Naked City

Davis vs. the Dumps

Longtime East Austin activist Ron Davis has always been quick to point out environmental injustices east of I-35. Now, as a Travis County commissioner whose precinct covers Eastern Travis Co., Davis is in a position to implement and enforce the cleanup of some of those messes. Next week, Davis might be successful in collecting enough votes from his fellow commissioners to pass what would be Travis County's first ordinance regulating landfills in unincorporated areas of the county. It goes without saying that the three major landfills -- privately owned by BFI, Waste Management Inc., and Texas Disposal Systems -- are all located east of I-35.

"And there's still a lot of old, abandoned landfills that we don't know about," Davis told us the other day. "There are a few that we do know about, because some of the old-timers remember where they were. We need to figure out a way to clean up some of these abandoned dumps that weren't closed properly." In the meantime, an ordinance would allow the county to stay on top of new landfills coming on line, and to have a say in where they can locate. Davis said he's worked on the ordinance for more than a year. "This is a longstanding issue that could have and should have been addressed long ago. I think it's a reasonable ordinance -- one that's proactive and not reactive to the point where you get people bent out of shape."

The way Davis sees it, Travis County's growing population is creating land-use conflicts by creating a demand in unincorporated areas for more waste facilities in suburban neighborhoods and rural residences. Too often, he said, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission approves landfills based on design and engineering criteria, instead of land-use compatibility. The ordinance would prevent landfills from locating within 1,500 feet from drinking water supplies, schools, parks, and hospitals. "Hopefully," Davis said, "this will put us all on the right road and serve as a testing ground to determine what improvements need to be made to the ordinance."

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