Community protests waste management facility
HOUSTON Shirley Hoagland is a lifelong resident of Montgomery County. From the backyard to the nearby park, she loves the surroundings by her home. It's what could happen underground that angered her enough to put this billboard in her front yard. "It says: Warning Toxic Water Coming," Hoagland said. And she's not alone. "The stuff they plan to pump down is anti-freeze, benzene, acid, industrial waste," said resident Mike Ward. It's a fight that's been going on for a few years. "Our hope is to stop these business plans from ever happening," said resident Paula Sewall. Those plans are by a company called Texcom Gulf Disposal. They're building an industrial waste and injection well facility just beyond Hoagland's water well and back fence. Water is mixed with industrial wastes from refineries, plastics plants, and dry cleaners and pushed down a well 6,500 feet below the surface. But it's where they want to put the facility that's creating pressure. The 27-acre site is on part of the old Conroe oil field where there are hundreds of abandoned oil wells. "Just like empty straws all over the ground around here, we don't know where they are. They are going to migrate up into our water," said Sewall. Residents fear any corrosion or damage to those old wells could be a potential escape for the wastewater to leak into the aquifer closer to the surface. "Once they do that there is no turning back," Ward said. But a spokesperson for the company says the project is classified for non-hazardous wastewater saying they must endure "frequent testing, stringent reporting, and careful oversight of everything that's pumped in." Texcom Spokesperson Lou Ross added, "While their experts say the process could contaminate water, our experts say it's not possible." The homeowners opposing the project have a long line of support behind them -- the city of Conroe, The Woodlands, San Jacinto River Authority, and Montgomery County have joined in the fight. "I'm not aware of any community, political entity, business, or government entity that supports this project in Montgomery County," said Mont. Co. Attorney David Walker. Even the Environmental Protection Agency believes the project could cause problems. "Under some circumstances, these well bores may provide a pathway for migration of fluids into the overlying underground sources of drinking water," the EPA said. "I have grandchildren and grown children that all live in this area," said Hoagland. At a recent hearing, a panel of administrative law judges recommended the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality deny the permit to Texcom, but TCEQ went against the suggestion and voted 2-1 to allow the project to move forward. "They are there to protect the people and they haven't been doing a very good job of it," Ward said. Leaving many residents scratching their heads, but strengthening their fight. "We don't intend to give up. We are fighting for our water," said Hoagland. Texcom is being allowed to proceed with its permit and believes it could be operational by 2012. But the communities we just mentioned have pooled their resources and hired a law firm for that fight that's headed to court.