McKinney resident Bill Lynch doesn't know exactly what caused the strange turtle his daughters named Godzilla to wash up dead from the East Fork of the Trinity River behind his home, but he has his suspicions.
"It's all mutated and weird," Lynch says of Godzilla, one of three turtles he has found dead on the riverbank in the past year or so. "I've got it in a bucket of alcohol in my garage."
Godzilla's shell was twisted and pinched together to form a ridge, and Lynch believes the turtle was mutated by pollution, much like its movie namesake. He knows that the source of his drinking water, Lake Lavon, located on the Trinity upstream from his home, is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a threatened water source. Pesticides from runoff and other chemicals from municipal wastewater discharge have been found in relatively high levels in the lake and East Fork of the Trinity.
While no one can know exactly what killed Godzilla and the other turtles, Lynch and others are worried about water quality, and they are fighting a Dallas businessman's plans to open a landfill on McKinney's east side, near the river. The issue pits environmentalists, McKinney city leaders, and residents against Tom Brosseau, president of Construction Recycling Waste Corp., in a battle that includes claims of environmental racism: The landfill would be located in a predominately poor and minority neighborhood already home to auto junkyards, scrap-metal recycling plants, and a gun range. Brosseau, who also is senior vice president of a Dallas real estate and development company, wants to turn a limestone quarry on Highway 380 into a landfill that will contain concrete, steel, wood, and other demolition materials.
That sounds like pretty benign stuff, but opponents want to know who will guarantee nothing more noxious will wind up in their neighborhood. The answer is certainly not the state of Texas.
Brosseau first filed for a permit from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in 1998. Since then, the TNRCC has sent back the application nine times for Brosseau to fix technical problems and inconsistencies, each time granting him an extension on the deadline for completing the permit. (Since he began seeking his permit, the TNRCC has limited to four the number of times an application can be returned before it's rejected.) Brosseau now has until August to amend his application, and TNRCC spokesman Ruben Ochoa says he expects the commission to consider whether to grant the permit in September.
The city already has a landfill, scheduled to close in 2003, and Brosseau's project, if approved, would be the eighth permitted construction landfill in Collin County and the 33rd in Texas.
Local residents and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club fear that if Brosseau builds his landfill, he could later seek a change in its state permit that would allow it to accept household trash. Even if it is limited to construction material, opponents don't believe that the developer will closely monitor exactly what is hauled in. The TNRCC cannot check every load that comes into a landfill and relies instead on "voluntary compliance" by operators, TNRCC spokesman Patrick Shaughnessy says. "All we can do is tell them the rules," he says. Landfill operators are expected to truthfully report what goes into their landfills, provide accurate water and soil samples, and self-regulate.
Rita Beving of the environmental group the Sierra Club says TNRCC should not trust industry to self-regulate. "Why should we have confidence that he'll follow the rules?" Beving asks. "Isn't it amazing that this real estate man wakes up one day, rolls up his sleeves, and decides he wants to get into the trash business?"
Lynch has been more direct in questioning the integrity of the landfill developer, even launching an attack against the men who sold the land where the project would be located. In 1995, he posted fliers that claimed the landfill would be a "Fly & Maggot infested, AIDS/HIV tainted, Raw human sewage disposal site, thanks to Doug Yarborough, B.J. Webster, and Billy Sportsman." Doug Yarborough is a McKinney developer who tried to open a septic waste dump at the same location in 1995, but later withdrew after strong criticism from local opponents. Billy Jack Webster and Billy Sportsman own property surrounding the 136-acre site and previously owned the proposed landfill property.
Angered, Sportsman offered $1,000 cash bounty for the name of whoever posted the flier. After Lynch announced during a McKinney City Council meeting that he was the culprit and demanded his $1,000, Sportsman sued him for libel, eventually winning a $1,000 award for damages and $3,000 for legal fees.
Like Lynch, McKinney City Council member Bill Whitfield is upset about developers' repeated attempts to build a landfill on the city's east side.
"When we moved, there was a landfill here earlier in McKinney," Whitfield says. "It was the most hideous-looking thing you've ever seen as you drive by."
He says east McKinney has become an easy target for eyesores such as auto-salvage and recycling sites. "The citizens of McKinney on the east side are historically a minority of poorer people. They don't deserve another landfill. Let's put one in Stonebridge or Eldorado," he says, referring to the nearby affluent communities on McKinney's west side. "I don't know if I can say this, but the people in east McKinney have been dumped on."
The Collin County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has held meetings to encourage opposition among the black community. "The people on the west side of McKinney were not going to receive this landfill," chapter President Larry Jagers says. "Brosseau feels like the people on the east side are not knowledgeable and informed about this landfill. It's just not fair."
Brosseau's company wrote in a public notice that the landfill "will not contaminate any water source, since the materials that go into the facility are not contaminants by nature. We know what comes in the gate because we are required to inspect everyone's material at least three times." At that time, his company stated that it would take between seven and 12 years to fill the property.
Yet in Construction Recycling's own handbook on landfill procedures, the company states that "the gate attendant will randomly inspect four out of every 10 waste-hauling trucks that pull up to the inspection area."
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Brosseau refused the Dallas Observer's repeated requests for an interview, but has told the The Dallas Morning News and McKinney Courier-Gazette at different times that the landfill would be full in 12 to 15 years, 10 to 15 years, or five to seven years.
After McKinney city officials wrote a letter refusing to take a stand on the landfill, Brosseau offered to turn the landfill over to the city for a park once it's full--along with a pot of cash. "We propose to contribute to a city fund of your choice, 3 percent of the gross annual revenues of the recycling and landfill facility up to $25,000 per year for a period of 10 years," he wrote the city in a March 1999 letter. "This $250,000 contribution can be used by the city for beautification projects or how it sees fit."
The offer wasn't enough, and in January McKinney Mayor Don Dozier sent a letter to the TNRCC stating that the city is "opposed to the issuance of a permit for this facility."
Whitfield also sent the TNRCC a letter of opposition early in the year, but he says he doubts the TNRCC will stop the landfill permit from being granted. "It's been my experience with TNRCC that they're just a bureaucracy that moves slowly and have their standards. They move inside the box," Whitfield says. "I wish it would just go away."