Woman protests Formosa

A woman who identified herself only as Ashley Moon Walker, of the organization 350 New Orleans, begins a chant with a fellow activist at Cox’s Creek on Saturday before a kayak tour near Formosa Plastics.

A federal judge Wednesday heard about how effective Formosa Plastics Corp. is at catching and cleaning up pellets and powder at and around its plant in Calhoun County.

For about two hours, Senior U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt listened to the testimony of John Hyak, the water utility manager at Formosa’s plant in Point Comfort. Hoyt will determine whether Formosa violated the Clean Water Act, as alleged by the San Antonio Bay Estaurine Waterkeeper. The environmental group wants Formosa to pay $184 million to the federal government for the alleged violations.

When Hyak was directly examined by Attorney Diana Nichols, he said that not only does Formosa comply with its permit from the state, but a contractor responsible for monitoring the environment surrounding the plant said the pellets had had “no adverse impacts.”

Hyak said Formosa had even participated in Operation Clean Sweep, an international program to prevent and keep plastic out of bodies of water.

But when he was cross-examined, Hyak said Formosa participated in Operation Clean Sweep only after members of the environmental group that filed the current lawsuit pointed out it existed. And he conceded that contractors who clean up the pellets and powder with fishnets and vacuums do not work the entire time plant is operating.

Amy Johnson, the attorney who cross-examined Hyak, also asked about projects that had been proposed to control the pellets and powders.

Hyak said Formosa had not done all of what an outside engineering firm had recommended to improve its wastewater and stormwater collection systems in 2013. And two other improvements mentioned in court have yet to be completed despite being discussed for years. One was a retention pond. Hyak swore it was in the design phase, though.

Johnson then asked Hyak whether he had confirmed pellets had escaped from the plant as far back as 2004. She said she had seen documents that showed the pellets were brought to his attention by a contractor then.

“I don’t recall the specific year,” he said.

The trial is expected to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in a courtroom on the fourth floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building, 312 S. Main St.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest has done a little bit of everything since moving to Victoria in 2012. She was a regular fixture in the Crossroads’ historic courthouses, but now slathers on the sunscreen to report on the environment.

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