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State investigates Calhoun commissioner's burning of beach trash

By Melissa Crowe
Aug. 22, 2013 at 3:22 a.m.
Updated Aug. 23, 2013 at 3:23 a.m.

Port Lavaca residents are concerned about a recent trash burn by Precinct 1 County Commissioner Roger Galvan. Residents in a nearby neighborhood are worried that hazardous materials could leach into the bay about a half a mile away.

TCEQ RULES

• Household trash can only be burned when the local government does not collect it or authorize a service to do so.

• The waste must come from a private residence with no more than three families and must be burned on the property where it was produced.

• Rural homeowners can transport yard waste to a designated burn site, rather than having several small fires within rural neighborhoods.

The site must be designated with postings at all entrances and have a specified list of residential properties it is designated for.

• The only waste burned can be trees, brush, grass, leaves, branch trimmings or other plant growth.

Source: TCEQ "Outdoor Burning in Texas"

A Calhoun County commissioner is under investigation for burning household and beach trash at the county fairgrounds.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality began a second investigation Wednesday on Precinct 1 Commissioner Roger Galvan.

"TCEQ apparently doesn't like for me to burn," Galvan said. "They told me not to bring any brush from the beach to burn; now, I guess I have to burn at the beach."

The state agency received complaints Wednesday and July 8 about trash being burned at the Calhoun County Fairgrounds, according to TCEQ records.

Galvan, who oversees Magnolia Beach, initially declined to comment for this story but then agreed to talk. He said the issue stems from a "personal vendetta" brought on by a small group of residents.

Burning brush has been his practice for 14 years, and the two complaints he received this summer are the first he's heard against it, he said.

Teri Austin, a volunteer with Adopt-A-Beach and a Magnolia Beach resident, said she contacted the state agency after her complaint fell on deaf ears at the county commissioners court meetings.

"I found out by asking questions that he's been doing this for several years, piling it up then burning it," Austin, 51, said.

As someone who takes part in beach cleanups, she said she is concerned about what toxins are released and leached into the water and air from burning plastic, aluminum, tires, and other chemically based products.

The complaints state that trash from the Independence Day celebration on Magnolia Beach was collected, illegally stored and burned, as well as garbage collected from other beach clean-ups.

Galvan said his crew picked up July 4th firework trash, and a lot of aluminum beer cans were included.

"We threw it all in there," Galvan said. "The guys didn't have time to nitpick through it, and I don't have the manpower" to sort it.

Galvan denied having ever burned household trash.

Austin said the public restrooms were closed during the holiday, leaving beach-goers to resort to drastic measures.

"We were picking up dirty diapers. ... We found a 5-gallon bucket full of human waste," she said.

She said the volunteers assumed the trash was taken to Waste Management, not burned.

"I never expected it to get to the level it's at now," she said. "I never expected to find the pile I found behind the fairgrounds. I never expected to see it burning like I have twice now."

She said it has grown into a moral issue.

TCEQ investigated a site in the rear portion of the fairgrounds Wednesday and July 16, where the burning allegedly occurred.

During the investigation, violations of the outdoor burning rules and solid waste disposal rules were noted, according to the complaint reports.

The TCEQ's Corpus Christi Region Office conducted an investigation Wednesday.

Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for TCEQ, said the investigation is still open and declined to comment on the case.

Galvan said he has an 8-yard Dumpster that Waste Management picks up weekly, "but trash and weeds and palm leaves, that I burn."

The agency told him to get a license or permit to burn, he said.

However, Austin said that isn't the case.

"The problem is he's not burning just brush; the smoke was black," Austin said. "There were tires in there, things that we've got to start disposing of properly."

Galvan said it's an economic issue. He estimated that illegal dumping and beach cleanup costs county taxpayers $50,000 annually.

Garbage collection for Magnolia Beach, which is in Galvan's precinct, is budgeted for $21,840 in 2014, the same amount as in the 2013 budget.

He said burning saves taxpayer money.

TCEQ stopped him from burning Wednesday.

"I burned nothing but brush; somebody complained about it," Galvan said. "The smoke has never bothered anybody. ... All of a sudden, apparently, they just didn't want to see that."

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