By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Councilman Don Hicks is between a dump and a hard place.
Pleasant Grove homeowners are furious with Hicks because for the last several months he has been meeting with T.E. Frossard Jr., a Highland Park developer whose family owns 40 acres of arid, hole-filled land in Pleasant Grove next to a huge illegal dump that burned out of control for two months last spring.
Frossard Jr. has been trying to get a city permit to fill his land, once heavily mined for gravel, with dirt and rock from the Central Expressway excavation. But the residents who live downwind from the smelly, vermin-laden dump next door don't trust Frossard's plans and view Hicks' efforts to help him with suspicion.
At the last meeting between Frossard and Hicks, angry residents showed up and told Hicks they thought he was a traitor. Hicks did not return several calls from the Dallas Observer. His administrative assistant, Steve Williams, says Hicks has tried to explain to the neighborhood that what Frossard wants to do is legal. But, he says, they refuse to listen.
"They don't trust anyone," Williams says. "Anything that starts out legal in their minds goes bad. But I understand their frustration. I wouldn't trust them if I lived there either."
Indeed, this Pleasant Grove neighborhood came by their distrust the hard way. Resident Harold Cox and others have been fighting against illegal dumping of refuse on land near their houses since 1982 ["Dumped on," August 7]. Back then, city inspectors found that the owner of an 80-acre parcel of land--Terry Van Sickle--was dumping illegal refuse there and gave him a $35 citation. Follow-up inspections claimed that Van Sickle was only allowing dirt to be dumped on the property, which is permissible under state law.
But neighbors insisted that the illegal dumping never stopped. Several years later, the state won a civil lawsuit against Van Sickle and Horrice Sampson, who leased the land and operated the dump. The men were supposed to clean up the property, but never did. In the early 1990s, Herman Nethery bought the property and set out to create the largest illegal dumpsite in the state. Despite city code enforcement's yearlong effort to shut Nethery down, he continued to allow illegal materials to be dumped there. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission eventually conducted an undercover operation that put Nethery out of business. Nethery was indicted on state criminal charges of racketeering. The criminal case is pending. The city and state also sued Nethery for civil penalties and damages. The suit was tried in September, and a jury found that Nethery was liable for $1.4 million in damages to the city and $15 million in penalties to the state. A ruling on civil penalties to the city is awaiting a judge's ruling.
"Collecting is going to be problematic, but we'll collect what we can," says Ronald Stutes, a city attorney.
Several months after the indictment, the dump caught on fire, sending noxious fumes throughout the neighborhood. Cleanup costs are estimated at $20 million, but the city has yet to figure out who is going to pay. Meanwhile, the dump sits there, an eyesore in a neighborhood that has seen its property values plummet. The residents, the majority of whom are black, recently filed a civil rights suit against the city.
The dumping that was done on the Frossard property next door was never as egregious, but there were still problems. In the late 1980s, the state also sued Frossard and Maurice Faulk, who leased the land, for illegal dumping. Since then, says Frossard, they have only permitted clean fill--dirt, rock, concrete--to be dumped there.
Under city and state law, landowners are allowed to put clean fill on their property without getting a permit. Last January, however, the City Council passed an ordinance--proposed by Councilman Larry Duncan--requiring a permit for dumping clean fill. Last spring, Frossard applied for a permit from the city building inspection office. He received a permit briefly. But when neighbors complained to the city and to Councilman Hicks, building inspectors revoked the permit. They alleged that a salvage operation with junked cars was being operated on the property--an unpermitted use in the area.
Frossard has a contract with Granite Construction Co. to fill the property up to street level with debris excavated from Central Expressway between Haskell and Fitzhugh avenues. He has applied for a special-use permit from the city, which comes up before the City Plan Commission November 6. In the meantime, Frossard says that Faulk is in the process of clearing the junk cars and other equipment from the premises.
"We've been trying to fill the property ever since we bought it 10 to 12 years ago with a truckload here, a truckload there," says Frossard. "It hasn't been very fast. But the Granite Construction contract would allow us to fill it up fast. The neighbors complain about snakes and mosquitoes and wild dogs coming from here. I am trying to correct this. All I'm trying to do is get the land back to where it was before."
Frossard offered to hire someone from the neighborhood, put them in an air-conditioned trailer on the property, and have them inspect the trucks that dump on the property to make sure there is only clean fill being dumped. The neighborhood has not gotten back to him on his proposal.