Page 15


A loophole you can drive a dumptruck through Poison in the Thicket Denton, Saratoga The chances are good that you have lived your entire life without having heard of Article 4477-7, V.T.C.S., enacted by the 61st Texas Legislature in regular session, 1969. That is a shame, not only because 4477-7, V.T.C.S. \(the tive tour de force, but because close familiarity with it adds immeasurably to one’s intellectual life. It adds, that is, to one’s sense of the absurd. Here goes: The effective result of the 1969 law is that solid waste can be dumped almost anywhere, at any time, and under almost any conditions within the borders of the Lone Star State. Local landowners, optimum land use, flora, fauna, and the folks downstream: all these have no say in the matter. What is required is the simple purchase of land for a dump site. Which brings us to Knight Waste Services, Inc., of Jourdanton, Texas. In August, 1976 Knight, Inc., explored an option to buy 883 acres of wooded land straddling Pine Island Bayou, in southeast Texas. The tract lies in both Jefferson and Hardin counties, near Beaumont and nearer still to the Big Thicket National Biological Preserve. Within a fifty-mile radius of the acreage lie Woodville, Livingston, Cleveland, Houston Intercontinental Airport, Baytown, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, Kirbyville, and large stretches of industrial Harris County. Industries within this area are running out of space on which to dump their wastes, and Knight has begun advertising a handy solution to their problems. Since the Texas Solid Waste Act of 1969 provides that any company may dump waste on its own land within fifty miles of the source of the waste, Knight advertises that it will sell small portions of its 883 acres to individual industries, which can then dump at will on their “own property.” Knight’s brochure explains: “Your company will purchase a portion of the waste management park of adequate size to landfill or land farm the waste materials generated by your plant. Your company will establish all specifications for construction and operation of the disposal activities on the portion of the waste management park that you purchase.” Knight Waste Services, Inc., will then, the brochure continues, construct and operate the site. This arrangement has several neat advantages. For one, since under its terms each industry dumps only on its own land, no permit will be required by the Texas Water Quality Board. For another, hearings to air any complaints or forebodings by potentially affected persons may be dispensed with. The facility would, of course, have to conform to all state laws and regulations concerning water pollution. But no radicals, conservationists, or other crazies will be able to stop such a disposal dump from getting started. As for the possibility that water pollution laws might inevitably be broken afterwards by the siting of such a dumpwell, that is something that people will have to worry about later. No environmental impact statements are required, and, Knight, Inc., concludes jubilantly: “Your waste materials will never be intermixed with other waste, thus reducing the possibility of your company getting blamed for environmental damage caused by some other company’s waste, and your company will have complete control over the portion you own.” The sense of corporate well-being and security that springs from such promises is almost beyond dreaming. Who could refuse? There are at least four groups of persons in southeast Texas, however, who take a decidedly dim view of Knight By Pete Gunter Corporation’s proposed toxic landfill and would gladly rout it if they could. They are: first, the inhabitants of Jefferson County, who draw a sizable portion of their drinking water from both the Neches River and the endangered bayou; second, the students and teachers of Hardin-Jefferson High School, whose water well is 3,000 feet from the dump; third, the residents of nearby Pinewood Estates and of the towns of Nome, Grayburg, China, and Sour Lake; finally, members of the Big Thicket Association and related environmental organizations. The proposed dump would handle Class I and Class II industrial solid waste materials. Class I wastes are “biodegradable,” i.e., given time \(never mind into non-toxic stuff. Class II wastes are not biodegradable. They are mostly liquids, including paint sludge and a whole spectrum of toxic chemicals, some extremely dangerous. These should be disposed of only with great caution. Flood prone What seems to make caution impossible in this case is that Pine Island Bayou is flood prone. Reduced to little more than a trickle by late summer, it often swells to a mile’s width during fall and winter rains. The last major tropical hurricane to strike the area \(Hurricane over the bayou watershed in three days, and greater deluges are conceivable. Under such conditions Pine Island Bayou becomes a massive lake, driving everything before it with frightful power. To say that under such conditions Jefferson County’s drinking water would risk contamination by a dumpground straddling the bayou is to indulge in understatement. Knight, Inc., is not unaware of such environmental doomsaying. The dump site, company representative V. A. Duplechain protests, is 50 to 60 feet above sea level and, morever, is out of the bayou’s 100-year floodplain. The area nearest the bayou will be used only for trucks, offices, and the like. To top it off, the company plans to construct a ditch around the site to collect water from the land outside and build a 12to 14-foot levee to keep contaminated water inside.