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Mark Richardson is a multimedia journalist, editor and writer who has worked in digital, print and broadcast media for three decades. He is a nationally recognized editor and reporter who has covered government, politics and the environment. A journalism graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, he was recently awarded a Foundation for Investigative Journalism grant and has three Associated Press Managing Editors awards for excellence in reporting.
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Caldwell residents fighting proposed landfill
LOCKHART — Plans for developing an industrial park and landfill in northern Caldwell County have run into fierce opposition from local residents, who say it is a danger to the county’s water supply and that there is no need for the facility.
Green Group Holdings is a Georgia-based developer that specializes in large-scale infrastructure development and environmental permitting and operations for projects such as industrial parks, water supply facilities, transfer stations, recycling facilities and landfills. In September 2013, the company proposed to build the 130 Environmental Park, a facility that includes a landfill, a recyclables processing facility and an industrial park, east of the SH 130 Toll Road and north of FM 1185 in Lockhart.
However, a group of local citizens has organized in opposition to the development, saying there is more than enough landfill space available and expressing serious concerns over the potential for environmental degradation in Caldwell County. The group, Environmental Protection in the Interest of Caldwell County or EPICC, has a core group of about 120 activist members with more than 500 supporters listed on its “Bump the Dump” Facebook page.
The group has also garnered the support of Austin-based Texas Campaign for the Environment, which is battling several proposed Green Group landfill projects around the state, including projects in Seguin and Hempstead.
“There is really no market for new landfill space in the Austin region,” James Abeshier, chairman of EPICC, told the Austin Monitor. He says the Capital Area Council of Governments estimates that there is currently a 30-year supply of landfill space available in the Austin area.
Abeshier enumerated several other reasons why the group is opposing the landfill. “It will wreck property values in Lockhart and Caldwell County and will hurt economic growth. Nobody wants their barbecue restaurant or real estate office next to a 200-foot tall trash pile.”
Other concerns, he said, include major surface water pollution, heavy traffic and road damage with large trucks on US 183 and FM 1185 and the eventual pollution of local and regional drinking water, since the dump site’s footprint would be near the Carrizo-Wilcox and Leona aquifers. The group is also worried about potential air pollution and noise.
Other opposition to the project has come from the Caldwell County Commissioners Court, which passed a countywide ban on the construction of new landfills late last year.County officials say the measure will not likely stop the landfill project from going forward, but has symbolic value and could give the county leverage if another such project is proposed.
Green Group officials say that none of EPICC and the other groups’ concerns are valid. David Green, vice president of facility development for Green Group told the Monitor that the 130 Environmental Park will – in addition to a landfill – include a material recycling facility and an industrial park for recycling-related businesses.
“We laid out a number of criteria when we were looking for a site for this facility,” Green said. “We were looking for a 750 to 2,000-acre site – owned by a single entity – that was not in the 100-year flood plain and was not directly over an aquifer. We were also looking for a site with good access to roads and highways. The Lockhart site fit all of our criteria.”
Green also said that his company’s research found that there was a market for the type of facility they plan to build in the Austin area.
“There are things going on with other disposal facilities in the area that are going to create a need for more capacity,” he said. “Then you also have the phenomenal growth in the Austin region that is projected to continue. With the completion of State Highway 130 completing a new San Antonio to Austin corridor beyond I-35, it became the optimal location for us.”
He said his company has received dozens of letters of support for the project from businesses and individuals in the Lockhart area.
Green Group has filed for permits to operate the landfill with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Green said the permitting process will take about two years, though their application was recently declared “administratively complete” by the TCEQ and is now undergoing a technical review. He said if permitting goes as planned, construction could begin in mid-2016.
He said the 1,230-acre 130 Environmental Park will not cost Caldwell County taxpayers a dime, but will provide annual revenue in the form of host fees and taxes, will create jobs, and generate business opportunities for local contractors and service providers. Green adds that the company also plans a community center on the site as well as a wildlife refuge and other amenities.
Fees from the use of the landfill and other facilities on the site would flow back to the county under a Host Agreement that Green Group wants the county to sign.
However, members of EPICC say that the agreement, in exchange for a share of revenues from the plant’s operation, would prohibit Caldwell County from opposing the plant in any permit hearings or other proceedings, including legal challenges.
“We are very opposed to the Host Agreement,” said EPICC’s Abeshier. “It would basically give them (Green Group) control of what the county can say or do about the landfill, and we think it would be a disaster for them to agree to it.”
Green said his company plans to build the landfill whether or not the agreement is signed, but he sees it as a way for both sides to become engaged in building and operating the facility. He said the agreement would include a clause that the county would not oppose Green Group’s position on the project.
Caldwell County Commissioners have tabled consideration of the agreement, but opponents are concerned that it could be back on the agenda after the November elections.
The next step is a May 8 public meeting arranged by State Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s office that will have TCEQ officials on hand to explain the permitting process and allow local citizens to provide input on the project.
EPICC officials say they plan to fill the room with those who oppose the plant, but Green said he is not very concerned about opposition groups to his projects.
“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, and I would say that this is probably the least opposition we’ve faced in any of the projects I’ve worked on,” Green said. “It is just part of the nature of going through the approval process in the business we are in and you’re going to have people who have concerns about land use and the projects you are planning.”
He said that many of those opposing their plan have a framework of reference of how the “old dumps” are operated, and they his company plans a completely different type of operation.
EPICC officials say they don’t believe much of what Green says, and plans to counter the company’s assertions with facts throughout the permitting process.
An earlier version of this story misidentified former Lockhart Mayor James Bertram as being associated with the group EPICC. He is not affiliated with that group.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
aquifer: An underground layer of water-bearing rock that transmits water to springs (and wells.) Austin's groundwater comes from aquifers.
Caldwell County Commissioners Court: The governing body for Caldwell County, Texas.
CAPCOG: The Capital Area Council of Governments is a ten-county regional entity that handles varied issues from emergency communications to some measure of economic development. Member counties include Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis, and Williamson.
Judith Zaffirini: State Senator Judith Zaffirini is a Democrat in the Texas State Senate who was first elected in 1987.
Texas Campaign for the Environment: A nonprofit environmental advocacy group in Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth fighting pollution.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: environmental regulating authority for the State of Texas.