PC judge holds court in the Springtown countryside over fertilizer smell
by Mark K. Campbell
Sometimes you have to raise a stink to stop a stink.
That’s what the crowd gathered around the intersection of Hutcheson Hill Road and J.E. Woody Road was told on the morning of June 17.
Parker County Judge Mark Riley convened a special meeting of the commissioners court outdoors in front of a home at the intersection of the roads – ground zero for the smell controversy that has gotten area residents’ noses out of joint.
Just south is pasture land where tons of biosolids – “organic residual of treated and processed wastewater” or “human sewage” depending on to whom you listen, Renda Environmental or local officials, respectively – has been spread for weeks now.
A call to Fort Worth politicians has stopped Renda deliveries for now, Riley said.
Court in session
Rain quit shortly before about 30 Springtown residents settled into folding chairs in front of a couple of folding tables and the court session began.
Riley said he was conducting this meeting exactly as he would a convening in his usual chambers.
Also at the head table were County Commissioners George Conley from Precinct 1, Craig Peacock, Precinct 2, and Larry Walden, Precinct 3 as well as Tony Walker, the regional manager of the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Walker said his organization was well aware of Renda, the company bringing Fort Worth wastewater to outlying counties for use as a fertilizer. He added that Renda is in no violation of regulations as they are currently written.
However, Walker said those regulations can be changed and TCEQ is considering conducting an examination of them. Input from citizens is what can make the board alter regulations, he said.
Residents let it rip
While Walker said repeatedly to the crowd that he was there to inform them of their options and what his organization knows about Renda and biosolids, that didn’t stop many in the gathering from letting him hear that their lives have taken a sudden change for the worse since the biosolids arrived.
Many noted that the funk was so bad that they couldn’t let their children play outside.
One woman said she was even smelling the foul air inside her house.
Randy Williams repeatedly referred to “EPA 503 Biosolids Rules,” which he downloaded, that detailed what biosolids may or may not be/contain. A resident in the Stella Estates area, he said he was one of the first to bring the biosolids problem to light.
“This stuff was dumped wet, scattered, flung 30 feet into the air into trees,” he said. “It was laid on top of the land, not tilled, with no monitoring as required by the 503 standards to keep it from getting into the mold stage.”
Area residents told stories of knowing someone being unable to sell a home because of the stench.
A former New Yorker said she would rather trail an NYC trash truck than smell the pastures.
Others had concerns for the health woes biosolids might cause.
Kathy Mays, who lives on J.E. Woody, asked, “Is there a concern for people living around here with their health? I have a low immune system and I need to know.”
Bonnie Mills, a Stella Lane resident, noted, “It can’t be healthy if it’s killing the trees in the area where the dump site is.”
Walker said he had never heard the tree-killing allegation before.
Another man said he had counted over 100 dump trucks coming and going and a lady echoed that many of those vehicles were tandems so the count far exceeded a century.
Others mentioned the smell wasn’t the only problem. Flies were thick – and they became a nuisance to all as the meeting wore on, too.
And concerns about runoff reaching aquifers and Eagle Mountain Lake were also voiced.
TCEQ just began taking samples from distribution sites, Walker said. “We’ll be doing it independently of their [Renda’s] data.”
A Channel 8 WFAA TV cameraman recorded much of the proceedings and a story televised June 17 can be seen on its web site.
Walker encouraged everyone telling him their stories to do the same before the committee, that enough complaints can start the process of altering regulations.
“You need to voice your objections,” Walker said. “Those things are part of the process in making the ruling.”
He added that the first step in changing things began June 18 when a petition was presented to the commission, a document filed in Ellis County where residents have also endured the biosolids odor.
The opening of the regulation book – should the commissioners decide to do so – means public hearings and a chance for anyone from any county to voice concerns.
“I assure you, we’re not just listening,” Walker said.
One edict is affected by the number of people in a county; with 120,000, Parker falls 20,000 shy of one of the official regulation requirements.
Riley said, “We’re not going to let it go away over 20,000 individuals.
“The county is going to make a written request of every record possible about Renda – not only in Parker, but in every county they operate in.”
The judge added, “The burden is on us, not the applicant. We have to take that responsibility and we have to start that.”
Riley zeroed in on governmental agencies, saying he has worked with several at all levels recently.
“I find it rather interesting that this is being allowed,” he said. The judge then listed endangered species found locally like clover and a skunk yet both are protected by governmental regulations.
“It’s just disturbing that they put more emphasis on a piece of grass than they do on people’s lives,” he said.
Riley said he had spoken with State Representative Phil King several times and that he would have likely have attended the meeting if not for the current ongoing special session in Austin.
Riley closed off the meeting vowing to make sure the people’s concerns are met.
Conley was direct: “I just want to assure everybody that the judge and we commissioners are going to try our best to make sure they don’t ever come back.”
That drew hearty applause.