The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Landfill Foes Trash TCEQ

By Lauri Apple, August 1, 2003, News

Much to the chagrin of state environmentalists, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has drafted changes to its rules regarding daily operations plans for landfills -- and in a way that seems to benefit the landfill operators.

The changes come in the wake of a highly publicized case last year involving Browning-Ferris Industries, whose site operating plan for fire control and prevention at its Tessman Road landfill in eastern Bexar Co. -- approved by TCEQ -- was ruled by a state judge and appellate judge to be inadequate. A coalition of groups, including the Sierra Club, the enviro-law firm Lowerre & Kelly, and northeast Travis Co.'s own Walnut Place Neighborhood Association, have asked the agency to refocus its energy away from relaxing existing rules and toward providing more technical guidance so that landfills can improve their operations. A spokeswoman for TCEQ says the agency is in the process of drafting technical guidelines that will complement changes to its site operating plan standards and is basing any changes on input it receives from the public and an advisory group of lawyers, engineers, landfill operators, and environmentalists.

In other landfill news, TCEQ has issued multinational landfill giant Waste Management Inc. almost $240,000 in fines for environmental violations recorded last year at its Austin Community Landfill facility, located off U.S. 290 East in northeast Travis Co. (A neighboring landfill owned by BFI also incurred violations, but hasn't yet been assessed penalties.) Neighbors of the landfill who have fought WMI's plans to expand its odoriferous facility have complained that the penalty -- the largest ever levied by the state against a landfill -- is inadequate, arguing that WMI has spent more in lobbying than it will now have to pay in fines.

Half of the WMI fine would go to the TCEQ, but the other half would go directly to Travis Co. for use on local remediation projects. County officials say that, after cleaning up illegal dump sites in the vicinity of the northeast landfills, the balance of its portion of the settlement will go to upgrading the water system in Northridge Acres, the subdivision on the Travis/Williamson line (more than 10 miles from the landfills) whose water woes have vexed local officials for years. Landfill neighbors, however, say they'd rather see the funds spent closer to home.

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