Naked City

Neighbors say Del Valle composting facility stinks

Neighbors in East Travis County held their second public meeting last week in a struggle to halt the operations of JV Dirt and Loam, which was permitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in March to begin processing waste at their exhausted sand and gravel facility close to the intersection of FM 969 and FM 973 near Del Valle. The East Travis County Concerned Citizens are asking local elected officials to join them in opposing the TCEQ permit on the grounds that the facility will pose a health, water, and safety hazard to nearby residents. Waste materials destined for the facility include municipal sewage sludge, septage, grease trap waste, and animal manure. Said ETCCC's Belinda Reyes: "We have a threat to the sizable population in this community because of the materials the permit allows on the site." But ETCCC's main concern, she said, is the quality of the Colorado River, which is a few hundred feet away and supplies many of the area's public and private water wells. If that water becomes contaminated and unusable, they point out, the city of Austin isn't officially obligated to provide water to them. Neighbors also worry about health risks at a school that sits within two miles of the dump. Reyes said the group's first meeting in March drew more than 250 people. "Will this site be the poster child for the more than 20 similar exhausted gravel facilities in the area?" she asked.

Don Legacy, president of JV Dirt and Loam, begs to differ with residents on the nature of his operation. "This is a compost facility, not a dump. All we're doing is recycling and composting, which is an environmentally positive thing." In the two years since JV's initial TCEQ permit application, Legacy said he's tried to assure residents that his operation is not only safe, but includes protections beyond TCEQ regulations. The facility "doesn't have the opportunity to transfer directly into someone's ground water," he said. "The composting takes place 50 feet below the native soil surface within a literally hundreds-of-feet-thick, extremely dense clay dome." Airborne contaminant and odor issues are resolved by a dewatering process performed on all liquid-containing materials that enter the site, he said, which keeps the sensitive liquids from evaporating into the air. "We're not one of those companies that talks big about being concerned about the environment and then turns around and tears it up," Legacy said. He pointed out that he won 2004 Texas Environmental Excellence Awards for developing organic material and using it to control erosion.

But ETCCC members aren't impressed and plan to join other neighborhood and environmental groups on May 23 for a State Capitol rally opposing the TCEQ's permitting of facilities like this in their area. Reyes said the group has received support from Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and is hoping to bring their local state Rep. Dawnna Dukes aboard as well. "We're drawing a line in the sand," Reyes said. "We're tired of being the dumping ground for Travis County."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

environment, JV Dirt and Loam, Del Valle, East Travis County Concerned Citizens, Belinda Reyes, Don Legacy, Dawnna Dukes

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