Fear of Floods
The fear of flooding has helped define recent garbage dump battles in Texas. The public has a legitimate fear that floodwaters would carry potentially toxic trash and infect the health and safety of the families who live near these towers of trash.
TCEQ Rules on Floodplains and Landfill Permits
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s rules for permitting municipal solid waste landfills are laid out in the Texas Administrative Code Rule §330.63. This statute lists what a landfill application must include prior to approval, including, “a floodplain development permit from the city, county, or other agency with jurisdiction over the proposed improvements.”
The TCEQ allowed Green Group to break the rules when they approved a permit without this crucial document from the local government.
130 Environmental Park didn’t have a floodplain development permit and the TCEQ approved their landfill permit anyway. The floodplain development permit for Caldwell County wasn’t issued until five months after the TCEQ approved 130 Environmental Park’s landfill permit.
Flood of Facts
In 2012, the Caldwell County Commissioners Court passed the Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance and it was signed by then County Judge Tom Bonn, making Caldwell County Sanitation Director Kasi Miles the Floodplain Administrator. “The Director of Sanitation is hereby appointed the Floodplain Administrator to administer and implement the provisions of this ordinance… pertaining to floodplain management.”
For the last eight years, it has been Kasi Miles’ job to, “review, approve or deny all applications for development permits.”
Read the ordinance for yourself:
Caldwell County’s Director of Sanitation and Floodplain Manager Kasi Miles signed off on the floodplain for Green Group’s 130 Environmental Park on February 2, 2018, five months after the TCEQ voted to approve the landfill permit.
TCEQ’s own rules are that an applicant is supposed to have a floodplain permit from the local county before the landfill permit is approved. 130 Environmental Park didn’t have one. Miles signed off based on the work of a consultant named Tracy Bratton.
Tracy Bratton is an engineer who has worked with Caldwell County for years to approve various projects. He was Vice President and Branch Manager for Bowman Consulting Group for nearly six years, overseeing all work in the state.
For the last year, he has worked for another company called Doucet and Associates as the Division Manager of Land Development.
Caldwell County Commissioner Ed Theriot represents Precinct 3 and also works at Doucet and Associates as the Senior Project Manager.
Doucet and Associates now has the consulting contract with Caldwell County to perform the engineering work that Bowman Consulting Group used to.
Take a look at the invoices for Bratton’s work approving the floodplain permit for Green Group:
Tracy Bratton and Bowman Consulting, the consultant for Caldwell County, signed off on the floodplain permit based on drainage study created by Biggs and Mathews engineer Tyson Traw and approved the floodplain permit after only spending 8 hours and 45 minutes. That time worked did not include a site visit to look at the land.
Biggs and Mathews is now infamous for their work on Green Group dumps after they got caught destroying soil samples on two of their projects. Their work on the Highway 6 landfill led to citizens in Hempstead exposing the shoddy work and Green Group was forced to abandon the project.
Tracy Bratton based his approval of the floodplain permit on the work performed by Biggs & Matthews engineer Tyson Traw. On August 25 and 26, 2016, Traw was questioned under oath at the State Office of Administrative Hearings about the work he did on the dump project. You can read excerpted pages below or click to download the whole hearing transcript.
During his testimony, Traw admitted to several things that could bring his work into question.
- It was Traw’s first time working on a floodplain for a landfill project, a job usually performed by a hydrologist.
- Traw did not factor how the landfill would affect the reservoir near the dam or how development could increase flooding. Traw worked on mapping the floodplain, but not where the landfill would be positioned. When he was asked if it was fair to say that the landfill would be right up next to the floodplain, his response was “I don’t know.”
- The engineer didn’t even use the county’s own ordinances in his work.
- While Traw testified he did make several site visits, he failed to take any notes or photos to corroborate his findings.
The work from Traw was used by Tracy Bratton to pass off a floodplain permit that was rubber stamped by Caldwell County, allowing Green Group to get away with breaking the TCEQ rules.
The attorney for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality argued before Judge Dustin Howell in a Travis County courtroom that it didn’t matter that Green Group didn’t have a floodplain permit from Caldwell County when the TCEQ approved the landfill permit.
The attorney did admit that the rule says, “Any local floodplain development permit that is required should be filed with the application,” but stated that the rule doesn’t list a consequence for failing to comply. So, the lawyer for the TCEQ, the group that governs and permits landfills, is arguing that it’s OK to skirt the rules if there is no punishment.
