October 2019 Volume 2, Issue 10
Environmental Justice News
The Environmental Justice Team at Lone Star Legal Aid welcomes you to Environmental Justice News. We’re keeping communities updated on our team’s ongoing environmental law efforts throughout our 72-county service area in Texas.

In our newsletter, you’ll find an overview of the types of legal cases we’re currently handling for eligible individuals and organizations who are living in fence-line communities and other areas where environmental justice is a concern. If you have an environmental legal matter that concerns you, please call 713-652-0077 ext. 8108 for more information on how we might be able to help your neighborhood!

Our environmental justice team is part of a broader Equitable Development Initiative at LSLA, with additional teams focusing on fair housing and community advocacy. The Equitable Development Initiative’s goal is to provide legal assistance to foster community revitalization in low-income neighborhoods by fighting systemic discrimination and degradation, and by helping residents create safe, decent and equitable living spaces.

As part of a firm-wide team-building exercise, the EJ team created Word Art to visualize each advocates' inspirational word that drives them:
This month, we wanted to share our "one word" collection with our readers to show not only our commitment to our project, but how those we work with in our EJ communities inspire each of us. We hope this passion comes through with each edition of this newsletter.

Please feel free to share Lone Star Legal Aid’s environmental watchdog newsletter with your friends, family and neighbors! To subscribe to our newsletter and/or receive updates about your neighborhood, click here .

Amy Dinn
Managing Attorney, Environmental Justice Team
EPA Listens to Community Concerns as Barge Runs Aground on San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site

On September 24, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a public meeting in Highlands, Texas, to share updates on the agency’s plans for the removal of roughly 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-laden waste material from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site, located between Highlands and Channelview along the western banks of the San Jacinto River. The much-anticipated cleanup of the toxic site was announced by EPA in its 2017 Record of Decision (ROD). While work on the remediation design is still in progress, the actual removal of the waste material is slated to begin in less than two years.

Regularly scheduled as part of EPA’s Community Involvement Plan to provide updates to area residents, the meeting was overshadowed by a barge accident that occurred a few days earlier during Tropical Storm Imelda – the second such accident to occur since February of this year. Bringing a renewed sense of urgency to the community’s concerns over the ongoing dangers of increased barge traffic near the toxic site, residents reminded EPA that this accident was bound to happen – a situation destined to repeat itself without intervention from the agencies that hold jurisdiction over the shared waterway.

Around midnight on September 20 while Imelda’s torrential downpours inundated parts of Harris County, nine commercial barges broke loose from their moorings, careening through the rushing water just north of the I-10 Bridge in Channelview near the waste pits site. Two barges loaded with hazardous chemicals became lodged under the I-10 Bridge, causing major damage to its pilings and closing west-bound lanes indefinitely until repairs can be carried out. A third barge carrying 11,000 barrels of lube oil ran aground on the waste pits’ northern impoundment site, potentially damaging the temporary armored cap on the heavily contaminated site. Response teams worked to remove the contents of the grounded barge on September 22, floating it off site in hopes of minimizing potential damages to the cap.

Expected to stay in place until the remediation is underway, the temporary cap has experienced numerous failures since it was first installed in 2011. “We had it (the cap) in the right place for three months,” shared EPA Site Administrator Gary Baumgartner, pointing to the short-lived reprieve between the last successful realignment of the cap in June 2019 and the current accident. Intended to stop the release of dioxins, furans, and other toxins from flowing unimpeded into the San Jacinto River, one community member referred to the cap as a “Band-Aid on a laceration,” critical of its effectiveness.  

During the meeting, residents stressed the need for a fully independent third party to oversee the waste removal process. Residents were also highly critical of proposed waste management and water management pre-design plans, which suggested potentially reusing crushed rocks from the protective cap area to create a double-wide road for trucks during waste removal, as well as reducing the volume of water that comes into contact with the toxic waste material through steam evaporation, potentially transferring unwanted toxins into the air.

