WALLER COUNTY, Texas Voters delivered a strong message Tuesday to Waller County elected officials over a controversial landfill deal near Hempstead.
Waller County Judge Glenn Beckendorff, Precinct 2 Commissioner Frank Pokluda, and Precinct 4 commissioner Stan Kitzman will soon no longer be in office.
The sweeping changes are due in large part to the commissioners' decision to rescind an ordinance in February of last year that was designed to prohibit a developer from building a 250-acre, 15-story landfill along a stretch of Highway 6, just north of Hempstead.
Trey Duhon, a longtime opponent of the landfill deal, won the primary race for County Judge. He said he's ready to step in and do what he can to keep the landfill out.
"This whole landfill project, from its inception, has not been done in the way these type of projects should be done," said Duhon.
The landfill controversy started back in 2010 with alleged campaign contributions and meetings about the landfill deal, which some voters say was all done without public knowledge.
Once word did get out, residents of Waller County jumped into action, posting signs and spreading the word. One business owner even bought a full-sized billboard along 290 to help get the message out.
Billy Frazier owns Frazier's Home and Garden, which is located next door to the proposed landfill site. He's also a part of a group called Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead.
He says Tuesday's election gives them new hope.
"It's very promising now to fight this off," said Frazier.
But Beckendorff, Kitzman and Pokluda say there's more to the story.
"There was a lot of intentional misinformation," said Pokluda.
They say since the developer filed an application to build with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) before the ordinance was put into place, the county had no authority to stop it, according to state law.
"We have no power under the law to stop the landfill," said Kitzman. "We never did."
The new ordinance passed after the first was rescinded would not only zone the landfill to one location, but it would prevent other landfills from being built in Waller County.
Furthermore, Beckendorff said the host agreement between the county and the developer would limit the size of the dump site, as well as require the owners to come before the commissioners court if they wanted to change what types of waste could be dumped at the site.
"That's our job, to protect tax payers," said Pokluda.
Beckendorff said he was never for the landfill, but the county's hands were tied.
"Nobody wants a landfill, period," said Beckendorff. "That is the TCEQ's decision to make, and nobody else."
County Commissioner for Precinct 1, John Amsler, said the election was a victory, but it's really just the beginning.
"There's more to be done yet," said Amsler. "I'm also hopeful that Tuesday's message from the election will go all the way to Austin."
The landfill deal is tied up in lawsuits and contested case hearings, but Duhon said the fight is far from over.
"I promised that I would do whatever I could to undo this landfill ordinance that they passed, zoning the landfill to this area, and the host agreement," said Duhon.
Duhon said he also wants to work on a comprehensive waste management plan for Waller County that would help stop problems like this from happening.
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