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Waller County approves landfill lawsuit settlement

Missed this when it first came out.


After two fraught years of legal battle, the lawsuit over a proposed Waller County landfill came to a quiet close Friday with a deal that ensures the civil case against the county will not be appealed but that does not prevent the landfill from being built.

The county commissioners court’s 3-2 vote Friday morning to approve the settlement comes two months after a jury found that commissioners violated transparency laws in agreeing to host the 250-acre landfill near the small city of Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. The settlement voids the county’s 2013 ordinance and host agreement authorizing the waste site while stipulating that the county will pay $570,000 in attorneys’ fees incurred by the plaintiffs, the city of Hempstead and the group Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead.

However, the fate of the project remains in limbo, as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, not Waller County, has final say over whether the landfill gets built. The landfill company’s permit application is scheduled to be reviewed in a contested case hearing in August.

“This landfill has caused a lot of damage in this county,” County Judge Trey Duhon said before voting to approve the settlement, which he said he believes is in the county’s best interest, fees and all. “I hope this is an opportunity for this county to start to heal.”


Following the commissioners court’s discussion and approval of the settlement, retired state District Judge Terry Flenniken signed the final judgment, calling the case to a close before some 30 attendees, many of whom had been present throughout the trial.

“This is what Waller County wanted,” said Brent Ryan, an attorney for the landfill company, Pintail. He reiterated that the company is moving forward with its plans for the waste site.

Now the county is shifting attention to the contested case hearing in August over Pintail’s permit application, and to developing a comprehensive waste management plan.

“With this order,” Duhon said, “our work is just beginning.”

See here and here for the background. As the story says, this is still far from over. I can’t say I have much faith in a state agency to do the right thing on an environmental issue, but I suppose anything is possible. We’ll find out in August. The Stop Highway 6 Landfill webpage is back up and running, and their Facebook page is active, so you can keep on top of things in the meantime. An email sent from Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead to supporters about the settlement is beneath the fold, and a copy of the agreement itself is here.

Dear CALH Member,

This is the latest update on CALH activities over the last week or two for your consideration.

On February 20, 2015, all parties to the lawsuit filed by the City of Hempstead and joined by CALH against Waller County and Pintail Landfill, LLC, reached a settlement agreement, thus avoiding going back into the 506th District Court to continue with the trial before Senior District Judge Terry L. Flenniken. Reaching the settlement on February 20th was not without incident, but none-the-less a settlement was reached.

As you recall, on December 18, 2014, the jury in the 506th District Court found for CALH and the City of Hempstead in the suit against Waller County including the elected officials of Waller County in their official capacities and Pintail Landfill, LLC. 11 of the jurors voted “yes” on all the questions asked of them and even the 12th juror voted yes on 8 of the 9 questions asked. CALH feels vindicated by the results of the jury trial and the settlement agreement.

A copy of the Compromise Settlement Agreement and Release is attached for your review, however, a summary of it follows. Accordingly, the 506th District Court rendered the Agreed Final Judgment to include:

The Waller County Ordinance No. 2013-001 is void.
The Host Agreement between Waller County, Texas and Pintail Landfill, LLC is void.
The City of Hempstead will recover $245,000 in attorneys’ fees from Waller County.
CALH will recover $325,000 in attorneys’ fees from Waller County.
Although the release specifically excludes, and expressly preserves, any claims, defenses, assertions, or causes of action related to or arising out of the Waller County Ordinance No. 2011-001, the release provides that all parties agree on behalf of itself and its assigns, never again to bring suit in any court against any of the other parties with respect to any claims.

At this point, we now proceed headlong into the Contested Case Hearing (CCH) to be heard before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) Court to be held in Austin. Trial preparation has been underway for 3 months or so and presently experts on both sides are being deposed in preparation for trial.

You might ask about where we are financially in this effort, given the award of $325,000 from Waller County. The funds will be used to pay the balance of our legal fees from the Waller County trial, however, the $325,000 will not be enough to fund all of our efforts as it relates to the CCH. Thus, our garage sales must continue and our major fundraiser scheduled for July 25th must be held to help fund all of our activities. In addition, to those that have budgeted for and have been making monthly contributions to our efforts, we ask for your continued support. We still have a long way to go and your support is greatly appreciated.

One other recent development concerns the Travis County Court and our lawsuit against the TCEQ to appeal the issuance of the transfer station registration, to which the City of Hempstead was also a party. As you may recall, in September 2013, a Travis County Court upheld the TCEQ’s decision to issue the transfer station registration. On November 12, 2014, CALH and the City of Hempstead filed an appeal of that ruling with the 3rd Court of Appeals. On February 25, 2015, CALH and the City of Hempstead filed their initial brief with the Court of Appeals, which is available for viewing on CALH’s website (see links below). The initial brief sets forth how the TCEQ erred in granting the transfer station registration. CALH and the City of Hempstead have requested an opportunity for oral argument which, if granted, will be held in Austin and open to the public. We will continue to keep you updated on the status of this appeal.

As has been demonstrated over the past 44 months, together we are making headway in this fight against the Pintail Landfill and we are confident that we will continue to do so. Thank you for your continued participation and support.


Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead

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