Efforts to resolve pollution and odor problems at two solid waste landfills operated by Browning-Ferris Industries and Waste Management Inc. in Northeast Austin are under way, though the outcome may not be to neighbors' complete satisfaction. After residents complained to city, county, and state officials that the stench and threat of pollution from toxic fumes were ruining their quality of life, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission agreed to monitor the site each day for 12 hours to determine whether a nuisance violation was in order. But according to Barry Kalda, TNRCC Region 11 Air/Waste Section Manager, only a few people called to complain during the monitoring period, and the agency was "unable to document a nuisance odor."
The TNRCC's conclusion hardly matches the intense frustration expressed by landfill neighbors. "After almost four months of repeated complaints e-mailed or faxed to their offices, the enforcement division never made an effort to visit people who had odors in their homes or [were] awakened by odors in the middle of the night, or experienced ill effects from the stench," said Northeast Action Group President Trek English, a longtime dump opponent. Some residents even invited inspectors and landfill operators to spend the weekend in their homes when the odors were the worst, she said. "Now, suddenly after a few reports of clouds of smoke and bleaching smells, the surveillance steps up and the odor reports are at a minimum."
Asked how the TNRCC will reconcile its current findings with those stacks of e-mails and faxes, Kalda said frankly, "I don't know." The agency will continue monitoring the area intermittently, he says, but can't continue indefinite monitoring for nuisance odors. "We spent quite a lot of resources," he said. The agency did identify other types of violations at the two landfills, including leachate (liquid) and monitoring offenses, and expects to have its final status reports completed by Friday.
Neighbors of the landfill seek a strong county ordinance that would protect the environment and floodplains, regulate siting of landfills and other sold waste facilities, and prohibit expansion of the Northeast Austin sites, said North Growth Corridor Alliance president and Woodcliff resident Janet Klotz, who lives three miles from the landfill site. A commissioners' court-appointed working group charged with reviewing the draft ordinance recently completed its assignment, but hasn't yet presented it for public comment. Klotz says the new draft ordinance may weaken regulations contained in an existing floodplain ordinance. "Everything is in limbo right now," she said. "Things are moving, but nothing has come to any kind of conclusion."