Waste Pits comments are in review process

Jackie Young, TxHEA executive director
Jackie Young, TxHEA executive director

The TxHEA organization, the environmental watchdog for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, held their regular monthly meetings last week in Highlands and McNair.

Executive Director Jackie Young reported on developments in the review process that is now ongoing, according to David Gray of the EPA.

Young said that the PRP, or Potential Responsible Parties, have asked for a further extension of the comment perior, but that has been denied by EPA, indicating they are moving ahead with their review process. Young said that a total of 57,000 comments had been received, but these include signatures on petitions, as well as individually written remarks. The comment period ran for 105 days, from Sept. 28, 2016 thru Jan. 28, 2017. Since the typical public comment period is 30 days, EPA responded to the request from MIMC “EPA has determined that a further extension… is not appropriate.” MIMC is McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation, one of the two PRPs.

In their request for a further extension, MIMC stated that they were conducting work at the site for aesthetic reasons, and that the stone and membrane “cap” on the pits has not required as much maintenance as EPA projected.

To counter this argument, Young presented a slide that detailed erosion or damage, and repairs that were required, from July 2012 until June 2016 totalling seven different events. She termed these episodes

“The Repair Saga Continues.”

Next Young presented a report on 101 wells that were tested by Harris County’s contractor, InControl Technologies. She noted that all the wells had dioxins and metals below the allowble safe threshhold, but questioned whether this limit should be lowered for safe water use. She said that Harris County Polllution Control would be at the March 7 meeting of TxHEA to discuss this further.

In discussing the public comments that were submitted to EPA by TxHEA, Young noted that one of the requests was to lower the allowable dioxin threshhold on the treated site from 300 ng/kg, to 30 ng/kg. This material is termed the Principal Threat Waste, and the threshhold will determine how much of the polluted material is removed.

TxHEA also asked for a guarantee that CAC meetings (Community Advisory Committee) would continue through the construction period. In relation to this, TxHEA has requested a new TAG (Technical Assistance Grant) be funded since the previous one has expired.

It was noted in the discussion that construction time for Proposed Plan 6N would be 19 months, and for 4S it would be 7 months. TxHEA is asking that EPA schedule an early start on 6N, so that the public would not have to wait as long.

Young reviewed some of the submitted comments, including those from the Galveston Bay Foundation. She noted that they had requested the threshold for Principal Threat Waste be lowered to 30 ng/kg; that EPA consider sediments outside the waste pits area that may also be polluted; and that a third party be assigned to the project to oversee the clean-up work done by the PRPs. The reference by GBF to other areas was specifically directed toward an adjacent area known as the Upland Sand Separation Area, where sand was dredged in 2004-2005 for a period of several years. GBF noted that this area of potential pollution was called out in the Proposed Plan, page 11.

Young expressed disappointment in the comments from TCEQ, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. In their submittal, they stated that they “need further information to support the (proposed) plan.”

She also noted TCEQ said the ultimate goal was the removal of the fish advisory, which she said was short-sighted and that goals of restoring the site for community use were much broader.

TCEQ also asked for more information on the cost of all possible remedies, and details of remediation such as truck routes, final disposal facility name, additional sampling for dioxin in the Upland Sand Separation area, and information on backfill material and methods.

Young said that a number of new entities had surfaced that were opposed to the removal plan in addition to the first group, San Jacinto Citizens Against Pollution (KeepItCapped .org). These include Sediment Management Work Group, Winstead PC law firm working for MIMC, Galveston Maritime Business Association, Zach Vaugh John Doner & Associates, and Crystal Laramore or Laramore Media Group.Youngthoughtsome or all of these might be paid representatives for the PRPs.

The Sediment Group, from Detroit, Michigan, compared the existing cap with the proposed removal plan, and pointed out what they considered to be faulty analysis of costs and effectiveness. Other criticisms from Paul Chrostowski, PhD who wrote “A Scientific Peer Review,” and CPF Associated pointed out deficiencies in the EPA proposal.

Young also showed a short video on the subject, prepared by a student class at Furr High School, titled “Jackie’s River” which won a film festival award.

The audience at the meeting was asked to help by sending a letter to Texas Senator John Cornyn, expressing thanks for his support and asking for continued help to have the waste pits removed.

It is expected that the EPA will prepare a “Responsiveness Summary” for issuance before June.