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11111111 Toxic-Waste Battle in Liberty County By Louis Dubose Liberty Nv HEN LAMAR, LLOYD, David, Donald, and Arthur Maxwell informed their Southeast Texas neighbors of a $20 million joint corporate venture with Envirosafe, Inc., to turn 590 acres of the Maxwell brothers’ rice and soybean farm into a hazardous industrial waste disposal site, they anticipated some opposition. No one wants a toxic waste site in her back yard, and despite a paucity of environmentalists in this corner of the state, there would be public outcry from those whom Congressman Charles Wilson ten years ago described as “fern-fanciers.” Through an amateurish public relations effort, the Maxwells, in January of 1982, announced their decision to locate a waste-handling site some four miles east of their family home at Devers. Using fact-sheets and ads in Liberty’s semiweekly Vindicator, the Maxwells described the project as a benefit to the community “economically and environmentally,” and a positive option to midnight dumpers and irresponsible corporations who had little interest in the community or environment. “. . enough pressure can be brought and enough money spent, that a hazardous waste site can be established.” Residents of Devers, from the beginning, weren’t buying what the Maxwells were selling. Not a great deal goes on in a town of 600 without more than a few people hearing about it. Minta Theriot, a registered nurse, who, with her husband Sam and a 17-year-old daughter, lives on a 690-acre family ranch within two miles of the proposed site, learned of her neighbors’ plan some time before it was made public. Theriot, as she explains it, called Lamar Maxwell \(who she has known Louis Dubose is a teacher in the Liberty public school system. assured that there would be no waste dump but a recycling plant. Devers’ Mayor Charles Land, a local store owner, also “got wind of something going on with the Maxwells starting about two years ago. ” But, like most local residents, he was reluctant to believe that a toxic waste disposal site would be established on a piece of Maxwell property east of Devers, which most local residents describe as very floodprone. When the Maxwells and the newly-created Envirosafe of Texas, Inc., went public with their plan to establish a Class I hazardous waste disposal site east of town, Land polled his six-man council and found them to be in unanimous opposition. In February, 1982, the council went on record as opposing the location of the Envirosafe facility in their community. Land, whose opposition to the site has cost him the trade of the Maxwells and their employees, insists that he speaks for 90 percent of the residents of Devers. But the permit process for waste sites in Texas is technocratic rather than democratic. If a site is determined to be suitable, and the design of the facility meets agency standards, permits are awarded by the Texas Air Control Board, the Department of Water Resources, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lloyd Maxwell, addressing Liberty’s Commissioners Court on a day that commissioners unanimously passed a resolution opposing the location of any toxic waste disposal sites in the county, informed the court of several other variables in the permit equation. “I think it’s been proved in the past that no matter what’s happened, enough pressure can be brought and enough money spent, that a hazardous waste site can be established,” affirmed Maxwell. Maxwell’s statement, quoted in The Houston Chronicle, has been given wide circulation by opponents, who cite it as an unabashed outline of the means that the wealthy farming and ranching family and their $2.7 billion corporate partners will use to achieve their end. Of the commissioners’ resolution, Maxwell was quoted in The Vindicator as saying, “It was worth about as much as a warm glass of water.” Not Exposed to Facts As the Maxwell Bros. letterhead gave way to the ESI corporate logo, the volume and tone of public debate changed. Len Joeris, General Manager of Envirosafe of Texas, was in charge of shepherding the permit applications through state and federal agencies and assumed the responsibility of educating the public. To assuage opposition, Joeris used persuasion and education rather than court house confrontations. Joeris ex Stiles questions the fairness of establishing sites in areas where there are few generators of waste. plained to this writer that dealing with organized opposition is a routine part of the siting process and conceded that a healthy majority of the people in the area are opposed to the location of the disposal site in the county. “But I also know,” Joeris added, “that the majority of people in Liberty have not been exposed to the facts.” Joeris set out to convince the public, in the face of what he describes as a great deal of hysteria, that Envirosafe is a responsible and experienced waste disposal company, a ten-year-old subsidiary of a $2.7 billion conglomerate, IU International. To anyone who walks into his office, Joeris will outline his company’s flawless record in operation of waste disposal sites in Utah and Pennsylvania. A Mason jar full of a sinister-looking, black, viscous liquid a toxic industrial waste is held in one hand. What appears to be a benign basalt disk about the size of a hamburger the same product is in the jar in a stable form is held in the other. The process by which liquid wastes are to be stabilized includes an admixture of fly-ash and dewatering in an on-site plant. The processed product is then spread over a sloped thickness of aggregate in 10 MAY 6, 1983