Harris County Attorney Vince Ryans office won a $29.2 million lawsuit against the companies that polluted the San Jacinto River with toxic waste from a paper mill in the 1950s, and now the County Commissioners have voted to return some of that award to the area where the pollution has affected it most. $10 million of the Countys share will be spent on environmental improvements in the Highlands area, according to County Judge Ed Emmett.
In addition, this week State Rep. Wayne Smith announced that the states share, approximately another $10 million, will be designated for improvements along the San Jacinto River, and administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In a statement issued by Jackie Young of the San Jacinto River Coalition, the following was said:
Tuesday, June 23, 2015 Harris County Commissioners voted for the Countys portion of the settlement funds from the Waste Pits Litigation to be used within a 5 mile radius of the Waste Pits and within the San Jacinto River watershed. In November of 2014 two of the three companies Harris County filed suit against, settled for $29.2 million. Roughly $10 million went to Harris County and will now be used exclusively for projects related to the local environment, recreation, quality of life improvement, and potentially for pollution control services.
In January, the San Jacinto River Coalition hosted a community event called Bring the Money Back where they asked local residents to provide input on the types of projects that they feel would have the greatest long-term impacts. Residents suggested projects such as city infrastructure for homeowners using private groundwater wells, a memorial and education center so that future generations can lear about the pollution that once plagued the local environments and communities, groundwater and soil sampling to find out the extent of contamination in the area.
Smith announces another $10 million
At a recent Highlands Rotary meeting, State Representative Wayne Smith told the group that working with State Rep. John Otto, chair of the Appropriations Committee and representing the Dayton area, he had managed to get the States share, approximately $10 million, designated for return to the Highlands area, and administered through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Smith said the exact language of the House Bill No. 2 was as follows:
Section 27. Parks and Wildlife Department: San Jacinto Lawsuit Settlement. In addition to amounts previously appropriated for the state fiscal biennium ending August 32, 20a5, if money is recovered under an agreed final judgment in Harris County v. Waste Management of Texas, Inc., No. 2011-76724-A (295th Dist. Ct., Harris County, Tex. ___ 2014), and deposited to the credit of the general revenue fund, the amount of that recovered money that is deposited to the credit of the general revenue fund, but not to exceed $10 million, is appropriated from that fund to the Parks and Wildlife Department for the two-year period beginning on the effective date of this Act for the purpose of transferring the money to Harris County. Funds may be transferred to Harris County under this section only in accordance with an agreement between the Parks and Wildlife Department and Harris County for use along the San Jacinto River and in its watershed to mitigate the effects of environmental contamination and the effects of that contamination on natural resources and the public use of natural resources. Funds transferred under this section may be used only for one or more of the following:
1. dissemination of information pertaining to marine life, wild animal life, wildlife values, and wildlife management;
2. scientific investigation and survey of marine life for the better protection and conservation of marine life;
3. propagation and distribution of marine life, game animals, and wild birds;
4. protection of wild birds, fish, and game;
5. research, management, and protection of the fish and wildlife resources of this state;
6. expansion and developoment of additional opportunities of hunting and fishing in state-owned land and water;
7. purchase, construction, and maintenance of boat ramsp on or near public waters; and
8. resource protection activities.
Inquiries that the Star-Courier newspaper have made to the TDPW and to Precinct 2 of Harris County have indicated that to date, no definitive list of projects has been generated or decided upon to make use of this money.