Liberty County officials opposing potential toxic waste dump in Devers, urging residents to get involved

The red pin on the Google map shows the coordinates of a potential dump site just north of Devers. County and city leaders are urging residents to oppose the dump site due to the potential for toxins in the discarded dredge materials.

A proposed dump site for dredged soil pulled from the San Jacinto River and being proposed for the Devers area is receiving some pushback from City of Devers and Liberty County leaders, who now are calling on residents to send emails and letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to express opposition for the project.

On March 4, 2021, a Houston-based company, Holtmar Land, LLC, submitted a letter of permission to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeking approval to dump approximately 405,000 cubic feet of material taken from a 2.5-acre section of the San Jacinto River and redistribute it to a 5-acre tract of land just north of Devers in east Liberty County, Texas.

In the letter, Holtmar Land, LLC., proposes to mechanically dredge the material, place it in a scow barge, transport it to Devers by watertight haul trucks and place it on a geosynthetic clay liner on the Devers property.

The letter for permission fails to mention, however, that the location where the material is being dredged is near an area known as the San Jacinto River Waste Pits in Harris County, designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund Site because it contains dioxins, a group of toxic chemicals known to cause cancer.

“Usually, for projects like this, there would be a full application process that would address areas of concern. What this company applied for is a letter of permission, suggesting that there is no opposition to it, which is incorrect,” said Liberty attorney Brandon Davis, who represents the City of Devers. Davis also is city attorney for Daisetta, Liberty and Dayton.

“If there is opposition to it, that knocks out the company’s ability to get a letter of permission approved. That’s why it’s so important to get emails and letters from residents sent out by the deadline this Friday, March 19.”

Brandon Davis, attorney for the City of Devers

“If the company has to go through the full application process, it is my understanding that they will be required to send out more notices to property owners in the area, run legal notices and have more environmental checks and balances,” Davis said.

While there is no guarantee that the dredged material does contain toxic materials, Davis said it is too great of a risk for Liberty County without environmental impact studies and testing.

In a sample letter he is providing to Liberty County residents to voice their opposition, Davis explained, “A full environmental impact analysis should be performed to ensure that the dumping of this material will not negatively impact the citizens and wildlife of Devers, Texas.  We are obviously concerned about any potential toxins infiltrating our environment.  A number of nearby residents are on well water, with 100 percent relying on groundwater.  The implications to both the citizens’ health as well as the overall environment if this material contaminates our water supply are tremendous.  Once our water supply is damaged it cannot be undone.”

Also of concern is Liberty County’s history of major flooding. During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, coastal communities in Texas saw 60 inches of rain over a four-day period. Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019 dropped 44 inches of rain.

“We are concerned about the potential for flooding in the area as a result of the change in topography created by this dump site.  During Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda a number of Devers residents experienced terrible flooding.  Raising the elevation at this site could increase the risk of flooding for our residents. Again, prior to dumping the material, a flood analysis should be performed to make sure that homes will not be impacted,” Davis said.

Liberty County commissioners are holding a special-called meeting this Friday, at 11:30 a.m., to consider a resolution in opposition of the project. County Attorney Matthew Poston expects commissioners will approve the resolution.

“We are planning to take every legal action to prevent it from happening in Liberty County,” Poston said. “We plan to oppose the permits they are seeking through the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Like Davis, Poston is concerned about the potential for toxic materials to find their way into water systems in Liberty County.

“We all know it floods a lot in Liberty County. I am concerned that these toxins could be transferred to a neighbor’s well where it could pollute a water system for decades. There are just too many unanswered questions right now,” Poston said.

Even without flooding, the water table for Liberty County is too close to the surface, Poston said, which may make it possible for contaminants to leach into water systems for wildlife and crops.

“The County is going to work hard to oppose this. There are just too many environmental concerns. We are worried about the safety of our residents. We know that materials found in the San Jacinto River have been found to be dangerous for human life and we don’t want it here,” Poston said.

A person very familiar with the San Jacinto River Waste Pits is Jackie Metcalf, founder of Texas Health and Environment Alliance, a non-profit based in Houston. Metcalf, whose background is in geology, was instrumental in stopping dredged material from being dumped on the Beach City community in Chambers County a few years ago.

Metcalf claims the area being proposed for dredging is only a half-mile from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits. She says Liberty County’s concerns about contaminants in the dredged material are valid.

“These chemicals are old paper mill waste. The San Jacinto River Waste Pits contain more than 17 types of dioxins,” said Metcalf, alleging that one of the chemicals is the same one once used to make Agent Orange, a herbicide that was used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War. Military personnel who came in contact with Agent Orange have experienced a host of illnesses, including several types of cancers and other illnesses.

“It’s important that Liberty County residents put a stop to this letter of permission. Without this proposed project going through the full permitting process, there is no way of us knowing if this material contains these chemicals or not,” she said. “I don’t know what the future land use will be in that area. It might could withstand the flood run-off, but once the material is spread there, it will remain and ultimately change the topography of the land in that area.”

To view the sample letter prepared by Attorney Brandon Davis, click here: https://bluebonnetnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Sample-letter-of-impact.docx

Davis said the letter must be submitted by email this Friday, March 19, to the following email addresses:

CESWGRegulatoryInbox@usace.army.mil

swgpao@usace.army.mil

ceswd-pa@usace.army.mil

You must reference permit application No. SWG-2015-00855 in your email.

Bluebonnet News sought comments from the company pursuing the permit, both by email and phone call. At the time this article was posted, there had been no response.

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