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San Jacinto River Coalition holds virtual meeting

Jackie Young Medcalf on
THEA video report.

HIGHLANDS – The San Jacinto River Coalition and its sister organization, THEA held its monthly meeting last Tuesday night by video instead of its usual in-person meet.

The group had skipped its March meeting due to the scheduled wedding of its president, Jackie Young (now Young Medcalf). Then they were faced with the inability to have its April meeting at the community center, due to the lockdown of county facilities because of the Covid-19 flu epidemic. Undaunted, Ms. Medcalf recorded a report which included news of the SJR Waste Pits, the Superfund Jones Road site in Cypress, and even her wedding.

A major question on the minds of many of the Coalition members, and others in the community, is whether the Covid-19 lockdown will affect the schedule of removal of the waste pits. Jackie has discussed this with the EPA project manager, Gary Baumgarten, and reports that work is continuing at the EPA, the engineering consultants, and even on-site remedial repair work. There is no indication of a major delay in the milestone dates of the project, he said.

On-site work is in the river just beyond the north edge of the cap, where the storm Imelda caused erosion of the river bed. Contractors are repairing and restoring much of the material that washed away, to protect the cap. The company in charge of the onsite work has submitted an addendum to their Health and Safety work plan to the EPA, indicating additional protection for their workers from the Covid-19 virus.

THEA’s short term goal is to protect the public and the environment from any contamination from the toxins in the waste pits. Their long-term goal, Jackie says, is to continue work on removal and relocation and storage of the dioxins and other toxic materials.

The work plan called for a 30% Design Report by the end of May for the North impoundment, but even though it may be ready, due to the lockdown that prohibits groups of more than 10, the EPA has indicated that they will not make a quarterly report in person to the Highlands and Channelview communities, as originally planned.

Workers on the site have discovered that some of the waste pits are deeper than originally thought. Instead of 12 to 14 feet, some areas of the site have toxins as deep as 25 feet. Since this means more material must be removed, the EPA indicates the removal process will take longer, perhaps 4 years instead of 2. This will require additional negotiations with the Responsible Parties.

The coalition was also concerned about a new Corps of Engineers permit, that will allow TxDOT to contract to build new bumpers and supports to protect the IH-10 bridge from accidents that have shut it down twice this year. The permit states that new Dolphin structures, or bumpers, will be built to replace the three in place that are severely damaged, and new fender piling under the bridge for additional support.