Naked City

Controversy over the environmental record of Rainbow Materials Inc. costs the company a renewal of its city projects contract.

Not Such a Pretty Rainbow

On Tuesday, members of the city's electric utility commission unanimously rejected a city staff recommendation to grant a new contract for city projects to Rainbow Materials Inc., a concrete company that both the city and the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission have cited as a Colorado River polluter. Rainbow was the lowest of three bidders for a contract that could amount to $1 million in taxpayer funds over the next three years. City council will take up the contract issue at today's (Thursday) meeting.

In June 2001, the city cited Rainbow for dumping leftover concrete down a hill and into the Colorado River at their batch plant site in Del Valle. The city subsequently rolled their investigation into that of the TNRCC, which cited Rainbow in September for several violations -- including unauthorized dumping in a waterway and improper disposal of municipal solid waste. "Those are the two key parts of the enforcement action," said TNRCC spokesman Andy Saenz. The agency has been working with Rainbow on a remediation plan for the Del Valle site, which Saenz said TNRCC hopes will be complete by next month.

Yet the concrete moonscape at the Del Valle plant remains. Environmentalists say the city should never have considered giving more tax money to Rainbow, even if it presented the city with the lowest bid. "It's very easy to have the low bid if you're dumping your excess into the river, as opposed to disposing of it legally," said Mike Blizzard, a consultant who has helped the Concerned Citizens of Spicewood to organize and deal with the TNRCC. The CCS -- Spicewood residents who are trying to stop Rainbow's construction of a new batch plant in their Hill Country neighborhood -- first brought the Del Valle dumpsite to the attention of city and state officials.

At Tuesday night's meeting, Erin Rogers, the grassroots outreach coordinator for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Electric Utility Commission: "The city shouldn't be giving contracts to customers that don't abide by the laws, or giving them the economic advantage over law-abiding companies who want to develop bids." Yet Rainbow owner Ramon Carrasquillo swears his company's dumping in Del Valle was the result of a misunderstanding. In 1997, when Rainbow first leased the land where its batch plant now sits, the landowner -- who had previously operated a gravel pit on-site -- asked if the company could help fill in the large hole left over from the pit operations.

Carrasquillo said he hadn't realized the site lacked permits for dumping. "It was one of these situations where no one was trying to get away with anything on purpose, but there was this missing link [of information]," he said. "The minute we found out about the violations, we quit dumping there." Carrasquillo has been working with both the city and his landowner to develop a site and remediation plan.

All things considered, the city should not punish Rainbow for its oversight by denying it contract consideration, said Sue Brubaker, head of the city's purchasing department. "There was a sin of omission in that [Rainbow] did not check to see if there was a permit. But from a contract perspective, we have no reason to say, 'we're not going to do business with you.'" Rogers of the Sierra Club doesn't buy that argument. "As far as I know, Rainbow was willingly and knowingly violating the law on a daily basis."

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