County Cleanup

With about $275,000 spent so far this year on waste disposal, countywide cleanups and recycling, Kaufman County’s waste disposal spending and oversight has gotten out of hand according to County Judge Hal Richards.

According to Richards, not only does that nearly 300k figure not account for regular weekly trash pickups throughout the county, there has also been an alarming lack of oversight on exactly how that money is being used and the sorts of individuals and organizations it is funding.

“It’s pretty clear to me that we don’t have a very good grasp on where the money is going,” Richards said in last Wednesday’s commissioners court meeting. “We have many waste haulers in the county. Some of them are guys with a trailer and a pickup that are going around picking up people's garbage for a fee. We don't know who is doing that in the county. We don't know where they're taking the trash. We pretty commonly hear complaints that people will find trash dumped alongside the road. Sometimes it seems like it has probably just fallen off one of these trailers. People tell me they see waste haulers hauling into private property and that they think there is landfilling going on back in the woods someplace.

“We do know that we have waste-haulers that are driving the big, traditional compacter trucks, heavy 50,000 pound vehicles, and in some cases you'll have a county road with 20 houses on it and there will be two, three or four of those heavy trucks going up and down those county roads because there's no consolidation. It's a quality of life issue, I think, and it could be an environmental thing. So I think we need to find a way to get a grasp on that. I don't have a time certain; I just want commissioners to start thinking about what we need to do to better get control. The county actually has authority, almost to the extent of a city, to permit and manage solid waste in the county. The state doesn't give us the authority to do very many things, but it does give us the authority to do that."

Richards noted a particular site that houses thousands of tires and expressed his concern to the court that the county would likely end up having to pay “tens of thousands of dollars” to get the site cleaned up.

“We have a tire dump in the county that has two or three thousand tires on a lot adjacent to a house,” Richards said. “I was talking to commissioner Phillips about it and it's pretty clear to me that the person that created that tire dump is not going to be able to pay to remove those tires and I would be willing to bet that, when it's all said and done, we're going to pay for that. Tires have water standing in them that attracts mosquitos; it's a huge fire hazard. I have no idea what the cost of cleaning up that one place is going to be, but I would guess tens of thousands of dollars.”

But the problems don’t stop there. Precinct 4 commissioner Ken Cates noted that not only has the county’s spending and oversight on county cleanup efforts gotten out of hand, the county’s recycling program has major problems. Cates noted that in many cases, items marked for recycling still end up in landfills.

“We have discovered that when there’s really no market for some of these recycling efforts that stuff just winds up in the landfill,” Cates said.

“We know that it does, actually,” Richards confirmed.

“A lot of our constituents spend a lot of time and effort sorting and recycling only to discover that it’s very likely that much of their work simply goes to the landfill with the plastics and the glass,” Cates continued. “I’m in favor of pursuing some sort of regulation of waste haulers.”

Cates noted that in his precinct, not only was he concerned about the lack of oversight on waste management projects, he was also vexed by the problem regular travel from the county’s myriad of waste haulers might be having on his precinct’s already fragile roads.

“In precinct 4 alone, we found that we had very minimal oversight on our waste management operations,” Cates said. “We didn’t have a very effective tracking of the expenses or the contractual obligations with our vendors. This kind of problem impacts our county roads, particularly in a rural precinct like mine. We have a myriad of private trash haulers that operate heavy trucks. Sometimes I have three or four or five different trucks down the same road because they have varied clients and that kind of traffic on these county roads is destructive.”

“I think that Freese and Nichols Transportation said that a heavy vehicle is worth the same damage as a thousand cars,” Richards added.

“With the amount of money that we spend in this county, I think we really need a strong, centralized party to be appointed to manage this program from now on,” Cates concluded.

Although precinct 1 commissioner Mike Hunt was not in attendance during the meeting, Judge Richards noted that the precinct had an effective cleanup relationship with the City of Kaufman and suggested that the other commissioners pursue similar relationships with the cities in their jurisdiction.

“Precinct 1 here has a really good functioning partnership with the City of Kaufman where they do solid waste management and recycling and that sort of thing,” Richards said. “We might consider that as a model, offering that partnership to cities in the county if they want to partner with us. If the cities don’t want to participate, then we won’t have it there.”

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