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West Pearland residents frustrated about timeline to stop ‘putrid garbage stink’

February 10, 2017

In January, west Pearland resident Ed Mears was optimistic that a smell that had wafted through his neighborhood was on its way out.

The cause of the stink had been identified: the Blue Ridge Landfill, located on FM 521 in Fresno. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had started its process of making the landfill’s operators comply with the law.

On Feb. 8, at a town hall meeting hosted by the Pearland-organized Odor Task Force, Mears, a member of the task force, made it clear his optimism had run out.

He still is confident TCEQ will get rid of the odor, but it may take longer than he anticipated. And the extent of the violations documented by the landfill’s operator, Phoenix-based Republic Services Inc., made him question how responsive the Blue Ridge Landfill management would be to residents’ concerns and TCEQ’s orders.

“We trusted Republic Services was going to do the right thing,” Mears said. “It’s horrific, and it’s very disappointing.”

Two courses of action

There are two separate courses of action in the works to get the Blue Ridge Landfill back into compliance with the law: a class action lawsuit and TCEQ enforcements. Both have had developments this month.

Mears and his neighbors - more than 100 of whom attended the Feb. 8 town hall - are pursuing another tactic to get additional relief. Faced with the reality that they aren’t sure when the odor will be eliminated, they plan to contest their property values when they are assessed this spring. Mears said he hopes the loss in property tax dollars will motivate entities like the local school district or the city to help expedite the TCEQ enforcement process.

On Feb. 7, TCEQ issued a proposed agreed order to Blue Ridge Landfill that outlines the landfill’s violations and what it must do to come back into compliance. The order states Blue Ridge Landfill has two violations: failing to prevent a nuisance odor and failing to properly monitor surface concentrations at the landfill.

To come back into compliance, the proposed agreed order requires Blue Ridge Landfill pay a $43,712 fee and fulfill certain technical requirements. Those include changing how the landfill monitors site operations, submitting a plan to prevent and respond to odors and providing proof the landfill has followed its plan.

The nearly $44,000 fee can be reduced by $8,742 should the landfill comply with all of TCEQ’s orders in a certain time frame.

Pearland Position 6 Councilman Trent Perez said at the Feb. 8 town hall meeting residents should be optimistic.

“We thought it would take a lot longer to get to the position we are in today,” Perez said.

The Blue Ridge Landfill must respond to the proposed agreed order within 60 days. If the landfill does not respond, the case goes on to TCEQ’s litigation division and can be referred to the Texas Attorney General’s office.

As of Feb. 1, TCEQ has received 2,114 complaints from west Pearland residents. The organization has conducted or is in the process of conducting 82 investigations into the complaints, many of which were performed during the summer and fall of 2016.

Class action lawsuit

While TCEQ went through its enforcement process, Detroit-based law firm Liddle & Dublin, PC filed a class action lawsuit Nov. 17 in the district court for the Southern District of Texas, Galveston Division, on behalf of eight residents living near the landfill.

On Jan. 31 Blue Ridge Landfill answered the class action complaint and denied all of the residents’ allegations.

Denying allegations is standard practice, Liddle & Dublin attorney Nicholas Coulson said.

“Nobody typically admits anything in a case like this,” Coulson said.

The lawsuit alleges that the landfill violated residents’ property rights by not allowing them full use of their homes, Coulson said. Coulson added he is seeking an injunction on behalf of residents that would compel Blue Ridge Landfill to act and pay nearby residents for claimed lower property values and the inconvenience caused by the stench.

The next step for the lawsuit will be a scheduling conference on March 10, when a magistrate or judge will determine when the proceedings for the case will take place. Similar cases have taken several months or several years, Coulson said.

More than a year of ‘stink’

It’s yet another lengthy timeline discouraging residents, who have dealt with the stink for more than a year.

The smell, described by a TCEQ investigation as a putrid garbage stink, with notes of sulfur, garlic, decaying onions and a honeysuckle deodorizer intended to mask the scent, wafts over Shadow Creek Ranch when the winds blow it west, across FM 521 toward homes.

TCEQ concluded the odor does not cause any lasting adverse health effects, but Shadow Creek ranch residents said it wakes them up during the night and has made them nauseous. Resident Tammy Blackburn said even her dogs run inside after a sniff.

And as the Feb. 8 town hall meeting wrapped up, multiple residents said they weren’t convinced there were not serious health effects.

“I don’t want a kid with four eyes,” one man said.

Blackburn and three other Shadow Creek Ranch residents lingered after the meeting.

One - Terri Earles - said she would give TCEQ a year to get the problem fixed, then she might consider moving. Others, including Blackburn, said they didn’t plan to leave.

All four agreed they will contest their assessed property values when they receive them this spring. Mears has been publicizing how to do so throughout the neighborhood.

When he first started smelling the odor during the spring of 2016, he successfully lowered his property taxes by $1,200. If the whole neighborhood gets on board, the local school districts and Pearland may lose significant income, which could prompt both entities to do more, Mears said.

Shadow Creek Ranch resident Sean Kennedy said he has considered moving. When he bought his home in the fast-growing development, Kennedy knew there was a landfill nearby, but didn’t anticipate it affecting his quality of life.

“I knew there was a landfill there, but there are landfills everywhere,” Kennedy said. “It’s made me question the value of my investment.”