Resolutions on sludge permits OK'd in advance of tonight's meetings

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

April 14, 2008 - Members of the Hopkins County Commissioners Court passed two resolutions beseeching the state environmental agency to hold hearings on two permits sought by an Arkansas company to dispose of sludge in Hopkins County.

Commissioners Danny Evans, Burk Bullock and Beth Wisenbaker joined Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap in unanimously approving the resolutions in advance of a meeting on the sludge disposal issue scheduled for 6 p.m. this evening in the Hopkins County Courthouse. Commissioner Don Patterson was absent from the meeting as he was attending the funeral of one of his Precinct 3 employees, Daniel Eppars, who died Friday.

Residents in the area affected by the proposed sludge disposal plans have organized a meeting for tonight at 6 p.m. The meeting, open to the public, will either be held in the commissioners courtroom or the district courtroom on the third floor, depending on the size of the crowd that shows up.

Millsap estimated that between 200 and 300 people attended the last meeting held on the matter.

Commissioners were told that a representative of an organization in Hunt County that battled a similar situation will be speaking at tonight's meeting.

Terra Renewal Services Inc., a Russellville, Ark.,-based company, has applied to the state's environmental authority for permits to dispose of sludge in the county.

The company has applied for two permits from the state for the disposal of wastewater treatment plant sludge. One would authorize disposal on about 400 acres of land south of FM 71 about two miles east of the intersection with FM 2235. The other is for a tract of 164 acres on County Road 4508, about three-quarters of a mile east of State Highway 19 and about 3 1/2 miles north of Sulphur Springs.

The resolutions ask the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which issues the permits, to hold public hearings in Hopkins County before deciding to approve or reject the requests.

"The disposal of wastewater treatment plant sludge can adversely affect the environment and health and safety of local citizens," the resolutions state, adding that the sludge "may include various contaminants, such as human waste, disease pathogens, and harmful chemicals ..."

Millsap said county officials are concerned about the possible impact of the sludge on both water quality and safety, as well as the impact of increased traffic to transport the industrial waste t the areas.

The resolutions passed without comment, but one citizen later asked the commissioners court members if they could require the state environmental agency to conduct tests on the properties mentioned in the permits.

Millsap told the questioner that there is little the county government can do as far as forcing any actions by TCEQ.

"Most of this case is before TCEQ, and it's out of our hands," Millsap said.

But the county judge also said elected officials are trying to find out what measures can be implemented in the future to address similar scenarios.

"We're still getting advice from our attorney on that," he said.

"We have got to first go through TCEQ," Precinct 4 Commissioner Danny Evans added. "You have to realize that we're learning as we go on this. We're willing to learn, but we've got to make sure we get all our 'i's dotted and our 't's crossed," Evans said.

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