Paradise Lost

Milby's cleanup cost Houston $10 million. Now HCC says the site is still contaminated.

If the city, HCC and TNRCC seemed confused about Milby, its neighbors seem even more baffled about this outwardly placid property. This field that they live by should be unassuming -- it doesn't do anything -- but its sheer size looms large in the geographic landscape.

It takes a five-minute hike just to traverse these 10.5 acres. Small decades-old houses border the property. Some are quaint with little gardens; most sport rickety frames and peeling paint. Nearby there's a grocery store, some small industrial companies and a few cantinas that get lively on Friday and Saturday nights. The residents, mostly Hispanic, say the neighborhood is usually quiet and safe. But that only accentuates the fear and misinformation lingering on about the threat of lead contamination.

The Milby field: Is it safe or not?
Phillippe Diederich
The Milby field: Is it safe or not?

Geneva Tovar still reminds her boyfriend, four years after the massive lead cleanup in their backyard, not to drink from the sink, even though the city never warned about drinking water.

Manuel Moreno, who has lived next to Milby for more than 20 years, says that many of his neighbors also won't drink tap water, and some -- like the people with heart disease next door -- blame their health problems on Milby. Moreno himself is intensely suspicious of the city and its year-long cleanup effort.

"A big crane was digging up dirt, and they were throwing stuff in there," he says. "They want people to see that there's grass growing there and everything, but if you go digging, you're going to find something there."

He points out the barricades that on this August evening block vehicle traffic from entering the site. Those blockades were erected, inexplicably, the night before, and they seem strangely out of place on this sleepy street in front of a serene field.

Moreno wonders at the new additions to the landscape as he stares across the field and beyond, toward downtown and the setting sun. He then marvels aloud: "A lot of people don't even know what happened there."

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