Community members wondered why none of the agencies involved in oversight of barge operations seemed concerned over the recent increase in barge traffic. Stressing the dangers of a Superfund site located in a hurricane zone where increased flooding, increased barge traffic, and increased commercial activity can and does lead to disaster, longtime Channelview resident Carolyn Stone noted, “EPA tells us that commerce and business have a right to be there. At what point do residents’ lives outweigh commerce and business interests?” asked Stone, “At what point does human life come first?”

“All it takes is a flooding event to remove these barges from their moorings, and they become floating projectiles,” said LSLA Environmental Attorney Rodrigo Cantú. Engaged with community members during EPA’s public participation process for the Superfund site since 2016, Cantú is currently representing Mrs. Stone to oppose a barge fleeting permit through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that would allow San Jacinto River Fleets, the same company responsible for managing the recent breakaway barges, to expand its facility with a “Barge Fleeting Area for Dangerous Liquid Barges.” Located within the Superfund site’s Area of Concern, a highly contaminated area subject to special measures intended to protect human health and marine environments from negative impacts of the toxic waste, the facility’s proposed plan involves driving pilings into the river bed for spud barges, potentially disrupting highly toxic sediment in the process. “That is one operation that gives us pause,” commented Baumgartner of the proposed plans. 

Sharing the agency’s recent accomplishments to safeguard the site, Baumgartner discussed improvements made to the northwest cap prior to Imelda including reinforcement of the slope in June 2019 with 4,000 square feet of articulated concrete block mat (ACBM) to stabilize the cap. Baumgartner also discussed the agency’s progress in testing dozens of core samples from the site to create a more accurate map of contamination. Responding to the community’s concerns for quickly and safely remediating the site, Baumgartner suggested a faster turnaround time for review of plans moving forward, possibly shortening EPA’s review time to 30-days.

Baumgartner described Imelda’s impact on recent field work at the site. As the storm moved in, a large hole in the protective cap, purposely created for treatability testing of waste material, was quickly taped up and covered with sandbags rather than welded back in place as EPA initially intended. Additionally, two frac tanks, each holding approximately 13,000 gallons of contaminated water for EPA’s investigations, were left on site during the storm along with numerous pieces of heavy equipment. The site still flooded, community members requested that EPA inspect the cap for damages. EPA noted that a manual inspection of the cap for damages could be completed within less than two weeks.

Acting as community liaison to shepherd each step of the years-long process along, Jackie Young of Texas Health and Environment Alliance (THEA) and members of the San Jacinto River Coalition, also chaired by Young, have remained fully engaged with EPA throughout the process, focusing on constructive actions to help the agency continue moving forward for full remediation of the waste pits. LSLA's Cantú currently serves on EPA's Community Advisory Committee along with Young and others. Thanking EPA for their willingness to listen to the community, Young noted, “We all know it can’t happen soon enough." 
Above Left: Pre-Design Phase 2 diagram showing potential waste management strategy / Image: EPA

Above: San Jacinto Waste Pits northern impoundment site, inundated with water after Tropical Storm Imelda after a barge ran aground on the site. Two EPA frac tanks sit in foreground of the flooded site / Photo: U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Zimmerman
Above Right: Channelview resident Carolyn Stone (L) talks with Jackie Young (R) of THEA and the San Jacinto River Coalition on September 24, 2019 / Photo:Rebecca Novak, Lone Star Legal Aid
Top: A tugboat removes a barge from the I-10 Bridge after runaway barges caused damages to the bridge and Superfund site. A line of red buoys intended to fence off the northern impoundment area was moved during the accident. Each buoy is anchored by a 300-lb. cement block. / Photo: U.S. Coast Guard video
Residents Continue to Fight Expansion of Greenhouse Road Landfill as TCEQ Director Declares Permit Meets Requirements of Applicable Law

On September 13, the Executive Director (ED) of Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued a formal response to public comments from hundreds of community members who are opposed to a major amendment on Municipal Solid Waste Permit (MSW) #1599B for Greenhouse Road Landfill, a Type IV Landfill located on Houston’s west side near Katy. If approved by TCEQ, the amendment would extend the landfill’s lifetime to 2053, while substantially expanding its horizontal footprint by 31 acres and allowing its height to increase to 183 feet.

