THEA updates San Jacinto Waste Pits; Bickley Award Winners Celebrated

By David Taylor
Managing Editor

It may be fitting that the Texas Health and Environment Alliance is abbreviated as THEA, which ironically in Greek mythology was the goddess of light. Celebrating their ninth birthday, the organization continues to shine light on environmental issues affecting east Harris County residents and on Tuesday, April 9, awarded three different citizens their coveted Archie Bickley Awards.

The 2024 recipients were Carolyn Stone, founder of Channelview Health and Improvement Coalition (C.H.I.C.) and Harris County Pct. 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey. Leaders also presented a replacement award to Greg Moss.

“Bickley passed away in 2018. He was here for meetings even after he had chemo treatments that day,” said THEA founder and CEO Jackie Medcalf.

“Once he was no longer able to drive himself to and from chemo, he would have someone bring him to these meetings twice monthly,” she said.

An avid fisherman, Bickley became the poster child for why THEA exists, his body riddled with cancer he believed came from the San Jacinto Waste Pits.

“This award goes to community members, elected officials, government agency people and even press over the years who have done an outstanding job at supporting our efforts,” she described it.

Medcalf began the awards ceremony with a replacement award to Moss, who lost his home to an arsonist recently, including the Bickley trophy.

Carolyn Stone, the founder of Channelview Health and Improvement Coalition or C.H.I.C., was the first 2024 recipient.

Stone said she came to THEA meetings and thought the Channelview area needed something similar.

“She goes above and beyond. They clean up the roadways, trim the trees, and are involved in a variety of pollution and nuisance issues. She has the heart that has led her to do so much service in her community,” Medcalf said.

The second award was a first for the organization.

“Pct. 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey is the first elected official to receive the award,” the CEO said.

“I’ve worked with a lot of elected officials over my career, and you know a good one when you meet one,” she said.

Medcalf said the commissioner had not only worked with THEA on the superfund site cleanup but also in the communities around the San Jacinto River site and communities in the north and northwest of Harris County around the Jones Road Superfund site.

“He’s not afraid to take a stance and just stand up for what’s right,” Medcalf said.

“I have looked at this issue, I guess with an engineering set of eyes and everything that Jackie is aware of and is focused on, she’s making a real difference. We don’t get a difference maker that often,” the commissioner said when receiving the award.

Ramsey said he looked forward to working with Medcalf to pressure the responsible parties to live up to their word.

“I’m 72 years old, and it’s nice to hand off the baton to the next generation,” he said.

Medcalf said she was thankful that he didn’t just dismiss her as so many in the past had done.

“He is by far the greatest commissioner I’ve ever met. He puts his money where his mouth is and I will vote for him over and over,” she said.

Medcalf gave updates on the northern waste pit that’s approximately 70 percent submerged in the river.

“We’ve been waiting for the EPA to tell us if they’re going to take over the process or not. They sent a letter called a Notice of Takeover to the parties responsible several months ago, and the responsible parties responded,” she told members.

It’s a rare event for the EPA to takeover a Superfund site and Washington, D.C. has been involved.

“We’ll notify the community as soon as we hear the decision,” she said.

The southern waste pit has been remediated as designated in the record of decision.

“More than 207,000 cubic yards of contaminated material has been removed and the land has been backfilled,” Medcalf said, which should be celebrated.

The catch, however, is they only went down to 10 feet. That presents a problem with the new construction of the I-10 bridge.

“The 10-feet was based on a hypothetical scenario that a construction worker would never dig deeper than that,” she explained. “That’s an industrial parcel of land, not in the river like the northern pit.”

Medcalf said she’s concerned that TxDOT plans to bore down 100 feet, putting the lives of the construction workers on the new I-10 bridge in jeopardy with the toxic material they believe is still there.

Members signed a petition at the meeting and intend to gather hundreds more signatures to present to the EPA to require testing before TxDOT begins boring and disturbing the land below the 10-foot threshold.