Texas Campaign for the Environment: News
Valley Morning Star, October 2, 2012 By Fernando Del Valle
Grease processing facility draws opposition
RIO HONDO — Juan Perez is one resident who is opposed to a proposal to use the city’s sewer plant to treat liquid waste from grease traps and grit traps before it is discharged on the banks of the Arroyo Colorado.
Dewatering Partners International has asked the state to allow it to open a grease processing facility near the sewer plant that’s across the street from Perez’s neighborhood on Bluebonnet Street near Rio Hondo Elementary School.
The company is confident that the environment will not be harmed.
Carter Mayfield, finance director for the San Antonio-based company, said the treatment process breaks down restaurant and car wash waste into an effluent that is safe for the nearby area and the arroyo’s waters that flow into the Laguna Madre.
State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, have called for public hearings into the company’s proposal. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said a public meeting is pending.
The agency notified residents who live within a quarter mile of the proposed site, Terry Clawson, an agency spokesman in Austin, said.
Schools Superintendent Anneliese McMinn said she wants to meet with city commissioners to discuss concern that odors would drift to the nearby elementary school.
“We have some odor issues with the (sewer) plant now,” McMinn said.
Former City Commissioner Kitter Huerta, who lives on Bluebonnet Street, said he opposed the company’s plan when it approached commissioners with its proposal three years ago.
“I’m totally against it because waste will go into the arroyo and that could hurt the environment,” Huerta said.
Another Bluebonnet Street resident, Alejandra Torres, said she will launch a petition drive to try to stop the project.
“Why do they want to bring it to Rio Hondo?” the housewife asked. “I have too many kids and grandkids. Take it somewhere else.”
Ruben Garcia said he is concerned the project could produce a foul odor over the neighborhood where many residents fish from the arroyo.
“I don’t think they should put it here if it stinks,” Garcia said. “If people get sick, are they going to pay? Most of the neighborhood goes fishing there. I don’t think they’re going to like it.”
The company should prove that the project won’t harm the environment, convenience store clerk Jose Padilla said.
“That’s pretty weird — putting chemicals in the arroyo,” Padilla said. “They say it’s safe but who knows. Maybe they’re feeding us words so they can do it.”
In Arroyo City, Paul Bergh said he is concerned the project could contaminate arroyo waters that feed the Laguna Madre.
“Anyone who lives along the reaches of the Arroyo Colorado should be concerned. If they fish or water ski, they should be concerned about what goes into the water,” said Bergh, a former board member of the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership, a state agency formed to protect the arroyo’s waters.
“The arroyo is the largest single source of fresh water in the lower Laguna Madre,” Bergh said. “Ultimately the water reaches the Laguna Madre. Ninety percent of everything that lives in the Gulf of Mexico — and what they eat — starts in the Laguna Madre. If we contaminate or sterilize the bay it will affect what’s in the Gulf.”
Mayfield said the company’s treatment of liquid waste would turn it into an effluent that won’t harm the arroyo’s waters.
“The waste we put in is treated at the sewer plant just like the sewage for all of Rio Hondo,” Mayfield said. “There shouldn’t be any threat as far as water quality.”
A prevailing southeast wind blows odors away from Bluebonnet Street, the neighborhood closest to the proposed site, Mayfield said.
Grease waste smells like “cooked lard” compared with sewage, which smells like “rotten eggs,” Mayfield said.
“There’s a pretty decent buffer zone before you hit the first residential home in the neighborhood,” Mayfield said. “Luckily, the prevailing wind tends to blow away from the city. The last thing we want is a complaint to the TCEQ about odors.”
Mayfield said the proposed processing facility separates liquid waste that would be treated by the sewer plant. Solid waste, or sludge, would be composted at a site outside the Rio Grande Valley or disposed at Donna’s landfill, he said.
The company, whose clients include H-E-B and Valero, will pay the city about $1,500 a month to use the sewer plant, Mayfield said.
The company plans to put about 50,000 gallons of liquid waste a day into the sewer plant that currently treats about 138,000 gallons a day, company president Jess Mayfield said. The sewer plant has a daily capacity to treat 400,000 gallons of wastewater, he said.
“We don’t like it so close to the community because of the smell and the contamination of the water,” Perez, a school maintenance man, said.