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Commissioners approve landfill changes over TDS objections

Thursday, October 3, 2019 by Jack Craver

On Tuesday the Travis County Commissioners Court opted to readopt changes to a county ordinance regulating landfills despite pushback from an influential local waste management company.

Representatives of Texas Disposal Systems told commissioners that ordinance changes the commissioners approved last month would bring the county into conflict with state law and would likely prompt litigation.

The changes, approved Sept. 17, established the county’s authority to determine where to allow landfills. The language that was approved prohibited landfills everywhere except four sites where landfills already sit. County staff offered the measure for the court to readopt Tuesday or make changes.

Gary Newton, general counsel for TDS, said the changes would prohibit waste processing on three parcels where TDS already has operations. He said it would also affect three parcels where TDS has a pending application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to use for waste processing.

State law does not allow a county to prohibit landfills on land that has already been permitted or is subject to a pending permit, he said.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt wondered what the company was worried about: If state law is in its favor, what difference does it make if the county approves rules that are overridden by the state?

Adam Gregory, son of TDS founder and CEO Bob Gregory, said the company supported the county’s authority to regulate landfill location and was worried that its authority could be in jeopardy if it comes into conflict with the state.

“The more things you do that are inaccurate or that are in conflict with state law, the more likely an entity will be able to knock down the ordinance in its entirety,” he said.

In its four decades of existence, Texas Disposal Systems has earned a reputation for fighting hard for its interests in politics and in the courts. A judge ruled in TDS’s favor in 2014 in its suit against the city of Austin’s enforcement of lobbying restrictions, and TDS convinced Austin City Council to hold up a major contract for the disposal of biowaste for two and a half years over objections to the bidding process for waste contracts.

Some who have dealt with or competed against TDS complain that the company gets what it wants by bullying and using its money to purchase the goodwill of influential people and groups.

TDS maintains it has earned its reputation by being a good steward of the environment. CEO Gregory is known to give tours of the company’s landfill in Creedmoor, just southeast of Austin, where exotic animals roam on land that conceals decades worth of waste.

On Tuesday, Eckhardt echoed the second narrative.

“TDS is a very good operator,” she said. “If TDS weren’t operating those TCAD parcels, I’m not sure if the Commissioners Court would feel as warm and fuzzy about so many parcels listed in the Creedmoor area.”

Commissioner Brigid Shea flatly stated she wasn’t interested in making any changes to the ordinance. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty suggested they discuss the matter in executive session.

After executive session the court voted unanimously to readopt the changes it approved last month. Attempts to reach Adam Gregory for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Photo by daveiam made available through a Creative Commons license.

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