Judge Howell even notes in the hearing that “if this
floodplain development authorization isn’t obtained until
long after the permit has been signed off on, and you’re
just waiting for the bulldozers to pull onto the site,
well, at that point, any chance of public — the public
weighing in has long since passed.” Judge Howell did not however overturn the TCEQ decision to approve the landfill.
Site 21 Dam Dump
The Dumpsite is located right next to a high-hazard dam in Caldwell County.
318 lives in danger
When the TCEQ approved a permit for Green Group’s 17-story tall garbage dump in Caldwell County they put lives in danger.
Secret government maps protected by Homeland Security show the horrific consequences if a dam near the proposed tower of trash is breached.
There is so much more to the 130 Environmental Park landfill story than the protests about the noise, the smell, and the unsightliness.
We now have evidence the TCEQ never examined the dam prior to approving a permit for the landfill, a failure of Texas bureaucracy that could lead to death and huge lawsuits in the event of another major flooding event.
The Site 21 dam isn’t just a little rural reservoir. It is 30 feet tall and stretches just under 3,000 feet long.
It’s classified as a high-hazard dam. We now know what that means: “Loss of human life expected (seven or more lives or three or more habitable structures in the breach inundation area downstream of the dam); or excessive economic loss…”
This dam is particularly dangerous. The dam sits just north of dozens of homes and properties, including the New Covenant Pentecostal Church.
What’s really scary is that people who live right by the dam don’t even know it’s there. Felix Christian lives on Alamo Drive, in a home built from the ground up by his grandfather. His home is one of dozens that could flood if the dam breaches.
The Site 21 dam sits just north of FM 1185. The government didn’t want you to see these maps. They are a graphic depiction of what will happen if the dam at Site 21 breaches. Dozens of homes inundated in a 12-mile stretch of Plum Creek between site 21 and 1186. The government even predicts the potential loss of life, to the person, at 318.
That could represent the single most catastrophic natural disaster in the history of Central Texas.
The Plum Creek Conservation District received this report as well as the maps in October of 2010.
Conclusions and Recommendations from the report
Conclusions: FRS (Flood Retention Site) No. 21 was designed and constructed according to low hazard criteria and is now classified as a high hazard dam that does not meet current safety and performance standards. The dam has been evaluated and meets the eligibility requirements for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program. The dam and appurtenances exhibit hydraulic and structural deficiencies that could be upgraded to meet current safety and performance standards through the rehabilitation program.
Looking for evidence
We looked for any evidence that the TCEQ Commissioners ever contacted the Texas Dam Safety Program for information about the landfill and the potential concerns about the Site 21 Dam.
Dolcefino Consulting made a request with the TCEQ for information about the potential communications.
Here is the request: Link to TPIA
Here is the response from the agency: Link to response
What may be most frightening is that the Dam Safety Program is located in the TCEQ. The lack of a single email communication, or a request to inspect the dump before the permit was approved is an abject failure of the TCEQ to protect residents of Caldwell County, and should be grounds to immediately reopen the permit process.
This is Site 21—shot from a drone sent in the air by Dolcefino Consulting to give you a rare view.
Birds eye view of the area.
Map from the USDA which shows the proposed Green Group Dumpsite outlined in red.
Green Group’s proposed concept of the dumpsite.
The Pipe and the Garbage
The Site 21 dam has a pipe that is designed to drain excess water into a spillway.
Here is the fear: in the event of a flood, the standpipe would be clogged from landfill garbage, adding pressure to the dam and potentially creating a catastrophic breach.
One warning came from the TCEQ’s own public counsel Aaron Tucker, an employee of the state paid specifically to protect taxpayers like the residents of Caldwell County.
Tucker’s warning matched – almost exactly – the warning given by Marisa Perales, the attorney for EPICC, Environmental Protection in the Interest of Caldwell County, a group of citizens who have sounded the alarm.
Plum Creek Conservation District
Site 21 is managed and maintained by the Plum Creek Conservation District.
The State of Texas created the Plum Creek Conservation District to manage all the groundwater along Plum Creek, including the Site 21 dam. It has a six-member board.
Four of the six members of the board are appointed by the Commissioners from the four precincts of the Caldwell County Commissioners Court. Look at how long these guys have been on the Plum Creek Board:
James Holt – President – Kyle
First appointed to the PCCD Board on October 25, 1977
Fred Rothert – Director – Kyle
First appointed to the PCCD Board on August 15, 2006
Lucy Knight – Secretary – Treasurer – Lockhart
First appointed to the PCCD Board on March 19, 2002
Ran in March 2018 for Pct. 1 Caldwell County Commissioner
Ben Twidwell – Director – Luling
First appointed to the PCCD Board on December 16, 1997
Peter Reinecke – Director – Luling
First appointed to the PCCD Board on January 20, 2009
James Lipscomb- Vice President – Lockhart
First appointed to the PCCD Board on January 1, 1979
Two members of the PCCD board, James Holt and James Lipscomb, have been serving there since the 1970’s. Ben Twidwell was appointed in 1997, and Lucy Knight, Fred Rothert and Peter Reinecke were all appointed in the early 2000s.
