By Van Weldon
CLEVELAND — After 22 years farming produce about 50 miles north of Houston, Van Weldon found himself, with neighboring farms and families in a battle to keep ground water pristine.
With the Sam Houston National Forest being the natural cleanser for shallow groundwater wells in the area, the question of water quality for irrigation and drinking has never been an issue. However, a group of investors is seeking permission to build a landfill facility nearby.
The landfill — Peach Creek Environmental Park — is to be located about 7 miles northwest of Cleveland.
The Mississippi-based owners have a permit request in front of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to be built on land abutting that owned by Weldon for the Wood Duck Farm.
Area residents began researching implications that come with a landfill, such as smell, water contamination, traffic congestion and road deterioration, as well as what other farms in different parts of Texas did when a landfill attempted to move into their neighborhood.
One such issue involves the possibility of up to 300 garbage trucks each day traveling to the landfill, past some of Weldon’s strawberry fields. The Food Safety Modernization Act, however, points out that “there have been far too many foodborne illness outbreaks possibly linked to pre-harvest agricultural water in recent years, including water coming from lands nearby produce farms.”
Another issue is wildlife, specifically seagulls, which are attracted to landfills for the easy food access. Weldon said that birds are so prevalent at landfills, and a risk for airplanes, that federal laws prohibit landfills being built near airports.
He pointed to studies about the impact of birds on farms, which would be significant, and detrimental to his fruit gardens through contamination.
Water contamination also is a huge concern, Weldon said. Storm water runoff could be a potential source of pathogens, and under certain conditions, the landfill will be able to discharge leachate from storage tanks into the nearby Jayhawker Creek, which drains into Lake Houston.
Weldon said no laws prevent landfills from being placed near national forests or in floodplains.
“You’ve heard the phrase putting lipstick on a pig? Here’s a good example,” he said. “These investors are taking a sour real estate deal and turning it into a landfill.”
Weldon and others have sought help from numerous agencies over the past few months, including the Texas Farm Bureau, area legislators, and even the San Jacinto County Commission.
Weldon said he even gave a speech in which he exhorted Gov. Greg Abbott to help him and other area landowners in their quest; according to his research, landfill permits in Texas have a 94 percent approval rate.
“One reason for this high approval rate may come from the strong ‘solid waste lobby’ that helps keep state legislation in Austin ‘waste disposal industry friendly,’” he said.
Weldon said that his goal isn’t to shut down the landfill, but to urge the company to seek a more suitable site.
“We realize that landfills are necessary in today’s world, but we think that a better location exists,” he said. “Whether you’re a tree hugger or a deer hunter, this landfill location just doesn’t make any sense. So far, almost 2,000 public comments have been sent to the TCEQ, not one public comment speaking in favor for the landfill.”