Residents of a historically Black and Hispanic community spoke out against a proposed landfill expansion in their neighborhood Tuesday night, as state environmental regulators consider granting a permit despite community pushback.
At the public meeting at Sterling Banquet Hall, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality met with more than 100 people about the expansion of the Hawthorn Park Landfill, located in the historic Carverdale Neighborhood near the intersection of Beltway 8 and Tanner Road.
Several residents gave impassioned testimony about their personal experience living near the landfill, which they say has impacted property values, traffic congestion, flooding and their health.
“It is not fair that we have to fight for a better quality of life,” said Carverdale resident Gladys Hernandez. “This is our neighborhood. Our parents sacrificed to buy these houses for us, for them, for their grandchildren. To have a better and more comfortable life.”
The landfill, which is owned and operated by a Waste Management subsidiary, has been operating at a significantly reduced capacity for the past few years, but the proposed expansion would change that. If approved, the landfill would expand just under 40 acres in perimeter and reach about 127 feet in height — allowing it to operate for another 46 years.
At the meeting, Waste Management’s Area Director of Planning and Project Development Charles Rivette gave a presentation to the crowd outlining the scope of the proposed expansion.
As the presentation continued, people in the crowd started heckling.
“I know you obviously don’t believe the photos,” Rivette said, which was met with resounding “no” from the crowd.
Rivette said that the company has participated in community cleanups and provided funding for educational services for more than 20 years, although according to Carverdale resident Monique Singletary, the effort isn’t enough to outweigh the negative effects of the landfill.
“We don’t want you to be a partner, we don’t want you to buy a backpack, we don’t want you to buy a pencil, we don’t want you to do anything but leave Carverdale,” she said. “We don’t want the problems that your business is going to bring, we don’t want the health concerns, we don’t want the environmental concerns, we don’t want you here.”
Robert Bullard, a member of the White House’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council, has been an outspoken critic of the expansion since its initial proposal.
Bullard has authored research about the placement of landfills and incinerators in Houston from the 1920s to the 1970s — a majority of which were found in communities of color.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Bullard said the landfill’s placement and the proposed expansion was “a classic example of environmental racism.”
“TCEQ is contributing to and part of that process that is not only just in Houston, but across Texas,” Bullard said. “The state agency can set an example — can set a precedent — by denying this permit.”
The TCEQ initially approved Waste Management’s application in March, stating that all of the technical aspects of the application had met the agency’s requirements.
During Tuesday’s meeting, TCEQ attorney Anthony Tatu said the agency doesn’t have the authority to consider community demographics when granting permits.
“We can’t do anything,” Tatu said. “We’re limited…Right now, we don’t have any authority to consider these demographic issues.”
In response, state Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, D-Houston, said she would be “honored” to present legislation during next year’s legislative session to reform the TCEQ’s permitting process in order to require the consideration of equity and fairness.
The agency’s approval isn’t final until the agency processes all formal comments, which would likely take about six months, according to the TCEQ representatives.
Afterwards, residents will have the opportunity to request a contested case hearing, which is similar to a civil trial in front of an administrative law judge.
Carverdale resident Victor Hébert said he has already requested a hearing, regardless of TCEQ’s final decision in the coming months.
“The residents of this community must not be forced to endure another 46 years of waste of any kind,” Hébert said. “The land should be allowed to heal from its previous insults.”