EPA reports first excavation at Waste Pits

Southern site is on schedule for remediation; North under review

HIGHLANDS – Neither a gas smell nor mosquitos could keep the EPA from making their report to the community on progress at the San Jacinto River Waste Pits site. The meeting last Monday night had to be moved outside the Highlands community building, due to concerns about a gas odor detected by the EPA.

The public was pleased to hear that after over 5 years of waiting for some remediation activity, equipment is now on the Southern Impound site and some excavation has started.

EPA Project managers Lauren Poulos and Ashley Howard made a detailed slide presentation, reviewing both the history of the Waste Pits, and the current status of negotiations and remediation.

An audience of about 40, including residents and public officials listened to the most encouraging report in years on the plan to remove the dioxin and other toxic waste from the SJR Superfund site.

Included in the audience were Harris County officials County Attorney Christian Menefee, Polution Control head Latrice Babin, Pct. 3 representative Roger Bridgewater, and others. Representing environmental groups were THEA assistant director Rachel Jordan, with consultant Lisa Gossett, CHIC Channelview director Carolyn and Bobby Stone, and Sarah Davis from the Chamber and SJR Coalition.

After introductory remarks by EPA facilitator Jeanetta Coats, the presentation of progress on the South Impoundment site was made by Lauren Poulos, She showed slides of the work areas for the first and second seasons of scheduled remediation.

Poulos said that the contractor, GHD Services, had started to amass equipment on the site, and done some preliminary clearing of areas to be excavated. The next step is to set up the water treatment system, she said, which will consist of 4 large storage tanks and filtration elquipment. Offices and exscavation machines have been moved to the site, work actually started on November 9, and will continue until completion, which is schedfuled to be Spring of 2024. Excavation work will only be done ouside the hurricane season, or November to April, she said.

There will be 3 crews working each day, with different tasks. She showed a workflow chart, with the following steps:

–Site Prep

–Sampling

–Excavating

–Dewatering/solidification as needed

–Loading and decontamination of trucks

–Off-site Disposal

Poulos said that two disposal sites had been identified: the Republic Services near Beaumont, 70 miles away, and the Sea Breeze site near Angleton, also 70 miles away. These disposal sites take nonhazardous waste Class I and hazardous waste Class II.

Ashley Howard reported on the progress of the Remedial Plan for the North site. She said a meeting had been held in June with Emergency responders to advise them of future risks.

She said that a request from the PRP (Presumed Responsible Party) for an extension and change in remedy had been denied, pending submission of the 90% Remedial Design.

She said the PRP has been told a capping solution is not acceptable, even though they keep bringing it up.

Currently, the RD is approved for dry excavation and removal, and an alternate with a “wet column” where hydraulic heave is possible.

During the question period that followed this presentation, complaints about the slowness of the progress, and how to limit fish consumption were discussed. THEA objected to the work period being limited to non-hurricane season, but Howard explained some work will continue year-round.

Rachel Jordan and others said that they thought a third party should be reviewing material to be removed for toxicity, since GHD had been known to manipulate some tests.

Bobby Stone and others pointed out that the RD design presumes floods will not exceed the 9 foot headwall, but he said that at least 3 times in the past water has been higher than that. Howard said precautions would be taken to cap the work area if that might occur.

She also said that the BMP enclosing wall would be 30 feet wide, had been adjusted further south, and that TxDOT had some concerns about the wall, and the stability of the waste pits site once the remediation is concluded. She indicated these were under further study and coordination with TxDOT.

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