EPA Holds Community meeting in Highlands

RETIRING PROJECT MANAGER GARY MILLER received an award from the San Jacinto River Coalition for his efforts to clean the river.
RETIRING PROJECT MANAGER GARY MILLER received an award from the San Jacinto River Coalition for his efforts to clean the river.

Waste Pits update; questions and comments answered

The federal EPA agency came to Highlands last Tuesday night, to keep open the communication with the community as promised by their director, Scott Pruitt. The last time this agency, responsible for the Superfund Site in the San Jacinto River, met with the public was last December.

There were no major revelations or changes from information that had been issued previously. Project managers Gary Miller, and Gary Baumgarten presented slides that were essentially the history of the waste pits and the efforts by EPA to clean them up.

On hand for the meeting were a number of officials, including Pct. 2 commissioner Jack Morman, and County Attorney Vince Ryan. Morman spoke to the crowd of about 100 persons, promising to continue a dialogue with the community, and testing of water quality.

EPA project manager Gary Miller revealed that he is retiring in 4 months, but will hand over the project to Gary Baumgarten, who was present. He was asked to give a summary of his experience, and he said he had been with EPA for 30 years, and since 1992 had primarily worked on cleaning up Superfund Sites.

Janetta Coats of the EPA said that they were working on a revised Community Involvement Plan, and local residents would be asked to participate with comments, questions, and information. She said that the EPA is committed to dialogue and collaboration with community members, and urged anyone that wanted included to contact her or sign a sheet at the meeting. Contact Coats at coats.janetta @epa.gov, or 1-800-533-3508.

In his presentation, Gary Miller said that the EPA had reached a settlement with the PRP or Potentially Responsible Parties in April 2018, for the completion of a Remedial Design. He indicated that the EPA, the TCEQ, the Corps of Engineers, and the PRPs are meeting to outline the technical requirements of the design. They are also preparing a work plan to perform sampling and geotechnical investigations in support of the design. He noted that on-site testing and sampling was actually taking place this week.

However, many of the questions put forth in the Q and A session that followed he was not able to answer, because they depended upon the results of the design, he said.

Miller reviewed the site history, saying the dumping of toxic wastes dates back to the mid-1960s.

He said the selected remedy will remove material containing dioxins, protecting human health and the environment, and also provides certainty to other economic interests including businesses that rely on the San Jacinto River nagivation and the I-10 transportation corridor. This is the first time this consideration has been voiced.

The remedial design will take over 2 years, and cost the PRP about $6 million dollars, Miller said.

Miller also emphasized to the audience that no construction or removal agreement has been reached with the PRP, and this will be negotiated later in the process.