Johnson County has had enough of Fort Worth and Tarrant County’s sewage.
Members of the Johnson County Commissioners Court, during their Friday meeting approved a resolution calling for a temporary halt of dumping from both entities.
“Permits to authorize the disposal of septage sludge in the form of biosolids in Johnson County have repeatedly been authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality without the consent of the Johnson County Commissioners Court,” the resolution reads.
Commissioner Larry Woolley said the practice is especially pernicious in his and Commissioner Rick Bailey’s precincts.
“Our phones have been blowing up because of the odors,” Woolley said. “That’s a common thing. But the problem now is the unknowns surrounding the possible existence of COVID-19 in the waste. Nobody knows what impact that’s going to have on the biosolids and what lasting impact it could have.”
Johnson County in 2016 petitioned TCEQ for local control of permitting on such dumping but got nowhere, Bailey said.
Thousands of tons of biosolids are routinely dumped on hundreds of acres of real property in Johnson County, Woolley added.
Two companies — Renda originally and now, under a new contract, Synagro — transport “significant amount of biosolids” from Tarrant County and Fort Worth including city sewage and hospital district waste, according to the resolution.
“According to TCEQ, water quality is unaffected by these applications although water quality is un-monitored by TCEQ,” according to the resolution. “And according to TCEQ, offensive odors are not allowed although noxious odors are ever present in these areas and air quality is un-monitored by TCEQ.”
The resolution calls for research and studies to be performed to ensure the absence of COVID-19 in the biosolids to determine whether or not they are harmful to county residents. The resolution “respectfully requests” that all operations of distribution of biosolids in Johnson County by Renda and/or Synagro cease until testing can be done.
County Judge Roger Harmon said he intends to dispatch letters to Tarrant County and Fort Worth to that effect. Should the letters fail to achieve the desired results Johnson County may take legal action.
Woolley said that the sewage products are supposed to be dried before transporting and dumping but are more often wet and therefore more malodorous and otherwise problematic.
25 percent order
After several weeks of being shut down courtesy of state and other orders certain businesses deemed non-essential may now reopen albeit with conditions. One of those conditions — as per Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest orders — requires those businesses to limit foot traffic within their facilities to 25 percent of capacity.
Too little by half, Bailey said.
“We’re being governed along with Dallas, Harris and the other big counties,” Bailey said. “Johnson County shouldn’t be regulated by the standard of bigger counties. Counties our size should be allowed to weigh the odds. At 25 percent it’s not even worth reopening for a lot of our stores and restaurants.”
Bailey said several residents have urged the commissioners court to “step up” and push for a 50 percent capacity limit.
“So many are unemployed right now that they don’t have the money to go out to restaurants anyway,” Bailey said. “You figure about 25 percent of our residents aren’t going to feel safe, be ready to go out just yet, which leaves the rest free to decide wether they want to get back out in public and go to restaurants and stores.”
Abbott’s orders allow for 50 percent, but only in counties that have recorded five or fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Declarations of Local Disaster, as implemented in Johnson County and throughout Texas, generally address events such as tornadoes or hurricanes and usually last a few days, Bailey said.
“This has gone on for weeks,” Bailey said. “There’s not going to be anything to come back to for so many people if this goes on much longer. We’ve got to do what we have to do to let our people open their businesses and get their lives back.”
Harmon said he agreed insomuch as that he wished Abbott would have set a higher limit. Harmon otherwise said the county’s hands are tied.
“I hoped [Abbott] would’ve been more flexible on his plan but we don’t meet the qualifications for a [higher allowable occupancy percentage],” Harmon said. “I hope, in his next set of orders, he opens up the restrictions more. But we’re going to follow what he’s done.”
It’s a Catch-22, Harmon said, between the need to reopen businesses and ensure public safety.
“This virus is real,” Harmon said. “And we’ve got to consider that we’re not far from Fort Worth, or Dallas for that matter, and that we have people going back and forth between those places everyday.”
Johnson County Emergency Management Director Jamie Moore relayed that, as of Thursday, 82 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the county. Of that number 45 have been released and four have died.
Moore noted that free testing for the virus resumes on Monday.