Company asks to dispose waste near Green Lake

Two Whooping Cranes feed at a pond in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The endangered birds can be found at Green Lake.

A company that produces livestock feed is asking a state environmental agency for permission to dispose of hazardous waste in Calhoun County.

Novus International notified the public last week that it wishes to drill a well about 6,000 feet deep. The proposed well would be on a piece of land about 6.5 miles from Bloomington near Green Lake, where the company also plans to construct and operate a plant.

"This plant will produce an amino acid: methionine," said Richard Kifiel, Novus International's business director for the methionine expansion. "As part of manufacturing methionine, we produce a waste byproduct stream that is injected or essentially flows into the injection disposal well."

Methionine is an ingredient used in a feed the company produces called Alimet. It makes chickens larger faster, he said. Novus International is based in St. Charles, Mo.

The byproducts, according to the public notice, are hydroxy analog, hydrocyanic acid and 3-methylthio propionaldehyde.

Kifiel said the waste will be injected into sand layers, and the chemicals will not be able to migrate.

"We have a methionine plant located in the Houston area that has been using this deep well disposal technology for over 30 years," he said. "It is common technology used in the industry, and it really is the safest way to dispose of the waste from the manufacturing process."

Neil Carman, a former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality employee who nows works with the Sierra Club of Texas, said he isn't so sure the process is safe.

Carman described the byproducts as organic carbon-based compounds and said for them to be considered hazardous by TCEQ, they must be one or more of the following: explosive, flammable, corrosive or acidic.

Kifiel said hydroxy analog, hyrocyanic acid and 3-methylthio propionaldehyde are acidic.

When TCEQ gives companies permission to create hazardous waste disposal wells, "it's based on the assumption that it's going to be contained in there for 10,000 years, but nobody has done a study for 10,000 years," Carman said.

TCEQ doesn't have the manpower to go in person and ensure a well such as this has enough integrity to keep from leaking, he said, using fracking as an example of how injecting waste into the ground can sometimes go wrong.

Fracking is a process by which gas is extracted by injecting water, sand and chemicals into rock at high pressure.

"Fracking seems to trigger earthquakes as a result of injecting wastewater into the ground," Carman said. "I'm not aware of any cases where hazardous waste injection wells may have caused such a problem, but the hazardous waste wells may be deeper than fracking disposal sites. All this just shows the lack of proper geological science and also tracking and monitoring systems in place."

He said the reason hazardous waste disposal wells haven't been studied more may be they're out of sight, out of mind.

According to a map on TCEQ's website, the well Novus International is proposing will be located less than a mile from Green Lake.

In 2012, Calhoun County bought the 6,434-acre property with $3.5 million in grant money.

The property has the largest freshwater lake in Texas, and last year, county officials, after working with the National Park Service and other stakeholders, unveiled a plan to make it a park.

The plan calls for between 80 and 100 campsites, picnic areas, a new boat ramp, a fishing pier and walking trails.

More than 190 species of birds have been identified at Green Lake, according to the plan. These include the whooping crane, piping plover and bald eagle, which are endangered.

Calhoun County Commissioner Kenneth Finster said not much has happened with the park development since. The county applied for money made available by the RESTORE Act. The Act dedicates 80 percent of all administrative and civil penalties related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill to projects that restore the Gulf Coast's natural resources.

Earlier this month, the state agencies responsible for deciding which projects to fund published a list of 26 considered for funding. Green Lake didn't make the cut.

Finster was hopeful, though, that more money would become available.

Finster was familiar with Novus International but not with its request to dispose of hazardous waste near Green Lake.

"I'm going to have to read up on it," he said Thursday.

Neither Finster nor County Judge Michael J. Pfeifer could be reached for comment Friday.

In June, Novus International asked Calhoun County for a tax abatement.

The company said it would produce about 120,000 metric tons of Alimet annually at the site and employ a minimum of 10 people with an average minimum salary of $54,000.

During construction of the plant in the first quarter of 2018, the company said it would employ more than 300 temporary workers.

Calhoun County agreed to a 10-year, 100 percent tax abatement, and Novus International agreed to donate $1 million to the county in 2019 and $700,000 in 2021. It's not clear whether this amount is close to what Novus International would have had to pay in property taxes to the county if there were no abatement.

A county official said the tax abatement is only for new construction.

The public has until April 15 to submit comments about the hazardous waste disposal well to TCEQ, and the agency might hold a public meeting if its executive director determines there's enough interest.

A technical review of Novus International's application and draft permits may be viewed at the Calhoun County Library, 200 W. Mahan St., in Port Lavaca.

"We want to be very open about what we're doing here," Kifiel said. "We think we have a great project for Calhoun County, which has significant benefit to the local economy, and we're very supportive of providing information to the press and others in regards to what we're trying to accomplish."

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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