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Cap the San Jacinto Waste Pits, Save Galveston Bay
by JT Edwards
Sunday, September 24, 2017

The San Jacinto River Waste Pits were created in the 1960s when International Paper's predecessor company, Champion Paper, contracted with McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation to carry industrial waste and paper-mill sludge, including highly toxic dioxin, to a 20-acre dump site on the San Jacinto river bank. Over time, this area was “forgotten” after being abandoned by the owner. In 2005, this area was re-discovered, and then declared a Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008.

On Friday, September 15th, EPA Secretary Pruitt toured the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, located beneath Interstate 10 and the San Jacinto River, to better assess the situation. Secretary Pruitt has announced his intention to communicate by October 14th, 2017, the remediation plan for this site.

There is strong consensus among all parties that a permanent solution to protect our bay from the risk of toxic dioxin spillage is needed. On September 28th, 2016 the EPA proposed a plan to remove the temporary cap currently protecting our bay, build a hermetically sealed 14 acre cofferdam over 13 feet high, dredge the waste from its current location, and haul it across Texas in approximately 15,000 truckloads to an undetermined location at a cost of approximately 155 Million dollars. The other option is to apply a permanent cap on the waste pits in order to isolate and contain the toxic material as it degrades over time.

Concerned business owners, property owners, along with recreational and commercial fishermen, founded Galveston Maritime Business Association (GMBA). After reviewing the results of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) evaluation of the San Jacinto Waste Pits feasibility study, GMBA calls for a permanent cap to be placed over the existing temporary cap in order to contain and isolate the toxic material and thereby safeguard our community's health, environment, and local businesses.

The USACE report clearly notes that removal/dredging is the riskiest alternative available. Dredging at this particular site is a colossal engineering challenge that poses a very real threat to Galveston Bay, even in ideal conditions. That is, if the EPA manages to pull off the operation without a hitch, the Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) has stated in their feasibility study that inevitable losses of dioxin will raise fish tissue toxicity concentrations dozens of times over for several years. Why would we want to risk the very real likelihood of spilling dioxin into our bay waters, furthering environmental damage and shutting down our waters thereby lowering our property values, damaging Galveston Bay recreational and commercial fishing, and destroying Texans ability to enjoy both San Jacinto and Galveston Bay? This is an unacceptable risk. We don’t need to see a re-creation of the EPA’s ’15 Colorado Gold Mine wastewater spill.

To dredge the San Jacinto Waste Pits, contractors will have to remove the temporary cap and expose the dioxin to the environment for a minimum of 18 -24 months while the threat of heavy rains or seasonal hurricanes exit. Once completed, it should be noted that they would still place a permanent cap over the remaining toxic material. Imagine if dredging had begun a year ago and the waste pits were currently exposed. A very real event like Hurricane Harvey would have caused catastrophic losses as dioxin would have spilled into our bay and shut down our waters for decades.

The Army Corp of Engineers has stated that permanent caps across the country have been meet with "routine reliability." Reinforcing the temporary cap with a permanent cap is the safest and most effective way to ensure that the material will be contained and isolated from the environment. We know by the most recent “stress-test” of Hurricane Harvey, that the temporary cap did what it was expected and supposed to do - contained the material and kept in from spilling out into the our bay.

Capping is by far the most effective method to safeguard our bays and waters. GMBA stands with the Texas Restaurant Association, the Galveston Restaurant Association, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Association of Manufacturers and others in strongly urging EPA Secretary Pruitt to rule with installing a permanent cap as the solution to contain the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.


JT Edwards

Executive Director - Galveston Maritime Business Association

Remembering Jim Guidry

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