County expects end to sewage sludge fight

A permit issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality allows Victoria resident Jess Mayfield to test the effects of sewer sludge to fertilize his own pasture lands. The sludge contains grit and grease trap waste.

A lengthy battle about whether a company should be able to dump potentially harmful chemicals on its property in Victoria County could be coming to an end, county officials said Monday.

Nearly two years ago, Victoria County started a legal fight with San Antonio-based Beneficial Land Management, which wanted to dump waste from sewage plants, restaurants and car washes onto its 726-acre property in Inez. But the county said the dumping could be harmful - particularly to the area's waterways - and launched a legal battle to prevent the company from doing so.

Recently, the company told the county it wants to discuss a settlement, county officials said.

The company's owner, Jess Mayfield, could not be reached for comment Monday.

"It's a big win for Victoria County - for our water supply, for the environment, for our citizens," said County Judge Ben Zeller.

For nearly a decade, Beneficial Land Management has been disposing of sewage sludge - a muddy substance left over from sewage treatment plants - by spreading the waste across its property in Inez as fertilizer. A few years ago, the company started mixing the sludge with waste from car washes and restaurants' grease traps.

The county, however, has opposed the dumping from the very beginning - even when it was just sewage waste, which can contain harmful bacteria.

"From day one, Victoria County has viewed it as an environmental threat," said Commissioner Clint Ives, whose precinct includes the property.

About two years ago, the company asked the state for a five-year permit to mix the treated sewage with waste from car washes and restaurants, Ives said. That's when the county hired an attorney to try to stop the permit's approval, he said.

Although treated sewage is allowed to be used as fertilizer, waste from car washes and grease traps at restaurants hadn't been tested for that use yet, Ives said. Waste from car washes could be especially harmful because it could contain chemicals, oil and heavy metals washed from vehicles, all of which would be dumped close to Arenosa Creek, he said.

"We view it as an environmental hazard," said Ives. "It's not proven scientifically whether this product is beneficial to the land."

Monday, the county's attorney, Eric Magee, said the potential settlement discussions come after the state recently evaluated its rules about whether the company could mix experimental materials with sewage waste. The state's answer helped bolster the county's case by saying the restaurant and car wash waste would have to be treated in the same process as sewage, Magee said.

County officials took that as a victory.

"This is a big win in that," Zeller said. "All indications, if I understand correctly, seem to indicate that (the) experimental sludge dumping permit is not going to be approved, which would be a big win for not only Precinct 4 but the whole county as well."

Before a settlement could be approved, commissioners would have to vote on the proposal.

Marina covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She writes about housing, Hurricane Harvey recovery and local politics. You can reach Marina by emailing or follow her on Twitter, @MarinaStarleaf.