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It’s been three weeks since nine barges broke loose and damaged the Interstate 10 San Jacinto Bridge with a lone barge grounding itself on top of a Superfund site. 

Days after the incident, the Environmental Protection Agency hosted community meeting to update the public regarding the status of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits. 

At the time, the EPA’s preliminary results indicated no significant damage was sustained at the waste pits after contractors conducted a bathymetric survey. 

According to the survey, elevations remained the same in the area where the barge hit. 

To confirm the preliminary results, the contractors were going to probe the site earlier this month. However, the EPA results of that probing are currently unknown. 

The Harris County Attorney’s Office, which opened an investigation into the barge strike during Tropical Storm Imelda, has also asked the EPA to survey the waste pits further. 

“In addition to the barge that grounded on the capped waste pits, there were eight other un-moored barges that may have traversed the waste pits on their route to the I-10 bridge and downstream,” Rock Owens, special assistant county attorney of environmental affairs, wrote in an email to the EPA on Sept. 27. 

“We do not know if these barges caused damage to the cap and, unless a bathymetric survey and probing is extended to all of the areas that were submerged during the recent flood, we will not know if those barges impacted the site.”  

The attorney’s office added unless the EPA is willing to go on record and state unequivocally the other barges could not have crossed any portion of the site that was submerged during the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Imelda, the entire temporary cap should be inspected by sonar and physical probing for potential damage; not just the immediate area where the grounded barge impacted. 

To prevent another barge from hitting the waste pits, the attorney’s office also asked that protective measures to be implemented, such as semi-permanent concrete or concrete-filled steel pipe pilings or movable obstructions placed around areas where active remediation will occur. 

Since April 2018, the EPA and the potentially responsible parties have been working on the pre-design for the waste pits — a set of impoundments located at the intersection of Interstate 10 bridge and the San Jacinto River that contain high concentrations of dioxin. 

The remedial plan aims to remove 212,000 cubic yards of toxic material from the site. 

This $115 million cleanup plan will utilize a cofferdam to encompass the site to allow contractors to excavate the material. 

The San Jacinto River Waste Pits were created in the mid-1960s and are a series of contaminated pits located along the San Jacinto River.  

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