HOUSTON – For over a year protest groups have voiced their opinion that the San Jacinto River Waste Pits should remain in place, with a membrane “cap” to protect the public and the environment, instead of the method of removing the toxic material by excavating and hauling it away.
These groups have manifested themselves as the San Jacinto Citizens Against Pollution with a website “KeepItCapped .org” and also gave funds to a group known as the Galveston Maritime Business Association. Their representative, J. T. Edwards was allegedly a former Waste Management employee. He often spoke at public EPA hearings, urging the cap to be retained as the solution to the dioxins, instead of removal. Other tactics used by the opposition group included anonymous phone calls to residents in Highlands, Channelview and Lynchburg urging the cap to be retained.
The financial link between the PRP companies (Potential Responsible Party) was uncovered by investigative reporting by Greg Groogan of FOX26 news. He discovered a recent filing, in December, in which the companies submitted additional information in a personal injury or property claim case now before the courts. The defendants are Waste Management and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation. In the filing, the attorneys stated that the companies “have been involved in some community engagement efforts” to influence the EPA decision on how to deal with the Toxins in the Waste Pits. The document states that the activities include “significant participation by retained third parties and involvement in keepit capped.org, the San Jacinto Citizens Against Pollution, and the Galveston Maritime Business Association.”
Groogan interviewed J. T. Edwards, the president of the Galveston Maritime Business Association, who confirmed that his organization had received support from Waste Management. He said that one of his supporters had misrepresented his support as personal money, when it was really coming from Waste Management.
However, Edwards indicated that he did not see a problem with that money, and would welcome additional support. Edwards has been a vocal opponent of the EPA decision to remove the toxins from the site, saying “I think it’s going to be good for the community,” referring to a cap instead of removal.
The reason for the PRP companies supporting a cap, and campaigning for not removing the toxins, is because they will eventually have to pay to clean up the site, and this has been estimated at over $100 million dollars, according to EPA. Letting the toxins remain, with only a cap to hold them, is a much cheaper solution.
The EPA announced in September of last year that their Record of Decision called for complete removal of the waste materials.
However, the discussions in the public arena continue, as do negotiations with the PRP, which is the next step.
In response to a request for comment from FOX26, a spokesperson issued the following statement: “Counsel for MIMC and the Waste
Management entities advised the Court in December that they had just learned that an additional PR firm had been retained to assist MIMC with advice and community outreach efforts relating to the proposed EPA remedy for the San Jacinto Superfund site. The companies do not believe that the community outreach efforts are relevant to the personal injury or property claims involved in the pending litigation. MIMC continues to engage constructively with EPA in the remedial design phase of the selected remedy for the site.”
In the meantime, another group of citizens, from Galveston, have appeared at the EPA public information meeting in Highlands in December, voicing concern that the pits posed a threat to Galveston Bay, and the waters near their city. As a result, the EPA has scheduled an Informational Meeting with them, to be held on Tuesday January 30 at 5:30 to 7:30 at the Old Courthouse Building, 1st Floor Courtroom. This is at 722 Moody Avenue (21st Street) in Galveston. All the public is invited to attend, with an opportunity to speak.