Joshua-based company Harrington Environmental Services, in accord with a mediated settlement agreement, agreed to cease septage and composting activities at the company’s 7501 County Road 1009 property.
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Rick Bailey announced the settlement agreement during Tuesday’s Cleburne City Council meeting. No officials from Harrington attended the meeting. T. R. Harrington, a company official, stressed on Wednesday, however, that the agreement affects only that one property and said that Harrington Environmental Services remains in business.
“The important thing point to note is that we’re not closing,” Harrington said. “This agreement has to do solely with the Harrington Park North facility, which is a recycling and disposal facility. Harrington Environmental Services, which is the pumping, transport and disposal company, and our other sites remain open.”
The settlement stems from lawsuits Cleburne and Johnson County filed against Harrington and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“The company would collect septic and composting material containing animal matter then spray or spread those materials in an open field,” Bailey said. “The city and county argued that this practice posed a threat to the local water supply.”
Cain called the agreement a win/win for Cleburne and county residents.
“Not only does it prevent the opportunity for harmful pollutants to reach our waterways,” Cain said. “It also stops the foul practice of composting animal material. The agreement goes even further in that it prevents any future septic and composting operations on the land regardless of ownership.”
As part of the settlement, Harrington will request that TCEQ — who permitted the company’s operations — “revoke and take other actions necessary to end the company’s registration and operations upon this property,” Bailey said.
Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon did not attend Tuesday’s meeting but did release a statement.
“This was a great collaborative effort between the county and city,” Harmon said. “We are glad the company has agreed to settle this matter rather than draw out a legal battle and grateful we can put people at ease with regard to protecting their health and wellbeing.”
The settlement cancels the need for a trial, which had been scheduled for December in the 18th District Court.
Visiting District Judge Jerry Ray held Harrington in contempt of court in March and assessed fines against Harrington of $100 per violation for a total of $700 for each violation of a temporary injunction entered in November.
Ray found that Harrington made land applications of domestic septage (sewer and water collected from septic tanks) on saturated soil on Jan. 7, 8, 15, 21. 22. 24 and 28 in violation of November’s temporary injunction.
Ray found that such violations are likely to continue unless the temporary injunction is modified.
November’s injunction allowed Harrington to continue their business, but required them to operate within the guidelines of their TCEQ issued permit. Harrington, Cleburne and Johnson County officials argued, on several occasions failed to do so since the injunction.
City and county officials filed suit in 18th District Court arguing, among other things, that waste runoff from Harrington property poses a threat to Lake Pat Cleburne, Cleburne’s primary water source.
Harrington officials denied any wrongdoing and argued that closure of their facility could spell ecological disaster for Johnson County. During March’s hearing on the injunction modification request, they argued that prohibiting the company’s ability to accept waste could set the county back 30 years to the days of raw, untreated sewage being dumped throughout the county. Harrington owner Thomas Harrington said he started his business at the request of the county several decades ago in order to help curb such abuses.
Company officials argued that the land in question has no waterways and sits too far from Lake Pat Cleburne to affect Cleburne’s water supply.
Harrington added that the waste is treated and screened before application and said five state engineers on three separate occasions visited the site before TCEQ approved their operating license.
Harrington said the land in question has never been out of compliance or cited and said the state license remains in effect.
Company officials attempted to work with city and county officials, Harrington said, and were willing to exceed TCEQ requirements in order to do so.
“We made overtures to both but they didn’t want to have that,” Harrington said. “Taxpayers should know that they spent $650,000 to $1 million of their money in getting the closure of a recycling facility that the state still approves of.
“We’re in business. We want to do things right and make people happy. Why wouldn’t we? It would make no sense not to and there would be no benefit to us in doing that. All they had to do was pick up the phone and we would have worked with them. They shouldn’t condemn us. They should applaud us for doing something that no one wants to do, but something that has to be done.
“But, in the end, and in an amicable way, to appease the county and the city we agreed to discontinue those operations at that facility.”
The company applied for and received a permit from the TCEQ in 2016 to apply domestic septage their tract of land.
Several residents living near the property joined city and county officials to protest that application during public meetings held by TCEQ at the time, but to no avail.
Several residents living near Harrington’s property testified during the March hearing of instances of illegal dumping since the November injunction was entered with several of those same witnesses providing photo and video evidence.
Last year Cleburne and county officials challenged TCEQ’s issuance of the permit in an Austin court.
The judge sided with Cleburne and the county but TCEQ appealed the ruling.
The settlement agreement in effect renders those court proceedings moot, Cleburne officials said.
However, Harrington also operates another TCEQ permitted property on Farm-to-Market Road 4. A lawsuit filed by Cleburne and the county in Austin concerning that property remains ongoing.
“We will always protect our families, our land and our water supply,” Bailey said. “The county and city fought hard for the people and together we were able to prevail.”