advertise, bid and award a cleanup contract during the first half of next year, with waste removal to take place between August and December of 2011, he said

 

Asked why the process is taking more than four years, Garza told In Fact Daily: “We can’t just go in there and grab that particular material. We have to be careful with it. Also, it has taken a lot of time to determine exactly where the material is and how deep it is buried.”

 

A complicating factor was finding wastes on adjacent private properties, according to Garza. The city worked with the 30 or so surrounding property owners to do the testing. The tests ultimately found waste materials on 13 or 14 properties, he said. The testing has shown that altogether about 8,000 cubic yards of buried wastes will need to be removed from the tract and adjacent properties, he said.

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