At issue was a letter from Precinct 2 Commissioner Dennis DeWitt to the Texas Railroad Commission asking that the county be considered an interested party when it decides to approve or deny an application to construct a plant in north Bee County, about three miles west of Pettus, to recycle oilfield drill cuttings.
DeWitt also owns property adjacent to the proposed plant site.
Commissioners who voted not to approve the letter say they did so because in acting independently, DeWitt obligated them before it could be considered open court.
At its next meeting, May 14, Precinct 1 Commissioner Carlos Salazar, one of the three who voted against DeWitt’s letter, will ask the court to adopt a policy preventing commissioners from taking official stands without prior court approval.
“We have a policy, but it’s only an unwritten policy,” Salazar says. “It’s called common sense.”
His agenda item is to adopt an official policy.
“We currently are the only county in the state…that has…commissioners who feel that ‘court approval’ is not a requirement in order for them to obligate the county on official business,” Salazar says.
County Judge David Silva concurs.
“If DeWitt had contacted us first, his letter would have been just a blip; that’s all it would have been.”
Silva joined Salazar and Precinct 3 Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez in voting against approving the letter, not because of its content, but “because of the way it was done,” Silva says.
DeWitt and Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken Haggard voted for approval of the letter.
DeWitt defends his action, noting that last Thursday, when he polled each member of the court, Salazar, Rodriguez and Silva all said they had been contacted by the proposed plant’s investors.
“I didn’t commit the county to anything; representing my constituents was my only concern.”
After 23 landowners who own property adjacent to the site of the proposed plant sent letters to the Commission voicing their concern, DeWitt wrote the commission outlining nine questions and apprehensions about how the plant would affect them.
B&G Environmental of Refugio — partially owned by Beck Brothers of Beeville — filed their application to the Commission Feb. 22.
In retrospect, DeWitt admits, had he to do it all again, he could indicate that the letter was from him, representing the people of Precinct 2.
When asked if he felt the 3-2 vote was a slap in the face, DeWitt was quick to say “I don’t feel that way, no.”
Rather, he says, he feels the debate last Thursday not only about his letter but also a resolution passed 4-1 (Salazar was the holdout) — asking the Commission, in its permit process, to “carefully consider the concerns of the Bee County citizens and their anxiety for diminished health and safety, heightened noise, groundwater pollution, air emissions, heavy truck traffic, diminished property values and the possibility to waste spillage on roads and properties” — placed those concerns into the public arena.
Many of the landowners at last Thursday’s meeting voiced those worries and anxieties; many of the them plan to attend a Commission hearing in Austin about the permit — that is mandated if any landowner contacts the Commission with questions.
DeWitt and Silva say they will be there.
So far, the Commission has not scheduled that hearing.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.