The clock is ticking for the way of life that so many in Live Oak County and Atascosa County cherish .
Residents living within a 100-mile radius of Whitsett are encouraged to write to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) if they hope for any chance of stopping the construction of a hazardous waste processing facility. Although two February meetings at the Whitsett Community Center were held between the community and Zinc Resources LLC, the company planning to build the facility, there still has not been an official public hearing held with TCEQ.
Both Texas Senator Judith Zaffirini and Representative Ryan Guillen have written to TCEQ, requesting that a public hearing be held on this permit application.
On Dec. 14, 2020, Zinc Resources LLC applied to the TCEQ for an air quality permit for the construction of an Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) Dust Recycling Plant, permit number 163540. The proposed site is located at 657 FM Road 99 in Whitsett in northern Live Oak County, less than a 5-minute drive from the Atascosa County line.
According to the public notice published in The Progress newspaper in Live Oak County on Dec. 21, the facility will emit these contaminants: carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, nitrogen oxide, organic compounds, particulate matter including particulate matter with diameters of 10 microns or less and 2.5 microns or less, lead and sulfur dioxide.
After the Pleasanton Express published articles on the proposed plant in its Feb. 10 and Feb. 18 editions, staff have been contacted by people from as far away as Washington, D.C. to Corpus Christi who want to warn others about the dangers of such plants.
In 2010, the population of this small town was 123. So far, 37 people have submitted online comments to the TCEQ website with the majority stating their opposition to the plant. Some requested that a public hearing be held and some requested that the permit be denied.
One of the comments to TCEQ expressed, “We own a ranch approximately 30 miles from this site which will be effected from the toxins and pollutants emitted from this plant. This will affect our cattle, their drinking water, our land and our livelihood, as well as our quality of life as it is the air we breathe as well.”
One Whitsett resident wrote to TCEQ, “It has always been a safe place to live. We want it to stay that way. This zinc recycling plant will produce air pollutants which will cause life-threatening contaminants to our family. Lead exposure, for nearby residents. There is wildlife all over this area that will be impacted by the pollution to land, air and water. Our community is against it coming to Whitsett, Texas.”
Some of the comments brought up how near the proposed plant is to residents and a church.
“There is also a playground on community property and a church with a playground. Will the children here be able to have a safe place to play?” wrote one Whitsett resident.
“All of my family have lived here and raised their families here,” wrote another resident. “We would like to keep it this way and in doing so, we need your help and we need it very soon.”
Just like at the community meetings held, some residents shared concerns about the railroad being blocked because of the rail cars used for the plant.
“Another problem is our volunteer fire department will be blocked from going out if rails are blocked and they have numerous calls to IH-37 to go to wrecks as well as fires. Our school bus travels on the road that will be next to the plant property. I have two granddaughters that ride that bus and they will be exposed to toxins in the air when the windows are down on the bus.”
The Clean Economy Coalition, an environmental group based in Corpus Christi, also submitted a comment to TCEQ.
“While this is some distance from Corpus Christi, the facility will be located within 4,000 feet of the Atascosa River (which feeds into the Nueces River,” stated the comment. “Our concern, other than for the human health of residents of Whitsett, Texas where this facility will be operated, is that many of the air emissions (which include lead, chromium, cadmium, zinc and nickel) are heavy metals that will not stay airborne for long.”
He continued to state that once on the ground, these metals will wash into the Atascosa River and into the Nueces River, potentially impairing the water supply.
In early February, 74 Ranch LTD sent a letter to TCEQ explaining that, “Had TCEQ not required a sign of the permit application, we would have had no knowledge of this invasion by a hazardous waste facility. These actions exhibit Zinc Resources’ lack of respect for the community in which it plans to establish its hazardous waste business.”
The letter also requested a contested case hearing of Zinc Resources’ permit application, as 74 Ranch LTD will be uniquely impacted by the proposed facility.
“The 74 Ranch LTD has many concerns about hazardous waste operations upwind of the ranch as well as the ill effects on the environmental and public health. 74 Ranch has residents, staff, wildlife, clients, guests and oil and gas operations on the ranch. Should TCEQ issue the permit, 74 Ranch’s operations will be negatively impacted.”
74 Ranch LTD is requesting a contested case hearing so that evidence can be presented that Zinc Resources’ applications presents incorrect information and does not comply with applicable laws, further states the letter to TCEQ. The 74 Ranch identified the following:
•Incorrect source characterization.
“The application indicates that the plant will have the potential to annually emit over 99 tons of carbon monoxide, just under the 100 ton/year threshold at which this plant would become a major source of air contaminants. It is highly unlikely that this plant will remain under the 100 ton/year threshold given fuels,” states the letter from 74 Ranch.
It goes on to list other material deficiencies as: insufficient Best Available Control Technology (BACT) analysis, insufficient dispersion modeling and insufficient demonstration of compliance with applicable rules, as the National Wetlands Inventory identifies riverine and freshwater pond features on the facility site.
Please see the easy-tofollow infographic created by the Pleasanton Express, with instructions on how to write to TCEQ.