A Mighty Wind

A mountain of garbage in northeast Houston is looking to get bigger. Neighbors cry foul.

While the company expects its request to landfill another 35 million cubic yards of trash will take 11 years, the county has suggested that since the license is governed by capacity and not time, decades are also a possibility. It all depends on the market.

In a similar fight over a BFI landfill in Travis County, officials are negotiating a closure date in writing -- something that the TCEQ doesn't typically require. While Travis County officials want better odor and trash control at their landfill, the Harris County Attorney's Office is also arguing for the sampling of Greens Bayou to "verify" that the known contamination beneath the dump has not spread into the waterway. Harris County officials also want PCBs added to the list of chemicals that are tested for in the plume beneath the site, and more enforceable standards overall.

While Gerald Long will put out a dish of water from his well for the dogs as he paints wildflowers under the carport, he doesn't drink the stuff. He noticed long ago the increase in mineral content and the multicolored petroleum sheen. He and his neighbors will shower with it, but rely on bottled water to drink.

Gerald Long blames gas escaping from the McCarty Road Landfill for the loss of his wife and mother-in-law.
Daniel Kramer
Gerald Long blames gas escaping from the McCarty Road Landfill for the loss of his wife and mother-in-law.
Dump customers line up to spill their trash at McCarty.
Daniel Kramer
Dump customers line up to spill their trash at McCarty.

The decades of fighting with so little to show for it has imbued the community with a sense of fatalism. Long says residents are used to being put off by company officials and regulators alike. "They just keep on keepin' on and look at you and say, 'You're still alive. Why are you worried?' "

(See "Breakfast of Champions" for more information.)

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