With support from stakeholders including the Harris County Attorney’s Office, Katy ISD and others, nearly 800 community members submitted comments to the agency in opposition to the landfill’s amendment. Despite the residents’ concerns over impacts to their health and welfare, the ED made no changes to the permit, stating it “meets the requirements of applicable law” in a final decision issued on September 20.

Community members now have until October 21st to submit requests for a Contested Case Hearing and/or requests for reconsideration of the ED’s decision. Any such requests will be considered and voted on by TCEQ Commissioners at an upcoming Commissioner’s Agenda meeting in Austin, Texas, at a date to be determined.

LSLA EJ Attorneys Rodrigo Cantú and Barham Richard have been representing two residents of the Rolling Green subdivision who oppose the amendment. The EJ team submitted comments to TCEQ in January 2019 on behalf of its clients, who say their lives have been seriously impacted by the landfill. LSLA client Guillermo Lopez explained that his entire family became sick as windblown trash, dust, offensive odors, rats, constant noise and runoff from the landfill began to encroach onto his property regularly.

Resident and LSLA client Linnette Figueroa says the noxious conditions created by the landfill have not let up ever since she first moved to the Katy area from Puerto Rico in 2017, after Hurricane Maria devastated her community. Mrs. Figueroa’s daughter suffers from asthma – a condition she feels is made worse by dust that encroaches on her property daily from the landfill. “I wanted to give my children a better life. Little did I know the impact this landfill would have on my family, right in our backyard,” shared Figueroa.

Threatening the health of thousands of residents, the landfill is located just across the fence from many community members' backyards. Resident Gary Brown’s grandson attends a grammar school located just 1000 feet from the landfill.
“Teachers at the school are afraid to take the children outside for recess on some days, because smell coming from the landfill is so horrible,” shared Brown. “It smells like rotten eggs.” A licensed Professional Engineer, Brown is concerned about the threat of explosion from the accumulation of gases including methane and hydrogen sulfide (H 2S) emitted by the landfill. Exposure to the H 2S can cause nausea, tearing of the eyes, headaches or loss of sleep, as well as breathing difficulties in those with asthma.

Working tirelessly to help his neighbors mobilize against the landfill’s expansion plans, Brown started a community group called Stop Greenhouse Road Landfill, holding monthly meetings at the West Lake Volunteer Fire Department. “The landfill has not done right by this community for 16 years,” shared Brown. 

In 2000, Greenhouse Road Landfill owners signed a Settlement Agreement between the landfill, Harris County, and the Rolling Green Subdivision that placed limits on the landfill’s size and stipulated corrective actions it should have taken to reduce its impact on neighboring communities. Some of those obligations have never been met, said Brown. Community members are understandably upset over the landfill’s current expansion plans, which would negate the agreement.

Cantú says the EJ Team will continue to follow TCEQ’s administrative process on the permit application in order to help residents address the landfill’s historical mismanagement issues. “Our priority is to highlight the mismanagement of the landfill through the TCEQ, including Greenhouse Road Landfill’s failure to resolve a number of noxious conditions,” said Cantú.

Residents can submit requests for contested case hearing and/or requests for reconsideration of the TCEQ Executive Director's decision on this permit by clicking here. Click on “Comment online about pending permit applications,” and then enter permit # 1599B in the box. Enter your name, contact information, and request information. The deadline for submitting requests to TCEQ on this permit is October 21, 2019 by 5:00 pm.
Above: Greenhouse Road Landfill, surrounded by residential neighborhoods and schools / Image: Designed by Anya Gallant, Community Impact Newspaper
Group Client Spotlight: Barrett Economic & Community Development Organization (BECDO)

A fourth-generation descendant of early residents of Barrett, Texas, Pam Norman is passionate about the rich cultural and historic legacy of the community she grew up in. Seeing the value in preserving this rich history, Norman, a lifelong volunteer in her community, decided to “crank it up a notch” in 2018 after coming to the realization that an extensive effort is needed to preserve and sustain her cherished community. Taking up this work through Barrett Economic & Community Development Organization (BECDO) as a labor of love, Norman hopes not only to help preserve Barrett’s remarkable history, but to create a bridge that will further the town’s economic and cultural development, making Barrett a place where future generations can thrive and grow. “It’s an honor to do this work,” shared Norman, President of BECDO. “It’s like carrying a torch for the next generation, helping them to understand the significance of what came before them.”

