Neighbors, officials ask elected and TCEQ leaders to kill floodplain landfill before it’s too late
SOUTH TEXAS – Late one recent Friday afternoon, the staff of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) quietly granted preliminary approval of a proposed landfill for Mexican and out-of-state waste to be developed in a Texas floodplain just miles from major municipal water supplies.
TCEQ staff violated agency rules and their own legislative testimony by approving the landfill to be developed in a 100-year floodplain just days after promising lawmakers that, “the standard is you still can’t develop [landfills] in a 100-year floodplain.”
“Our ongoing concern is the transportation of toxic trash crossing our border over our water shed and through our streets and neighborhoods unnecessarily exposing the citizens of Laredo to grave risks for the sake of profit. While Texas is still trying to recover from Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters, it’s shocking TCEQ staff would allow the development of an unneeded landfill for out-of-state toxic waste in a Texas floodplain,” said Laredo City Council member George Altgelt. “TCEQ staff violated state rules, left important safety questions unanswered and refused to run sufficient background checks on the individuals seeking this flawed landfill permit.”
Although TCEQ staff has preliminary approved the 953-acre Laredo floodplain landfill complex, it must still get approval by state administrative law judges and TCEQ Commissioners before it can be built.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) also requires a permit before construction or development begins in flood-prone areas and has authorized counties to issue those permits. The Floodplain Administrator for Webb County told the TCEQ in August 2016, that a floodplain development permit “is required for the site of [the] proposed landfill by Webb County under the County’s Flood Damage Prevention Order adopted on March 25, 2008 and by FEMA under the National Floodplain Insurance Program regulations . . .” Last summer, Webb County denied the required floodplain development permit for the proposed landfill facility.
A motion to overturn the TCEQ staff’s preliminary approval of the toxic waste landfill has been filed with the TCEQ Commissioners. The motion points out that the landfill applicant never received the required county floodplain development authorization, never addressed underground oil and gas pipelines, and never resolved property ownership conflicts or otherwise addressed application deficiencies raised by the TCEQ staff. TCEQ Commissioners therefore still have a chance to stop this landfill before a Texas floodplain is broken open for toxic waste from Mexico.
This proposed dump would be permitted to import nearly 4 million tons of waste per year, or 10,000 tons per day, and accept waste 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
The Laredo City Council and Webb County Commissioners Court also voted to oppose the landfill permit at public meetings, citing water, health and environmental concerns.
TCEQ acknowledges that the landfill facility will be in the 100-year floodplain as defined by FEMA. The agency also stated that tributaries running through the floodplain “run through the landfill and from there into the Rio Grande…”
The Rancho Viejo Waste Management (RVWM) dump would be allowed to import toxic, combustible, disaster and medical waste including coal ash and pollution control sludge from Mexico and other states. Coal ash is toxic and contains mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals that are poisonous to humans and never degrade or go away. The poisonous substances dumped in the floodplain could eventually end up in the Rio Grande in the wake of severe flooding or other incidents.
The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) expressed concerns about the floodplain landfill noting that, “The Rio Grande is a major water supply for the border communities of Texas and for Mexico.”
No one knows who will operate the landfill, but failed toll road developer Carlos “C.Y.” Benavides III submitted this misguided floodplain dump application in 2011. Benavides wants his waste dump to receive waste from an 800-mile radius via rail and truck, a swath that includes most of Mexico, Texas and portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Benavides has no experience or history of operating landfills or any type of waste facility. TCEQ staff did not run criminal or business background checks on the applicant or the unknown landfill operator.