Commissioners postpone payment to environmental company

July 27, 2017 GMT

An environmental company will have to wait a little longer to receive their payment from Liberty County commissioners after a state agency has requested more testing of a cleanup area.

The cleanup was a burial area at the Precinct 3 property on the northwest corner of FM 1010 and the SH 105 bypass in Cleveland and a railcar on the Pct. 3 119 S. Fenner yard.

The cleanup was a mess left by former Pct. 3 Commissioner Eddie Lowery originally only at the 119 S. Fenner yard and exacerbated when he decided to take some 20 cubic yards of AC-10 asphaltic waste and bury it on the FM 1010 property, the previously considered site of the Pct. 3 county barn.

The ill-advised move, not approved by commissioners, caused Lowery to be cited by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and threatened with fines if the site was not remediated.

The citation was issued in February of 2016, yet Lowery did nothing to address the issue and following his loss in the November 2016 election, he left it for the incoming commissioner.

In late May of this year, new Pct. 3 Commissioner James “Boo” Reaves received a warning from TCEQ that they would be initiate fines, potentially retroactive back to February of 2016, of $10,000 per day if the site was not cleaned up immediately.

Lowery ignored warnings for months and potentially could have cost the county up to $4 million in exposure and liability in fines for his neglect.

Reaves brought the matter to commissioner’s court in an emergency session who approved the contracting of Garner Environmental Services, Inc. (GESI) of Deer Park, Texas for remediation.

The county was facing a June 1 deadline and acted quickly enough to satisfy TCEQ officials that they their intentions were to take care of the issue.

Work began the following week.

Garner sent the state samples of the soil, but in a phone call on Monday prior to the commissioner’s court session, Tom Collins from TCEQ requested new samples from the cleared site.

“We have sent them several emails and they responded to Kathrine’s (McCarty) email yesterday and called Commissioner Reaves,” said County Attorney Matthew Poston. “They just requested Garner to send some more samples,” which Poston said Garner had agreed to do. The samples, Poston hoped, would demonstrate to the agency that the cleanup was done properly.

Poston said it should be done within a few days or a week at the most.

“My concern,” Poston told commissioners, “is if we pay Garner now, we lose a little bit of leverage if the work was not done properly.”

Commissioner Reaves said he believed the county got off the hook since there was no need for hazardous waste disposal which could have shot the price tag up closer to a quarter million.

In court earlier, the insurance agent for the county, Todd Arnold, said that there was no third-party involvement and no intentional act, so there was no standing for a claim.

But later Tuesday, Liberty County Judge Jay Knight was still trying to find a way to get some help.

“I’d like to see if our insurance would cover previous officeholders for an errors and omissions kind of thing,” said Liberty County Judge Jay Knight.

The cost of the cleanup will cost the county $106,456.26, and the county could seek damages from the former commissioner.

Poston would not comment on the record whether the county would seek remedy from Lowery, but didn’t dismiss it as an option on the table.

Reaves immediately contacted Garner Environmental Services, Inc. (GESI) of Deer Park, Texas for assistance and confirmed to Dayton News late Tuesday that they would be on the site the following morning to take the samples.

In other court news, commissioners approved their portion of the new detention lock and equipment for the county jail at $41,436.39. The private company running the jail also invested $150,000 in improvements at the facility including new call buttons, console, cameras, new locks on the cells and doors.

Also approved was the conversion of roads and converting surety bonds to two-year maintenance bonds in Camino Real, Sections 1 through 3.

Commissioner’s also appointed Ronnie Danner to serve on the board of directors of the new Tax Increment and Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) No. 1.