PAWNEE – Protestors in Pawnee were dealt a blow as the bill they hoped would prevent a dump site from going in near their school never left a Texas House committee.
“The main thing is we got it out there, and a lot of people saw what was going on,” said County Commissioner Dennis DeWitt.
Both the House and Senate had bills which would have extended the distance that an oil field waste dump can be built from a school to two miles. The current regulations stipulate that distance at 500 feet.
The Pawnee schools are 1.6 miles downwind of the plant proposed by Republic Services.
“We see no evidence... that two miles is a distance based on some presumed distance for health impact,” Steven Minick, representing Republic Services, told a House committee on April 23. “These are not hazardous wastes.”
Residents there disagree, voicing their concern that the small particulates could be carried by the wind and to the school.
Eric Opiela, with South Texas Property Rights Association, said, “We don’t want to say you cannot have these facilities.
“But do you want to have these types of facilities that close to the only school in the community?”
While this legislation died in committee, it wasn’t before shining a light on some problems.
“We were able to explain to the committee members what was going on,” DeWitt said.
This setback came just days before residents of this small northern Bee County community received what some would consider encouraging news.
The Railroad Commission is asking that Republic Services clarify an additional four points in its application.
“They were really looking at it closely,” DeWitt said.
The most significant request came possibly because of the Nueces River Authority becoming involved. “I would be surprised if they hadn’t,” DeWitt said.
It reads: Describe the storm water controls used around the receiving area to prevent contact storm water from entering the non-contact storm water pond to the south of the receiving area. Include a description of the methods used to prevent secondary contamination from the entrance and egress of truck traffic.
This comes after residents in Pawnee photographed water pouring through the property and into creek beds.
“The Nueces River Authority sent that to Corpus (Christi) that is in charge of the water quality,” DeWitt said.
The photos in question were taken last month after a heavy storm dropped several inches of rain.
These photos show how this water could carry contaminants from a proposed oil field waste dump into the Nueces River and down to Lake Corpus Christi.
While regulations stipulate that berms be built to prevent runoff, there is the question in the minds of residents there if they will be enough.
“The potential is there,” DeWitt said. “Not to say it is going to happen, but we don’t want to take that chance.”
This is the second time the Railroad Commission has asked for clarification on the permit information. The previous request included 35 points of concern.
It is now just a month shy of a year since residents began their fight against the company to stop this dump from being built.
Letters have been written. Politicians have been called.
Several officials offered their support, including State Rep. J.M. Lozano, who spoke to the Railroad Commission committee supporting the change in the law that would have stopped this dump.
“We also had a lot of lobbyists talk to us,” DeWitt said.
The Legislature won’t meet again until 2021, so any change in law will have to wait.
Pawnee residents now must wait for the commission to announce a hearing date — likely their last shot.
DeWitt said he plans to have as many people there to speak as possible.
“The more that can go the better,” he said.
Despite his optimism, DeWitt is already making plans in case this attempt fails and the permit is approved.
“We have to look at all the aspects,” he said.
The commissioner hopes that Republic Services would agree to upgrade one of the county roads, such as CR 136, and use it as transport, which would keep trucks from passing beside the two schools.
For now, it is a waiting game as he and others hope the commission will side with their cause.
“They want to work with people,” DeWitt said. “They have land. They have families.
“They want to do what they can.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5221, or at media@mySouTex.com.