Trees are felled at a proposed site for a sewage treatment plant in Hockley, despite complaints from residents and approval pending a final decision from the Texas Environmental Quality Commission (Jishnu Nair /Community Impact Newspaper)
Residents of the Three Pines housing estate in Hockley are protesting pending approval for a sewage treatment plant and residential development set to be built near their home in 2022, citing the plant’s discharge in Spring Creek, which they believe could affect communities downstream.
The Texas Environmental Quality Commission gave preliminary approval to the project, despite hearing complaints at a public hearing in February.
The plant would treat domestic sewage before discharging it into Spring Creek, according to the permit application, which also said there were no nearby sewage services available in the area.
FM 2920 Land Company, Ltd. filed the TCEQ application for the plant, which is intended to serve an 82-acre prefab housing development known as The Enclave Rose Hill. The company is led by developer Jeff Mickler, president of Houston-area construction company Jacob White Construction and CEO of property management company Live Lone Star, according to his LinkedIn profile and those companies’ websites.
Development of The Enclave Rose Hill is expected to start in the third quarter of 2022 and go into service in 2023. DeAnn Thigpen, whose PR firm Rolling Water Group represents Live Lone Star, issued a statement on behalf of the company to Community Impact Newspaper, saying the company continues to work with residents about their concerns, citing proposals for a buffer zone that could be passed.
“We are committed to working with residents and being part of the community,” Thigpen said. “We continue to have face-to-face meetings with neighbors surrounding various parts of the project, many of whom have been very understanding and open about potential concerns.”
The TCEQ provided responses to public comments in late April. Before a final decision can be made, residents have the option of filing a request for a dispute hearing, which would be heard by the state Office of Administrative Hearings.
Danielle Comeau, who has lived in the area for 20 years, said she was “frustrated” with the processes that allowed the projects to come to fruition.
“It’s like these government agencies are trying to pass the buck when it comes to these processes,” Comeau said. “They are supposed to help us.”
Concerns were raised at the February public meeting about the plant spilling into Spring Creek, which could affect communities downstream. In response to public comments, the TCEQ said the draft permit was developed in accordance with Texas surface water quality standards and two reviews found “no significant decrease” in water quality. at Spring Creek.
“In order to achieve the objective of maintaining a level of water quality sufficient to protect existing uses of the water body, the draft permit contains several specific water quality parameter requirements that limit the ‘potential impact of the release on receiving waters,’ TCEQ wrote.
Residents also alleged that the plant could damage several wetlands connected to waterways, which are federally protected. While the federal Fish and Wildlife Service maps wetlands, related construction activities are regulated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The FWS Wetland Mapper shows at least one wetland within the project boundary, with several others near the subdivision. FM 2920 Land Company’s TCEQ permit application stated that its treated wastewater would flow into Spring Creek through an engineered ditch on the site, but did not describe the extent of the work involving wetlands.
Lynda Yezzi, the Corps’ Galveston District spokesperson, told the Community Impact newspaper that anyone attempting to do work that requires filling in wetlands would need to file a separate permit. FM 2920 Land Company has not confirmed whether the company has applied for a permit.
“In a very simple sense, if a permit application involves the placement of fill in United States waters – which include wetlands – applicants will likely need some sort of permission from the Corps to do the work” , Yezzi said.
In TCEQ’s preliminary decision, written by Executive Director Toby Baker, the agency said the plant “is not expected to have any effect on Federally Endangered or Threatened aquatic or aquatic-dependent species or proposed species. or their critical habitat”.
Baker also wrote that the permit did not require the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to review endangered or threatened species.
Thigpen said the company conducted assessments of threatened and endangered species as well as assessments of wetlands in the area for a “comprehensive environmental resource” as part of the TCEQ application.
“After extensive reviews of all data by engineers, scientists and our legal experts, the site was chosen because sensitive species and habitats were not present in the proposed development, primarily because this parcel of land is and has been used for forestry, the reason for ongoing timber harvesting,” Thigpen said.
Frustrations with the process
Comeau was one of many residents frustrated with the TCEQ licensing process. She said she was confused by the agency’s apparent acceptance of the application without asking questions.
“There are a lot of people involved,” Comeau said. “We keep hearing, it’s not our problem, call the engineering department, call the construction department. It’s very frustrating. I just don’t think the county understands.”
Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said in a statement to the Community Impact newspaper that he met with residents and raised his concerns with the county’s engineering department, the county attorney’s office and at the TCEQ.
“My office is working with these agencies to ensure that they require site developers to strictly adhere to all rules and regulations governing the site,” Cagle said.
The clearing of the plant site was visibly underway as early as May. However, an email from the Harris County Engineering Department that the Community Impact Newspaper obtained from Comeau said the department was due to inspect the site during the first week of May, and the enforcement coordinator of the county Debjani Chakravarty said the project had not received any permits. The engineering department did not respond to the Community Impact newspaper’s request for comment.
Thigpen said construction work was ‘not underway’ and the Harris County inspection was tied to permitting a storage container and mobile office for logging operations .
Residents have until May 30 to request a contested case hearing, which TCEQ commissioners must approve or deny at their meeting, according to the agency’s website. If the commissioners deny the request, residents can appeal the denial before filing a lawsuit in Travis County District Court.