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20 years after beating back disposal site, fight is on again

December 05, 2018 - 14:00

On Thursday, when Colorado County officials and citizens descend on Austin to show their support for the fight between Colorado County, its groundwater conservation district, and Rice Consolidated Independent School District, it will be a fight that has spanned nearly two decades and two generations.


In the 1990s, Colorado County won a similar fight against the former parent companies of what is today Altair Disposal Services/Clean Harbors, when the companies agreed to withdraw their application to build a hazardous waste disposal facility on the same site.


Bill Hefner III, now a justice of the peace, helped lead the fight back then. Today, his son, Bill Hefner IV, is among the leaders of the fight as superintendent of Rice Consolidated ISD.


Although the players have changed in the fight somewhat, the primary issue for those opposing Altair Disposal Services/Clean Harbors is the same: protecting Colorado County’s groundwater.


Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, says Colorado County residents are right to be concerned, particularly because Clean Harbors’ existing facility has been on the group’s list of leakers to watch for sometime.


Schneider told The Citizen last week that monitoring wells near Altair Disposal Services’ existing waste facility have already tested positive for contaminants.


According to a 2017 report issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, arsenic, barium, and zinc have already leached from Altair’s existing household waste disposal facility in to the nearby groundwater.


Also at issue for opponents of the permit this week will be whether or not the facility is a “non-commercial” hazardous waste facility.


Although Altair Disposal Services plans to bring oil and gas waste from one of its Houston-area plants to the facility, it has brought its application for the new disposal facility as a non-commercial one.


Attorneys representing the county say that is disingenuous, and that Altair is using the non-commercial standard because the permitting requirements aren’t as stringent.


Attorneys this week are also expected to argue that the proposed facility’s design isn’t one that will protect groundwater in the area.


“The proposed location of the Altair facility is in an area of extensive sand and gravel mining.  These activities demonstrate the prevalence of such unfavorable soil conditions in the immediate area of the proposed landfill.  Though Altair performed soil boring analysis at and under the footprint of the landfill, that demonstration is not conclusive of the potential for migration pathways of leachate to underlying groundwater used for human consumption and agricultural purposes,” noted Kelly Brown, one of the attorney’s for the county and groundwater conservation district, in a memorandum earlier this week.


Attorneys for the county are also expected to challenge whether or not Altair Disposal Services has the appropriate finances to construct and operate a hazardous waste disposal facility, that various analysis done by the company and submitted to the TCEQ are inadequate, and that Altair has failed to demonstrate that the new facility won’t have improper emissions.