A historic Freedman’s town, Barrett was originally founded in 1889 by Harrison Barrett, a former slave whose parents, Lisa and Simon Barrett, migrated to Texas from Louisiana. Separated from his family during slavery, Barrett searched for his siblings, eventually reuniting with all but one sister. Together, Harrison Barrett and his extended family established Barrett Settlement, pooling their resources to foster a thriving community while it became the one of the largest holdings of land by a freed slave in Harris County. 

Thirty-eight years later, Pam Norman’s own great-grandparents arrived in Barrett from Louisiana after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 displaced many Louisiana residents from their River Parishes, taking up residence in this quiet rural town located along the San Jacinto River in unincorporated eastern Harris County. Remaining largely unchanged for nearly a century until recent years, Barrett is now facing a quasi-land grab, Norman explains, as recent population growth and development in eastern Harris County have brought gentrification and change to the area.

Introduced to EJ Managing Attorney Amy Dinn during the Preserving Communities of Color conference last year, Norman began working with Lone Star Legal Aid’s Equitable Development Initiative in 2019 to begin tackling multiple community concerns on a neighborhood level. 

Engaging with EJ Attorney Barham Richard on the community’s environmental concerns, BECDO recently submitted comments and a Motion to Overturn (MTO) a self-authorizing Notice of Intent (NOI) to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding a composting facility that may be operating under less stringent regulations than is required for an operation of its scope. In a 2018 Texas Pollution Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) permit application, the facility indicated it planned to compost sewage sludge, contrary to the smaller scope of operations indicated in the facility’s recent NOI. BECDO’s comments noted that the composting of sludge requires a notice and formal registration of the facility through TCEQ along with greater regulatory oversight. Additionally, BECDO pointed out that the facility appears to be located within a flood plain. BEDCO and LSLA advocates are awaiting further action from TCEQ on the permit. 
 
Along with community partners at the UT School of Law Environmental Clinic, the EJ team is currently investigating additional environmental concerns on BECDO’s behalf, including the current remediation status of the French Ltd. Superfund site located in Crosby, Texas near Barrett.

Working to preserve Barrett’s historic legacy, BECDO recently engaged with Lone Star Legal Aid Community Advocacy Attorney Ebony Young after residents became concerned about a new landowner’s plans to subdivide and rename an existing plat of land – land which had been a part of Barrett’s history for generations. After legal research into platting requirements for Barrett, Young found there were no existing deed restrictions or other legal avenues that would prevent the plat from being subdivided or renamed. With Young’s support, however, Norman and fellow residents were able to advocate on behalf of their community before the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, making a moral appeal to Commissioners. Named for its connection to Barrett’s earliest residents, St. Charles Place bears witness to the town’s Louisiana Creole history. Pointing to the value of this historical connection, the residents argued that maintaining the subdivision’s original name is essential to preserving Barrett’s legacy. Siding with the residents, the Commissioners ruled that the subdivision should keep the name of St. Charles place, while the County is further adopting new guidelines regarding the platting of land in Barrett, helping the community to retain the stories of their ancestors through the names and cultural references embedded in the maps and deeds that describe the land. 

Part of a local coalition of historic communities of color founded with Tanya Debose, Executive Director of Independence Heights Redevelopment Council, Norman places Barrett within a larger historical context, seeing Barrett’s “magic mile” developed to highlight contributions of the original seven founding families of the community. The group is working alongside other community members in Barrett to develop an African American Heritage Trail, a heritage tourism project connecting historic African American communities across North America. “We want to celebrate our history to be able to understand and appreciate it,” shared Norman. “We want to be able to tell a story.” 

