The Pearland City Council voted unanimously to pursue litigation against Fresno-based Blue Ridge Landfill during a special meeting on July 6.
City council convened an executive session to discuss legal strategies for handling potential negative impacts associated with allegations leveled against the landfill.
“We’re going to limit any public comments at this time other than what the actions are that council has taken,” Pearland City Attorney Darrin Coker said. “We will move in what I consider to be a prompt manner to address it.”
The city of Pearland would not disclose details of the suit other than to cite the Texas Water Code to establish its legal authority to pursue litigation. The city did not release its allegations against the landfill nor the negative environmental impacts a lawsuit would attempt to mitigate.
After reconvening in an open session, city council approved a contract with two law firms— Scott, Ray & Sullivan PLLC and Baker Wotring LLP. Both law firms specialize in environmental litigation.
“We do not believe the City of Pearland's claims of ongoing violations have any merit. Any prior issues were resolved in an approved settlement with TCEQ at a hearing last week. The City’s allegations do not acknowledge other odor sources, including the potential that the City’s own wastewater treatment plant has contributed to the issue,” said Russ Knocke, vice president of communications and public affairs at Republic Services Inc., in a statement to Community Impact Newspaper. Republic Services operates the landfill.
The city of Pearland’s Reflection Bay Wastewater Treatment Center was one of six facilities in Shadow Creek Ranch that was vetted by state investigators in 2016 as a possible source of the west Pearland odor before officials honed in on the landfill.
The city’s push for litigation comes five months after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined Blue Ridge Landfill $44,000. The TCEQ cited the landfill twice for regulatory violations. The first citation was handed down in October for allegedly being the source of the “nuisance odor” that Shadow Creek Ranch residents have complained about. The second citation, which was sent in January, alleged that the landfill “failed to perform surface emissions monitoring” in line with state regulations.
Residents have previously petitioned the city to pursue litigation against the landfill and to petition for the suspension of the landfill’s permit for nuisance odors that they allege originate from the landfill. In April, city council approved a resolution requesting the TCEQ to immediately suspend the landfill’s permit.
Blue Ridge Landfill agreed to a laundry list of improvements in a proposed agreed order with TCEQ, which was adopted by TCEQ commissioners in a July 7 meeting. While the landfill denies all allegations, it signed an order agreeing to several corrective provisions, including creating an odor minimization plan, conducting 24-hour odor surveillance, establishing a complaint hotline and procedures to respond to complaints, and increased record-keeping.
"I hope that those of you who talked about losing hope in the process can find hope in this as well. It’s government; its bureaucracy, and it’s designed to be inefficient because of the different parties rights we have to protect," said TCEQ Commission Chairman Bryan Shaw at the July 7 meeting. "Ultimately, it’s a system that can work.”