Pharr Residents Fed Up with Neighboring Abandoned Facility

Posted: Sep 07, 2017 07:58 PM Updated: Sep 07, 2017 07:58 PM

UPDATE (9/20): Two weeks after CHANNEL 5 NEWS aired this report, we learned the city of Pharr sent soil samples to a lab from the current recycling center in order to comply with the TCEQ notice.

A TCEQ representative said the violation alleged the city was storing thousands of cubic yards of dirt containing solid waste, concrete and caliche.

Pedraza said they will place the materials in a local landfill if the testing determines it is safe to do so.

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PHARR – A woman living in a neighborhood south of Pharr says an abandoned recycling facility is causing a problem.

Maria Murillo resides in H Street in Pharr. She said she keeps her front yard bright green and a lush garden in her backyard. But beyond budding flowers, a chain link fence protects piles of dirt and debris, broken down materials and a limestone caliche mix.

She said it used to be a city recycling center. 

"It was supposed to be a park when we bought here,” Murillo said. “It’s a mess. Now there are animals, raccoons, possums, rats, all kinds of animals."

She said dust blows right into her backyard.

"The cement, it has chemicals,” Murillo said. “All of this gets to us. We get allergies, colds from breathing this.”

A piece of fabric she bought blocks the view.

“I'm trying to keep it clean but with the mess next to us, my house also looks dirty,” Murillo said. “I'm poor, but I don't like to be messy."

Her message to the city is clear. 

"Please pay attention to this and do something for the people who live here,” Murrillo said. “We pay taxes, all of us. We have the right to have something here for all of the community.”

CHANNEL 5 NEWS brought this to the attention of Ricardo Pedraza, the new director of Public Works in Pharr.

“This site right now is currently being used to store recycled materials,” he said.

At the old site on Medina Avenue, he said a limestone caliche base used in road construction is being stored. Some materials will be hauled away.

“The contractor is tasked to haul that away. We are no longer accepting material at that location,” Pedraza said. “We are going to try to reuse that before putting any new material at that location."

Hours after our interview, city crews began installing a thick mesh along the fence-line as a barrier between the materials and homes.

"As far as containing them, we're going to put up a fence around the fence and we're also going to do dust-proofing with water trucks,” Pedraza said. “That way if it does blow, the dust is going to be contained."

The mesh barriers could take a few days to install at the old site because the mesh is in short supply at local stores, according to a city representative.

Pedraza was not sure whether any of the chemicals in the piles are dangerous.

"As far as the asphalt, I'm not sure of the actual dust particles. I can't really comment on that. I don't know the toxicology or anything on that,” Pedraza said.

Murillo is optimistic about the city's actions. She said she'd still prefer the site to close for good.

We reached out to the city manager’s office to find out what if anything the future may hold for the site. For now, it will keep the existing material stored there.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it will take a closer look at the former site. 

According to the TCEQ, it did receive a complaint for the current East Ferguson Avenue recycling center in November 2016.

“A notice of violation was issued to the city with a compliance due date of March 22, 2017. The TCEQ is working with the city of Pharr on compliance with the notice,” said TCEQ Media Specialist Andrew Keese by e-mail.

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