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SJRC monitors continued pollution

Carolyn Stone, Channelview resident

EAST HARRIS COUNTY – The San Jacinto River Coalition met last week in Highlands, and reviewed activities at the Waste Pits, and heard of other environmental concerns.

Jackie Young announced that the Dallas Region 6 of the EPA had a new administrator, Ken McQueen, replacing David Gray, who remains with EPA. In a surprise announcement, the public learned this week that the EPA had met on the site on Monday with other involved parties, reviewed progress, and issued a statement as follows:

“The work of the Superfund Task Force brought significant progress to addressing contamination at the San Jacinto waste pits site,” said Regional Administrator Ken McQueen. “EPA will continue working with our partners toward a permanent clean-up for the benefit of the Highlands community.”

“The TCEQ appreciates EPA’s efforts on the Superfund Taskforce recommendations,” said Executive Director Toby Baker. “We look forward to our continued successful partnership with EPA to ensure proper and timely cleanup of Texas federal Superfund sites.”

“Harris County’s work with the EPA and TCEQ on the cleanup of the San Jacinto Waste Pits is a great example of how government, at all levels, can work together for the common good,” said Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. “The announcement on October 11, 2017, that the EPA’s cleanup remedy will include the removal of 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-laden waste from the beds and banks of the San Jacinto River has been a highpoint in my administration. Today’s announcement furthers my commitment to work together as we get closer to the goal.”

Jackie Young said at the meeting that the clean-up had entered Phase 2 PreDesign, which would last up to 10 weeks. At this time she is requesting from EPA Region 6 that work on the site have a third-party overseer, and a dive-team inspection. The work is being conducted by a contractor for the PRP (Potentially Responsible Parties) under an agreement with the EPA. Essentially they are examining conditions to verify the Pre-Design.

The EPA has announced that they will hold a Community Meeting in Highlands on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6:30pm in the Community Center. Progress on the clean-up will be reviewed, and the press announcement that was released Monday will be discussed. After the presentation there will be a Question and Answer session.

Lisa Gossett stated at last week’s meeting that it was important that local people share their historical knowledge of the site to aide the clean-up planning.

Jackie Young brought up and discussed two other topics related to pollution of the area. She said that a permit had been issued by the Corps of Engineers to Web Fleeting LP, who have barges and docks in the area below I-10 adjacent to the Superfund Sites. She said they are planning to dredge 120 acres of Old River to a depth of 14’ to accommodate larger barges. Her concern was that this material would be deposited in an area on their property to the north. It would be about 50,000 cubic yards of dredged soil and riverbed, and there was no plan to test the material for contaminants. There was a possibility that it might contain toxins similar to the Waste Pits, she said.

There was a long discussion about the need for Harris County Pollution Control to be available to help determine sources and health risks of air and water pollution.

Carolyn Stone of Channelview told the audience of a recent experience, where the air near her house had a very bad smell, perhaps from a release of a contaminant such as benzene or ship fuel. She called Pollution Control, but was not able to get them to send a person to examine the conditions and determine the problem’s source.

Frustrated with that answer, and the smell getting worse, she also called the EPA, the National Response Center, the Coast Guard, and TCEQ. Each agency said it was not able to help, and referred her to Harris County or another. Finally, Harris County Pollution Control showed up about 13 hours later, but by that time the air had cleared enough that they couldn’t test or help.

The audience agreed with Jackie Young’s suggestion that HC Pollution Control needed to be more responsive to East Side problems, and that Pct. 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia be asked to designate a 24 hour full time Pollution Control examiner to be available to residents or businesses with this type of problem.

Carolyn Stone said that she had arranged a public meeting for Thursday, Sept. 12 for the public to meet with local and state officials to discuss these environmental problems. The meeting will be at the Channelview Fire Station #3 on Dell Dale. All are welcome and encouraged to come.