Nordheim residents protest planned oil-field cleaning station

Sonny Long

May 15, 2013 at 12:15 a.m.
Updated May 16, 2013 at 12:16 a.m.

Kathy Payne, the mayor of Nordheim, a town of 307 residents, is protesting the building of an oil-field waste facility only a 1/4 mile from the town.

Kathy Payne, the mayor of Nordheim, a town of 307 residents, is protesting the building of an oil-field waste facility only a 1/4 mile from the town.   Sonny Long for The Victoria Advocate

NORDHEIM - Kathy Payne, mayor of Nordheim, is fighting mad.

Plans to build a commercial waste disposal facility on Hohn Road only a quarter mile from the small DeWitt County town has her rancor up, as well as that of landowners adjacent to the 200-plus acres where the plant is proposed to be built.

"It has upset the whole town," Payne said. "We may only be 307 people, but we're 307 good people. And we have 150 kids in our school."

Payne said she is surprised the Railroad Commission of Texas, the agency that issues the permits for such facilities, is allowing it to be built so close to a town.

"I hate to say, 'Go put it somewhere else,' but I just don't want it that close to my town," said the mayor.

"I have to take care of my city. My biggest worry is our water," said the mayor.

Nordheim has two wells and a groundwater storage tower that holds "three days worth of water," said Payne, who did not receive any formal notice from the company that the plant was planned so close to Nordheim.

The first Payne knew of the facility was when she saw a legal notice in the Yorktown newspaper.

"I saw the ad and said, 'Holy hell! What is this? Only a quarter mile from my town. Wait a minute.'"

Payne sent a letter of protest to the Railroad Commission expressing her concerns not only about the potential impact on the town's water system but also about the smell from the facility and the possibility of a fire.

"What if it caught on fire? There's no fire department around here that can handle that," Payne said. "They say it's never happened, but I hate when people say something has never happened."

Landowners protest, too

Paul Baumann got a big surprise in the mail one day in April - two large folders detailing plans for the waste disposal facility on Hohn Road to be built by Pyote Reclamation Services, of San Antonio.

"I was upset bad - upset to where I couldn't sleep at night," said Baumann, whose brother, Phillip Baumann's, home is also on land adjacent to the proposed plant.

"This is right next to my rental property and my old homestead. I called, one guy listed in the folder and he said they wanted to be good neighbors. I told him good neighbors don't do that to you."

Baumann's rental property and its water well and the land where the plant will be located share a fence line.

"I won't be able to rent my house out because you are close enough to throw a rod and reel out and hit it," Baumann said.

"My property values are going to go down to nothing. I figure in 10 years, I'll probably lose $150,000."

In his protest letter to the Railroad Commission Baumann wrote, "My water well and rent house are within 100 feet of the proposed waste pond. I am very concerned that my water source and the land would be subject to contamination from the disposal products and runoffs."

In his letter, Baumann also mentioned concerns about traffic on the narrow road and the potential effect on the environment.

Baumann, who is on the Nordheim school board, said it's not just his land he's concerned about.

"This not only affects my land, it affects the city of Nordheim," he said. "It's only a quarter mile away, and our schools are only four more blocks.

"I don't know if they are trying to do away with Nordheim or what."

Kevin Styra, whose 3-year-old house is across Hohn Road from the proposed plant, works offshore on an oil rig.

He, too, has sent in a letter of protest to the Railroad Commission.

"I'm pro-drilling and exploratory work; that's how I make my living," Styra said. "But this is something that will be a devastation, not just to the landowners, but to this whole community.

"This community is just starting to come out of a slump its been in for years. We need to boost the economy, but that's not the kind of boost we're looking for."

Payne said Nordheim - whose only retail outlets include a cafe, grocery store, bank, post office, beauty shop and two bars - is not reaping any great benefits from the oil boom.

"People think the town is getting rich off the oil, but we're not," she said. "They're getting rich around us in Westhoff and in Yorktown."

The company, the commission

Pyote Reclamation Services, of San Antonio, is planning on building the facility on land leased from Paisano DeWitt, owned by Pete Dlugosch.

"The facility will accept exclusively nonhazardous oil and gas waste from operations conducted throughout the Eagle Ford Shale," said Kelly Beck of Daniel B. Stephens & Associates, Inc., the company's engineering firm.

"The facility will be constructed as required by the Railroad Commission rules and regulations for commercial units and designed to be protective of soil and groundwater."

A similar plant is also planned for Eckhardt Road, 3 1/2 miles from Nordheim. Similar protests to that plant are being made by adjacent landowners.

Beck said the company is an experienced oil and gas waste management company with operations in about a dozen locations including Cuero and Yorktown. Those facilities are saltwater disposal plants.

Railroad Commission staff has started its review of the Hohn Road application, said Ramona Nye, commission spokeswoman.

The approximate time frame for completing an initial technical review of an application is about 45-60 days from the date it is received, said Nye.

The protest letters by landowners and the residents of Nordheim have gotten the attention of the Railroad Commission, and a public hearing on the project is likely.

If a proposed reclamation plant is protested, then the applicant must either request a hearing on the application within 30 days of being notified by the commission about the protest, or the application process ends, and the application is returned to the applicant, Nye explained.

"Numerous protests to the (Hohn Road) application have been received," said Nye. "At the hearing, commission technical and legal examiners will hear the permit applicant's and protestors' evidence.

"The applicant must prove that the permitted plant can be operated in compliance with commission rules, including a demonstration that the operations will not result in pollution of surface or groundwater."

Nye said about three months after the hearing, after receiving a report from staff, the Railroad Commission can rule on the permit application.

Baumann said the process should have never gotten this far, and he points a finger directly at landowner Dlugosch, who declined to comment for this story.

From near the porch of his rent house, Baumann said, "I could sit there and see Nordheim and hear bands playing when they had bands in town.

"I'm disappointed in Dlugosch. I figured he cared more about the community of Nordheim than putting something like this out here."



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