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SJRC stops one permit, faces other threats

JACKIE YOUNG, San Jacinto River Coalition

HIGHLANDS – Since the beginning of the year, the San Jacinto River Coalition, part of THEA, has held two public meetings to update everyone on developments around the Waste Pits site.

The clean-up itself is in the Remedial Design phase, with the work plan approved. EPA and the PRP are actually working on Pre-Design Phase I, which can be seen on the EPA website. Phase II will be posted by Feb. 12, she said, and will continue through July. Young expected work to remove the waste material could start by the end of 2019.

Young said that the PRP had hired a new consulting firm, GHD Consultants, with experience in this type of Superfund site. They will be helping prepare the work plan and Remedial Action plan. Maintenance of the current Cap is under the direction of another engineering firm, Anchor QEA & Integral.

Sampling of the current material under the cap is taking place, to categorize the degree of hazardous material, and decide where to dispose of it. On site, core samples can be seen in drums, and water level samples in red storage tanks. These will be sent to a lab for testing.

Young criticized the sampling effort, noting that they are not testing for PCBs. “We really don’t understand what is the composition of this waste,” she said. She also questioned whether workers on the site had adequate environmental protection gear, and whether samples taken were protected from tampering or alteration.

SAMPLES of ground water, and cores are being stored in these drums, and then taken off-site for lab tests to determine the toxicity of the material under the cap, and how high the water table is below.

DREDGING PERMIT

Since December, SJRC has been working with residents to oppose a dredging permit that would remove sediment from a shoreline area just west of the Waste Pits, and send it to a landfill in Beach City. With the help of Congressman Brian Babin, and a concerted effort of petitions and letters, the coalition has been able to get a reprieve from the project and its environmental dangers.

The petitioner, Holtmar Land LLC, has told the Corps of Engineers that it would like to withdraw its request to dredge the material in the River, and deposit it in Beach City. The Corps announced on Feb. 8 that the permit had been cancelled.

However, Young pointed out that the petitioner still wants to remove the material and deposit it on another site they own, probably off River Road in Channelview. There will probably be another battle from the residential neighborhood to stop this.

The permit application stated that Holtmar planned to dredge 31,000 cu. yards of material, and transport it by barge to the landfill. It would truck the material to the site from the barge, which would take about 2,200 truckloads, according to Young. On Monday, Beach City Mayor Jackie Lasater was able to announce that the Corps had officially notified him that the permit had been cancelled, at the request of Holtmar Land. Lasater had spearheaded the opposition to the proposal to use Beach City as the landfill site, and had an ordinance passed by council that barred any dumping.

Now the San Jacinto River Coalition must face the possibility that Holtmar will try to continue the project and dump the dredged material on a site they own in Channelview, in the River Bottom area of River Road. Court records show that Holtmar Land owns 12 properties in that general area, and it is known that they have approached some residents to get their permission to use the sites for landfill.

Young urged the audiences at her meetings to follow developments on a new website, www.SanJacDredgeSpoil.com.

EPA NOT RESPONSIVE

Young pointed out that during the recent shutdown of the government, she and the public were unable to reach anyone at EPA offices, to discuss the permit problems or to report any further infractions in the San Jacinto River site area.

EPA workers were not only not in their offices, but they were prohibited from taking calls on their cell phones out of the office.

She cautioned that since the primary contact for toxic waste was not available, she recommended reporting to the Harris County Pollution Control department. She expressed concern that federal offices faced another potential shutdown after Feb. 15, according to President Trump.

ANOTHER PERMIT

The San Jacinto River Coalition has been advised of another permit request, that will affect the area immediately adjacent to the Superfund Waste Pits site.

San Jacinto River Fleet, which maintains an office next to the site, and cleans and stores dozens of barges that are anchored in the river near the Superfund site, has requested a permit for “Construction and Maintenance on Existing Docking Facilities.”

Their permit application, available on the COE website, shows work on rebuilding a dock on the East Bank, in Highlands, and other work around the mooring sites in the river.

Some of this work is in an area known as the Sand Separation Area, and is within the boundaries set by EPA as part of the Superfund Site.

Young questions whether adequate precautions will be taken not to disturb any toxic waste material during this construction, and if so, who to report it to if the government is shut down.

The Corps of Engineers is requesting comments on this application, but has set a deadline of Feb. 14.

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