Residents Concerned with Neighboring Dangerous Waste Site
BROWNSVILLE – The state’s authority to get property owners to clean up dangerous waste sites sometimes has little influence in affecting change in the Rio Grande Valley.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is charged with protecting the state’s public health and environment. They can pinpoint properties which can pose a threat to people and land, even cite the owners, but it won’t necessarily cause change.
Adrian Hernandez keeps his home’s windows open because he says a smell is coming from a lot next to it.
“The nasty paint smell comes this way. That’s why I have my windows open… to let out the smell,” he said.
Another resident said the unkept lot is also causing a rat and snake infestation.
“They need to do something about it because it’s real bad. We have a lot of rats here, I think, that come from over there,” Natividad Galvan said.
The property hasn’t been cleared of hundreds of charred paint cans that caught fire in early 2012. The fire went on for days requiring resources from all across the Valley.
According to the TCEQ, the property was first investigated in 2008. Several follow-up investigations were conducted and eventually the case made it up to the Office of the Attorney General.
The owner of the site, Willian Templeton, was ordered to clean up the site. The Office of the Attorney General gave him until Feb. 2016.
A property near Olmito caught fire last week and was also under investigation for years. TCEQ investigators first visited the property in 2011 and found 3,568 cubic yards of shredded tires and 830 cubic yards of burned tired waste at the site.
TCEQ issued an order against owner Fernando Trevino Sr. and a $15,000 fine. But nothing was done. In 2015 investigators went back to the site and found even more shredded tires. That time it was about 5,300 cubic yards.
Last year, they found 105,990 tires on site.
TCEQ spokesman Andrew Keese sent a statement addressing why investigations span years.
“In both instances, the TCEQ responded to concerns regarding the site by conducting investigations, which resulted in the identification of violations and following through with enforcement. In both cases, the responsible party did not comply with the issued administrative order; therefore enforcement was escalated by referring the case to the OAG.”
Keese added the OAD may seek an injunction requiring compliance as well as order the property owner to pay a civil penalty and attorney’s fees and court costs.
Hernandez is afraid the site will catch fire once again, possibly putting his family in danger.
“They have chemicals and they can ignite again. As you can see, the paint cans are there closed. They’re supposedly full of paint. They could still catch fire,” he said.
The owner of the paint site paid a penalty back in 2010 yet the waste remains. The owner of the tire fire property didn’t pay the $15,000 fee and recently died.
The prospective new owners of the proper in Olmito had not yet finalized paperwork, according to the TCEQ spokesman. They are only responsible for removing the solid waste from the property not the previous violations.
TCEQ is currently reviewing the case to see if they will hold the deceased owner’s son responsible.
As for the paint site, they said they’ll be going back soon to determine if the owner met his Feb. 2016 deadline.