At issue is a proposal by B&G Environmental — partially owned by the Beck brothers of Beeville — to build a plant near the intersection of County Roads 119 and 113, about three miles west of Pettus — to recycle non-hazardous oilfield materials into asphalt.
The expected life of the facility is at least 10 years.
The company submitted its proposal to the Railroad Commission in late February. More than 20 landowners adjacent to the property contacted Precinct 2 Commissioner Dennis DeWitt, who also owns land near the plant site.
Responding to their concerns, as well as his, over potential loss of property values — because of road deterioration, water and air pollution and noise from trucks carrying oilfield waste — in early March, DeWitt wrote to the RRC asking it to address numerous points of concern voiced by the land owners.
•Were there any previous requests for operating permits for the property been denied and why?
•Have any complaints been filed on similar plants? If so, what were the complaints?
•Or any similar sites in permit violation or suspended?
•Is there a current environmental impact study for the site?
•Will the site have adequate groundwater monitoring?
•Will the company operating the plant be bonded?
The Commission’s responses to the questions were factual, DeWitt says, but he terms its comments inadequate and ambivalent concerning property owner’s anxiety about how the plant might adversely affect their health, safety and serenity were ambivalent: “The information provided by your letter,” the Commission wrote, “will be reviewed and considered.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Carlos Salazar took exception to the letter because DeWitt used county letterhead.
At its regular meeting last Monday, he placed the letter on the official agenda.
But before commissioners could debate DeWitt’s use of the letterhead, which Salazar said made it appear that DeWitt was speaking for the entire court, the issue was tabled because of a procedural technicality.
Following the meeting, DeWitt penned a resolution calling on the Commission to “carefully consider the concerns of Bee County citizens” when it makes its decision whether to approve the plant permit.
During its Thursday afternoon session, commissioners found almost every seat filled in the chamber — most by landowners whose property is near the proposed plant site.
Also closely watching the proceedings were two candidates for county commissioner: BeBe Adamaz, who wants to replace Salazar, and Dennis Phipps, who hopes to unseat Precinct 3 commissioner Eloy Rodriguez.
Both the letter and the resolution were on the agenda.
As a pre-emptive strike, DeWitt began by reading a personal statement saying “Our job...is to ensure the health, safety, welfare and financial well-being of the persons that duly elected us....It is not our job as individual court members to respond to special interests that have a profit motive that is placed at the expense of the lives and futures of numerous residents and landowners.”
DeWitt told the court he had “personal knowledge of an $800,000 real estate transaction” that was cancelled one day before closing when the buyer learned the property he was purchasing was adjacent to the proposed plant site.
Countering his concerns was H. K. Garner, representing the owners of the proposed facility.
“With all respect,” he said, looking at DeWitt, “the critical word here is ‘disposal.’ You have mentioned it numerous times. We are not a disposal facility; we are a recycling facility.”
Garner said the material being recycled would arrive at the plant as solid material, not a liquid, and would be turned into a road paving material stronger than asphalt.
“We’re not a landfill,” he said, “basically we build roads.”
The plant, he explained, would meet all Railroad Commission environmental specifications and would be built in a former caliche pit about 15 feet deep. That, he said, should negate any concerns about any kind of spillover or runoff.
He also pledged that the plant owners would clean up any kind of truck spillage that occurred anywhere within two miles of the plant.
But that was little comfort to many landowners, such as Edward Bridge, whose property is across the road and downhill from the plant.
“I’m concerned about my property value going down. There’s already been one property mentioned,” he said, referring to the cancelled $800,000 real estate sale DeWitt related. “That tells me that property values already are being affected.”
Bridge also said he feared the loss of the quiet life he has enjoyed for the last 16 years. “How can someone go and affect my life like this?”
Landowner Mike Page agreed. “I don’t see Mr. and Mrs. Beck living out there.” Page said he understood the oil boom’s need for the plant, “just not in my front yard.”
Other landowners voiced concerns about the plant’s effect on wildlife, deer hunting and even light pollution.
Garner suggested that the landowners near the plant should hire an engineer because they might find their property values going up because of the abundance of aggregate in their ground.
“I’m not interested,” Bridge replied.
“Well, ask your neighbors,” Garner suggested.
“You ask them,” Bridge shot back, pointing to the audience. “They’re all here.”
County Judge David Silva interrupted to explain that the business before the court had nothing to do with approving the permit, just the approval of DeWitt’s letter and resolution, noting that a the Railroad Commission would conduct a hearing in Austin to debate the pros and cons of the permit.
The Commission has not yet set a date for the hearing.
Rodriguez told the court that while he agreed with many of the facets of DeWitt’s letter, he took exception to the wording of the first sentence: “Bee County wishes to be an interested party in these proceedings.”
“This letter was sent to Austin before the other commissioners could act on it,” Salazar said. “No court member can commit the county to an official action until is first goes through a county session, which is what we are doing now.”
Otherwise, he said, the court was not being transparent to the public.
“It’s here before you now,” DeWitt countered.
“But it wasn’t on March 9, when you originally wrote the later,” Salazar replied.
Finally, after more than an hour of debate, commissioners failed to support DeWitt’s letter 3-2, but then approved DeWitt’s resolution 4-1.