For 40 years, some of these members have been tasked with providing for the conservation, preservation, protection, recharging, and prevention of waste of groundwater. Which makes you wonder… why would they allow a landfill to be built within a quarter of a mile of Site 21?
The Plum Creek Conservation District is supposed to look after the health and safety of citizens and its waterways.
So why didn’t they oppose the 130 Environmental Park dump?
Minutes of Plum Creek public board meetings show they have been talking with Green Group since 2013.
Other minutes from Plum Creek public board meetings:
There is evidence the Plum Creek Board ignored warnings from their own staff. In November of 2013, the board’s own geologist, William Feathergail Wilson, warned he didn’t think it was a good place to put a landfill.
Plum Creek Board staff warning
“President Holt requested a report from the Plum Creek Conservation District’s Geologist, Mr. William Feathergail Wilson. Mr. Wilson briefly discussed the GMA 10 with the Board and its water well level draw downs. Mr. Wilson then showed and discussed a map that the Green Group Holdings had submitted showing the geology of the entire process for their proposed landfield. Mr. Feathergail Wilson explained that, in his opinion, this is not a good place geologically for a landfill. Mr. Wilson then asked Mr. Adam Moore with Walton Development to discuss the Walton test well with the Board. Mr. Moore explained that he would call Mr. Halliburton next week with a confirmed date as to when they would have clean water produced from the Edwards formation for their technology to come on site. President Holt then asked Mr. Bob Wilson what legal authority Plum Creek Conservation District has on the landfill project. Mr. Bob Wilson explained that Plum Creek Conservation District most certainly has authority over making sure we protect our easement and that we live up to our obligations, such as management of our structures and making sure the capacity and of the structure is protected. Beyond that, we have potential authority with the water quality, both surface and subsurface. Mr. Bob Wilson explained that Plum Creek Conservation District has no direct permitting authority for the landfill.” – Plum Creek Board geologist, William Feathergail Wilson
Taken from: Nov-19th-2013
Where is the inspection?
The TCEQ knows that Site 21 is high hazard.
Here is something scary.
The TCEQ never bothered to inspect the dam before approving the permit, even though the Dam Safety Program for the State of Texas is actually located in the TCEQ.
The last inspection of Site 21 was on July 31, 2014.
Look at the date.
In the inspection report from July 31, 2014, the inspectors Leigh Gatlin and Joseph Strouse said the structure “will be scheduled for reinspection in 5 years, or in conjunction with any modifications.” Wouldn’t a landfill right next to the dam be considered a modification, or at least something to consider?
Look how long it took the dam safety program to even send Plum Creek a copy of the inspection. Plum Creek never responded to the letter.
If Caldwell County residents are counting on Plum Creek to protect them, they might want to look at these emails.
Memorial Day and Halloween floods
In 2015, there were big ugly floods in Caldwell County on both Memorial Day and Halloween.
How worried should you be? The Halloween flood should give us all pause.
We now know Plum Creek didn’t inspect the dam for a long time afterward. We now know there was damage done to the drainage system of Site 21 – exactly the kind of damage that raises concerns about how close Green Group’s dump is to the dam.
In fact, there was damage done to the trash bars on the Site 21 dam’s standpipe – exactly the kind of damage that raises concerns about how close Green Group’s dump is to the dam.
This email from Plum Creek Executive Manager Johnie Halliburton from July 2016, is the first warning of flood damage on the dam, and erosion from the force of the waves.
Another email from from February 2017, shows that he finally noticed the damage, a full year and a half after the flood.
The fear is simple: The Plum Creek Conservation District Staff aren’t the ones that found the damage.
This is exactly what landfill opponents are worried about…trash would fill in the grates leading to the pipe, clogging them, so when another flood event happens, the pressures could breach the dam.
We think the board members of Plum Creek Conservation District should be held accountable.
We’re encouraging residents of Caldwell County to write to Plum Creek expressing disapproval of the inaction on their part.
We are demanding Plum Creek Board members take immediate steps to challenge the garbage dump.
The TCEQ should immediately reopen the permit hearings to discuss evidence that was withheld from them.