Members of the San Jacinto River Coalition do not trust contractors employed by the potentially responsible parties to the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.
Because of this, the coalition is requesting an independent party to provide oversight.
From placing buoys around the site to working within the silt curtain, contractors for the responsible parties continue to deceive the Environmental Protection Agency about some of the work that is done at the site.
“(The EPA) is an agency that does not have enough people for them to provide this oversight,” Jacquelyn Young, executive director of Texas Health and Environment Alliance, said. “So we need them to require it be part of the process.”
Young said when residents told her the buoys — used to outline the site as a warning to boat traffic — were not where they needed to be she reported to the EPA.
“I received calls from multiple residents saying that something happened to the buoys and that there was a large gap,” Young said. “And in certain areas, the buoys were bunched together.”
After informing the EPA, the agency sent out contractors to inspect the site on July 31.
“In an email, the EPA said nothing was wrong with the buoys,” Young said. “(They said) a contractor went out there surveyed the buoys and said they were fine.”
On the very next day, residents in the area took photos, which still showed a large gap and a boat sitting over the waste pits.
Young sent the photo to the EPA but has not received a response.
“It’s not OK,” Young said. “It’s not the role of our community members to have to find someone to drive them across Interstate 10, putting their own life at risk, to take pictures just so we can play middle man between the EPA and these contractors.”
In June, when contractors were tasked with installing an articulated concrete block mat to reinforce a troublesome corner, Young was pleased to know they were using booms and silt curtains to control stirred up sediment.
But residents, once again, took a photo that told a different story, as contractors were working outside the boom.
“If you’re not going to work within these protective measures, what is the point of having the protective measures,” Young said.
When Young reported the issue to the EPA the agency called the contractors, who denied ever working outside the boom.
After showing the EPA the photos, which were subsequently presented to contractors, Young said they finally admitted to working outside of the protective measures.
“Residents shouldn’t have to go take photos just to prove that what we’re saying is true,” Young said.
To prevent further deception from contractors, the San Jacinto River Coalition is asking the EPA to require independent third-party oversight during the implementation of the cleanup plan that will excavate almost 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated material for disposal.
In a petition letter, which has garnered 27 signatures, the coalition states an independent party is needed to perform day-in-day-out oversight to ensure integrity in the removal process.
“The coalition serves as a watchdog over the waste pits and our community members are the eyes and ears surrounding the site. Our community has played a vital role in this process to date, but they should not have to engage in back and forth debates when the contractors are not performing work as approved by EPA,” the letter says.
The petition also asks the EPA to deploy a dive team to inspect the waste pits after the recent 18-wheeler accident on the eastern edge of the northern pit.
Even though the agency conducted a bathymetric survey on the pits that indicated there was no impact from the crash, the coalition wants it confirmed with a dive team.
“Given the history of the site, where bathymetric surveys have missed large deficiencies in the temporary cap, it is essential that a dive team inspection also takes place,” the letter reads.
Anyone interested in signing the petition can do so by visiting www.txhea.org/epa-sjrwp-letter-august-2019.