Waco landfill plans spur separate water studies backed by city, McLennan County
Public entities for and against Waco placing a new landfill near Axtell have funded studies that will set a baseline for water quality near the planned operation.
Since last week, the city of Waco has moved to commission an environmental baseline study of a nearby body of water, and McLennan County has thrown its financial weight behind a similar effort, which was started last year by the district responsible for waterways in the area of the landfill site.
The city of Waco’s request for a new landfill permit remains pending with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and TCEQ spokeswoman Laura Lopez said a final decision could come in six months to a year. The city of Waco still hopes to occupy a new landfill by Jan. 1, 2025, said Kody Petillo, assistant director of solid waste services.
The Tehuacana Creek Water Control and Improvement District still has concerns about the landfill’s location, manager Larry Lehr said. The district has contracted with Fort Worth-based engineering firm Freese and Nichols to prepare a baseline study of water quality and environmental conditions near the proposed landfill on TK Parkway near State Highway 31. The $60,000 study began last summer, with the Tehuacana Creek Water Control and Improvement District alone shouldering the financial burden.
But reinforcements have arrived courtesy of McLennan County. Commissioners have allocated $30,000 from the county’s $49 million American Recovery Plan allocation to assist with the study.
“The Tehuacana Creek organization has taxing authority in that area, but the money primarily is used to maintain dams in the watershed,” County Judge Scott Felton said. “We figured we ought to help. We want people to have confidence that if there is a problem, there will be enough data to make it right. The study is being done in compliance with TCEQ guidelines.”
Felton said it is his opinion the city of Waco has no problem with such a study being undertaken, one that would identify water and environmental conditions now for comparison with those years after the landfill is built.
The Waco City Council on Feb. 15 approved a $130,000 contract with Plummer Associates Inc. to analyze water samples and perform sediment monitoring with the goal of monitoring water quality around the landfill site, according to a description included in the Waco City Council agenda packet.
Petillo said Waco is commissioning a baseline study comparable to the one by Freese and Nichols. He said the study is not something TCEQ mandated as it considers granting or denying the landfill request. He said the city determined such a study would have merit, creating a water quality and environmental measuring stick for future reference.
“Not that we see any negative impact coming from landfill operations. It will be state of the art,” Petillo said. “If there were to be any impact, like any company or operation, we would be required to mitigate that impact.”
Should Freese and Nichols and Plummer Associates reach different conclusions, “that would be something to sit down and talk about,” Petillo said. “There shouldn’t be conflicting results. … It should be an apples to apples comparison.”
He said the city is determined to be a good steward of the environment and a good neighbor. He said it successfully operates its existing landfill, and he would expect nothing less in operating the new landfill near where Hill, McLennan and Limestone counties meet. He said he anticipates no contamination of any kind and no issues with runoff.
Lehr, who manages the Tehuacana Creek Water Control and Improvement District, said he begs to differ. He said the proposed landfill will operate near a federal flood control reservoir built more than 60 years ago. It carries the name Natural Resources Conservation Site Reservoir 19 and is the focus of the study the county is supporting and the study the city is commissioning. More than a thousand landowners living near the lake pay a special tax to the district to keep the dam that serves it in good working order.
“What Waco is doing raises a lot of concerns, not only for this project but others. It makes you wonder about an entity’s ability to move in on existing infrastructure and to change conditions on that infrastructure,” Lehr said. “One thing we asked the city to do is indemnify the district in the case of a pollution event, or if construction increases runoff, and the dam is too low.
“We didn’t get any response to that. It seems reasonable that a baseline study be done, though the city certainly hasn’t done one. That’s been part of the conflict. We’ve heard nothing from the TCEQ. … We’re pleased to see the county commissioners concerned about it. Judge Felton has been open-minded. He sees the need to protect water resources in the county.”
The water district covering 307 square miles was established in 1959 and is responsible for the area’s waterways, about two dozen earthen dams known as “flood retarding structures,” including the one forming the reservoir near the landfill, and several more “grade stabilization structures” built by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Tehuacana Creek watershed drains into the Brazos River.
Axtell residents have vigorously opposed the landfill since Waco bought the property in 2018 near TK Parkway and Highway 31. The city has spent $6.5 million buying 1,426 acres for the project, 502 for the actual landfill, the balance as a buffer, the Tribune-Herald has reported.
McLennan County commissioners in 2018 held a public hearing at which more than 30 landfill opponents packed the commissioners’ court raising issues of safety and environmental hazards. Several said they rely on county leaders to be their voice since they cannot vote in city of Waco elections.
Commissioners said they had no legal grounds to halt Waco’s efforts, and Felton said commissioners did not take sides in a similar dispute nine months earlier involving a possible city landfill on Old Lorena Road.
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