Working to foster positive economic development in her community, Norman recently hosted a business forum in Barrett this past June, inviting “everyone from mom & pop businesses up to area home builders,” shared Norman. “We wanted to introduce Barrett to folks that might not know us.” Norman reached out to Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who was keynote speaker for the forum. Finding a ready and capable partner in Precinct 2, BECDO looks forward to continuing work with the Commissioner’s Office to help shape the economic growth of Barrett. “Whatever we do, it starts with relationships,” shared Norman.

One of many community groups in Barrett, Norman finds a sense of cooperation that reflects the legacy of the founding families of Barrett. "We are blessed to have so many folks in this community who care and are coming together to work on this," she said. Guided by BECDO’s Board of Directors, Norman looks forward to continuing the group’s work with Lone Star Legal Aid. “We are thankful to LSLA for their resources and expertise,” shared Norman.
Above Left: Melody Fontenot, President of Barrett Station Community Development Corporation and descendant of Harrison Barrett, speaks before Harris County Commissioners on August 13, 2019 / Image: Video still from Harris County Commissioner's Meeting
Above Right: Pam Norman, President of BECDO, speaks before Harris County Commissioners on August 13, 2019 / Image: Video still from Harris County Commissioner's Meeting
Above: Present-day map showing some of the original place names of subdivisions in Barrett / Image: Google Earth
Texas Housers Podcast Episode 17: When Highways Threaten our Legacy

Texas Housers recently interviewed Tanya Debose, Executive Director of the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council, along with LSLA EJ Managing Attorney, Amy Dinn, concerning the impacts that the planned expansion of the North Houston Highway, I-45, will have on the community of Independence Heights, the first incorporated African American town in Texas, for Texas Housers podcast Episode 17: When Highways Threaten our Legacy.

Listen in here!
Register for Houston Asthma Air Aware Day Notifications through AlertHouston

The Houston Health Department is lessening the burden asthma places on the lives of about 364,000 Houstonians through a new alert system.
AlertHouston now includes Houston Asthma Air Aware Day alerts. Sign up to receive email, text, and/or voice call alerts at: houstonemergency.org/alerts.

Houston Asthma Air Aware Day alerts informs community members when the outdoor air conditions match the conditions on days when Houstonians have experienced ambulance-treated asthma attacks related to air pollution. This valuable information allows Houstonians with asthma to take precautionary measures.

The Houston Health Department also posts the alerts on its website: houstonhealth.org and on Facebook and  Twitter.
Catch our EJ Team at these upcoming events!
Thursday, October 17 – Community Advisory Panel to Lyondell and Equistar, LyondellBasell Administration Building, 8289 Sheldon Road, Channelview, Texas, 77530, 5:45-8:00 pm

Thursday, October 24 - Channelview Community Meeting, 1210 Dell Dale, Channelview, TX 77530, 6:00-8:00 pm
 
Saturday, October 26 - Saturday, November 2 - Preserving Communities of Color Conference , United Way-Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Drive, Houston, TX 77007, 8:00 am - 6:00 pm

Monday, October 28 - OST Community Partnership Meeting - LSLA presentation on CES Site, the Palm Center, 5300 Griggs Road, Houston TX 77021, 5:30 pm
 
Saturday, November 9 – Lawyers for a Beautiful Houston, Cleanup at the Houston Botanic Garden , 8205 N Bayou Dr, Houston, TX 77017, 9:00 am - Noon

Tuesday, November 12 - Community Meeting, Houston Gardens Civic Association, 6817 Homestead Road, Houston, TX 77028, 6:00-8:00 pm
 
Thursday, November 14 – TCEQ Notice and Comment Hearing (Public Meeting) on Oxbow Calcining LLC - Federal Operating Permit # O1493, Carl A. Parker Multipurpose Center at Lamar State College-Port Arthur, 1800 Lakeshore Drive, Port Arthur, Texas 77640, 7:00 pm
     
For more information on any of these presentations or upcoming meetings, please contact our EJ Team at 713-652-0077 ext. 8108.
Lone Star Legal Aid | www.lonestarlegal.org