Go Dump in the Lake

Assistant Dallas City Manager Charles W. Daniels has not returned my phone calls concerning the potential of an explosive and toxic waste dump on city of Dallas property on the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard and within a few hundred feet of a hotel. I notice that over the course of several months he also has not returned calls from other media, according to their reports.

There's a reason for that. Daniels does not want to be questioned on the record about his continuing cover-up of a dangerous dump site at a city drinking-water reservoir.

Under Daniels' command, a criminal investigation into the dump site at Lake Ray Hubbard was quashed by city code compliance officials last summer. City marshals, ordered off the case by Daniels' employees, filed a formal grievance with the city over it. The marshals, who are the law enforcement arm of the city court system, kicked up such a hullabaloo that the city's Illegal Dump Team, of which they are members, was taken out from under Daniels' authority.

Right after Daniels' employees got caught trying to cover this thing up, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality jumped into the case with both feet. The TCEQ (formerly the TNRCC) hired consultants to use ground radar on the site at Interstate 30 and Dalrock Road, on the little peninsula you cross when you traverse the lake on the highway.

The state's consultant found strong evidence that somebody had buried something at the site. The original case developed by the Dallas marshal included evidence from two whistle-blowers: They said their former employer, Granite Construction Co., a highway and bridge builder based in California, had dumped oil, batteries, concrete-cleaning acid and other toxic wastes at the site over a period of years.

We're talking three feet under, a short distance from the shoreline, a few hundred feet from a hotel. The site belongs to the city and was leased to Granite for several years during the 1990s while Granite built the I-30 bridges. Granite operated a concrete batching plant there and maintained large supply dumps.

I talked last week to Dean Parsons, a former crane operator for Granite who was the original whistle-blower. I asked him what kinds of things were buried at the site. He told me his own original source of information had been a truck driver for Granite who had witnessed the dumping. I learned from state files that the truck driver is now cooperating with authorities.

Parsons said the truck driver came to him several times over a period of years in the late 1990s to share doubts and anxieties about what he was being told to do:

"The truck driver came to me two to three times and told me he personally watched while they put a barrel of concrete-removal acid [in the ground]." The acid, he said, "is used around batch plants to remove concrete. Plus there was a huge amount of used motor oil buried out there. The employees complained about it, that they couldn't keep it underground. It kept pumping up and they kept wasting [burying] material [over it], trying to keep it underground or covered."

Parsons said the arrangement and location of the Granite site made it difficult to see into from outside. "They could pretty well come and go as they pleased around there," he said.

Last July 22, the TCEQ sent Granite an official notice of violation and ordered the company to begin negotiating with the state and city on a cleanup plan. That cleanup was supposed to have begun last September 9, but when I took a little tour of the site last week, it was clear the dirt had not been scratched.

I called two of Granite's attorneys repeatedly--Albert Axe Jr. and H. Campbell Zachry of Jenkens & Gilchrist--but did not hear back from either of them. I was able to reach a company official, Mike Bonnino of Granite, who has been involved in meetings with the city and state on the case. He did talk to me (I wonder what he pays the high-dollar mouthpieces for). He said the company had proposed a plan for the cleanup. He said Granite was having trouble getting the city and state off the dime.

"They don't like our plan for some reason," he said. "We don't know why, and we're trying to meet and find out why. We damn near forgot about it. I thought they might have decided there really wasn't anything there. We're ready to do the work, which involves digging some trenches, seeing if there's anything down there."

Ummm...bit more than that, it seems.

I don't want to alarm any of the regular fishermen in that area, but my reading of the state's files in the case would indicate that there is some serious anxiety about the nature of what's down there. I guess if you take a bunch of barrels of concrete-cutting acid, a pickup-load or two of old batteries, several truckloads of used motor oil along with assorted other chemicals and substances, mix it all up real good, pour it in the ground, cover it up tight and let it cook for several years, you must be able to come up with some really bad stuff. I say this because of the precautions the state wants to impose on the cleanup operation.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze