Breaking News in Caldwell County Landfill Fight
Texas courtrooms may be closed but there is a lot of breaking news in the fight over the proposed Green Group dump near Lockhart.
Dump opponents have now asked the Third Court of Appeals in Austin to rule the government agencies that approved the dump application for a permit ignored critical evidence of destroyed evidence.
The 550-page legal filing accuses both the State Office of Administrative Hearings and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality of also ignoring a landfill siting ordinance passed in Caldwell County that prohibited the Green Group dump. The location is near a critical aquifer and next to a high hazard dam. Even the TCEQ’s own public counsel fought against the permit.
“We’ve said all along the TCEQ is just kind of a rubber stamp organization,” said resident Byron Friedrich.
Now, an investigation by Dolcefino Consulting raises troubling questions whether SOAH can truly be considered an “independent forum” under Texas law. SOAH was set up to decide on landfill fights after the TCEQ grants an initial permit.
Kerrie Qualtrough was one of the SOAH judges in the Caldwell County case who gave Green Group the green light despite destroyed evidence. She is one of the 13 SOAH judges who used to work for the TCEQ. Nearly one-third of the SOAH judges currently sitting in Austin have previously worked for the TCEQ. Half of the judges on the Natural Resource Team at SOAH were previously employed by the TCEQ.
“If SOAH is truly going to be a place where communities in Texas can fight a TCEQ ruling there must be truly independent judges, not folks with a long employment history with the very people the community is challenging,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of the Houston based investigative media consulting firm, Dolcefino Consulting. The firm has been exposing the troubled trail of Green Group on a website that can be found at www.exposegreengroup.com.
Before Kerrie Qualtrough worked for SOAH and TCEQ, she lobbied for a garbage company that was busted for dumping improperly treated New York sewage sludge near the small town of Sierra Blanca, Texas.
“Ms. Qualtrough should have disclosed her relationship with both TCEQ and with a company that violated the environment of Texas,” says Dolcefino. “Maybe it explains why she doesn’t think a company who destroys evidence in a landfill case should be disqualified.”
“Well, we don’t have a siting ordinance that pertains to them as far as, as far as I know,” said Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden.
The other breaking news coming out of Lockhart is word the controversial proposed landfill will have new owners, before it is even built.
130 Environmental Park will now be owned by a two-year-old company called Integrated Waste Solutions Group. The company refuses to tell Dolcefino Consulting what other dumpsites they own.
“If you think changing the owners will require a brand-new investigation by the TCEQ you would be wrong,” says Dolcefino. “It is yet another absurd rule that should be changed. Why go through years of investigating a company’s conduct if all they have to do is change the new name to a couple of other out of state guys?”
There is no word on when the appeal will be heard by the court. The coronavirus outbreak will likely add months to the legal battle.