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"Quite honestly, I don't think folks realize how good a neighbor we'll be," he says.
Residents like Schneider and Dave Wall are determined to avoid such realizations. Wall, a retired geophysicist from England, says that if FMC goes forward it will turn their community into an industrial corridor.
"We don't want industry to get a toehold," he says. "This plant is just the first nail in the coffin."
During Schneider's initial call to Radack's office, a staffer suggested that she start a petition opposing the plant. The cheerful mom did not know her neighbors, and her activism at that point had been limited to getting her husband to do the dishes.
"I knew nothing about politics," the self-styled Republican admits. "I'm not comfortable walking up to people's homes," adds Scott, sitting in their shiny kitchen with his wife and daughter.
Sucking up their trepidation, the Schneiders pounded the pavement on a Saturday morning with their daughter and dog in tow. Any concerns they had about slamming doors quickly faded. Within days they had collected some 900 signatures and recruited a corps of citizens willing to fight.
Schneider's effort to enlist elected officials proved highly successful. Some of them, like then-state representative John Culberson, lived fairly close by and could feel the pain of constituents who turn out in droves on Election Day. It hasn't hurt that the likable Schneider is not above buttering up those in power.
"I can speak for all of us when I say you are a most gracious and generous man and one who gives honor and integrity back to our elected officials," she enthused in an e-mail to Culberson, now a congressman. "When can I tell everyone you are running for president?"
Within weeks Culberson, state Senator Jon Lindsay, Radack and the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD superintendent, among others, wrote to the TNRCC to raise objections. Harris County Commissioners Court and the Cy-Fair school board passed resolutions against the plant.
Radack provided the community with three buses to attend a meeting in Austin with the TNRCC on January 12, 2000. Acting on a request from Schneider, the agency rescinded the original FMC permit, finding that the notice in The Westside Sun was insufficient.
But the euphoria was short-lived, because the company reapplied the next day.
"So we started all over again," says Schneider.
Challenging a plant permit is a drawn-out process in which citizens first air grievances in a public meeting and with letters, and the TNRCC responds. Citizens living within 440 yards of the site can try to get the agency to grant a contested case hearing, similar to a civil trial, in which both sides present their facts before an administrative law judge. But the TNRCC calls for such hearings only when it decides there are sufficient disputed issues of fact.
With that goal in mind, Schneider and her neighbors in early 2000 founded Residents for a Better Community, a nonprofit organization co-chaired by her and Wall. The group had to learn everything there was to know about concrete batch plants and the politics of the TNRCC. RBC benefited from the fact that various scientists, engineers and other experts were among its ranks.
But few have become more expert than Schneider, who has thrown herself into the fight with the gentle fury of a housewife scorned.
"You become very proficient when it's the only thing you have on your mind all day," she says.
Under the RBC banner, more than 800 people showed up to the first public hearing in March 2000 and hammered FMC's application on multiple fronts. Last May the group retained Blackburn & Carter, a leading environmental law firm. The lawyers warned that their services could cost more than $100,000. So Schneider switched into fund-raising mode.
She arranged a "concrete bash," which featured jazz and blues bands, and raised $17,000. Residents for a Better Community sold T-shirts and cheerfully exhorted neighbors to "give up your pizza and Blockbuster movies for a week."
The battle escalated when one longtime resident sent FMC's Beck a threatening letter. Mark Clifford lives and owns a welding business less than 300 yards from the proposed site. His wife, Mary, has multiple sclerosis.
"I sit down to write you this letter in an effort to try and avoid a situation which will end up in causing your life to be an ongoing Hell on Earth," Clifford wrote. "Sell the property at a reasonable profit and move to the Katy Prairie where you belong."
Beck got a restraining order against the welder.
Not everyone in Deerfield Village has joined the cause. Some, like Steve Dornak, looked on with bafflement and outright disgust at the revolution in their midst.
"For as long as anyone can remember, there have been periodic instances where a number of Deerfield residents have become 'fired up' over a single issue," Dornak wrote as community association president in a recent edition of the neighborhood newsletter. "Unfortunately, after the controversy is over, it is not uncommon for people to simply go away."
Dornak was voted out as association president in March.
As Schneider's expertise grew and her profile rose, other embattled communities like Sunnyside sought her advice. Soon she was attending meetings to support them. During this legislative session, she has been a fixture in the capital, invited in by environmental groups to testify against industry-friendly bills.
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