CITY CORNER by Mayor Brent Hinckley
I have been quiet for the past couple of weeks because on July 29 I had a total knee replacement in Fredericksburg, and since getting out of the hospital I have been confined to home and managing to get around using a walker. I am slowly weaning off of the pain medications, and physical therapy will be a regular activity for several weeks, but there continue to be some issues in the City that need a bit of extra consideration and communication as well as some balanced information. I appreciate the diligence that Commissioner Robin Lee has given to his analysis of the trash disposal issues, and the articles in this paper the past two weeks contain a good deal of his information, however as with most every issue there are two sides to consider and it is imperative that true and factual information be presented.
Landfill issues were some of the first challenges I faced when I was first elected as Mayor in 2005, and since that time I have been aware of and dealing with the requirements, inspections and now permitting for municipal solid waste for those many years. In addition, the City has staff that have been trained and licensed to manage our landfill and they too have many years of experience and knowledge. Mr. Lee admits that he has only been looking in depth at the City’s trash disposal options for a limited time, so it is understandable that some of the details might not be entirely clear, but it does require a complete picture of the issues to gain a perspective to make accurate statements. For instance, in last week’s paper it was suggested that waiting for a few dry years to bring our average rainfall under 25 inches might allow us to “revise our permit to an Arid Exempt landfill.” That is in my opinion, with the information I have seen over the past four years, impossible!! The average rainfall calculation uses a thirty year rolling average, and the Mason average calculated from NOAA data collected here on the Square was 27 inches including the drought figures from 2011 and 2012, and did not average below the 25 inch limit even figuring in the 1950’s drought. We looked at rainfall records dating back to the 1880’s and surprisingly our rainfall averages have been increasing consistently for the past 140 years, even though most of the ranchers I talked with could not believe it. We were told by the regulating agency when I asked this specific question, that nowhere in Mason County would likely ever be approved for Arid Exemption. That conversation happened at least two years before Mr. Lee was elected to the City Commission, but we made the Commission, staff and public aware of that at the time and moved on with the decisions and processes with that factual data in mind.
There are also references in each of Mr. Lee’s columns regarding lack of financial planning. First, he seems to expect our consulting engineers to have analyzed costs and benefits in their work and in my experience that is an entirely different set of considerations and no engineer that I know would pretend to provide that type of analysis. At best, they are able to provide some specific cost estimates for work or materials that they have experience and data for, which we have received, but doing the type of detailed financial breakdown that Mr. Lee has worked out has never been expected of any engineer the City has worked with on this or any other project. Beyond this, all of the detailed analysis that has been done regarding comparisons of landfill to other alternatives has been based on estimates provided by engineers, and beyond the discussion about landfill liners it has been my understanding that they are reasonable but very rough estimates. In fact, there are a number of specific expense categories in our planning that will not have accurate cost numbers until contract documents and bids are received in several months’ time. Until then all of the most detailed financial analysis is based on reasonable guesses and estimates, and there are undoubtedly some errors that will shift some of the numbers and likely no one would notice. The City staff and I have spent ten years looking at the needs and possible solutions for trash disposal, knowing that our existing landfill would soon be full, and we have considered many factors and alternatives including a transfer station, and I am very sure that the public is in strong support of moving forward with constructing an adequate landfill to meet our needs for generations to come.
Another area where there are some serious accusations that lack any factual basis show that Mr. Lee does not understand the requirements or processes of the permitting process for our landfill. He comments that no “financial projections” or “pricing calculations” are in the permit, as if this is important when in fact there is no place or expectation of that type information in the documentation. The permit is an engineering document showing that the landfill can and will be built and then operated in a manner that will handle all trash without creating any contamination of the environment. It took over 1300 pages to document that, and it was thoroughly reviewed before being approved. Mr. Lee also seriously questions the rate of increase for the trash being planned for in our landfill, and he is reasonably accurate to say that we will have a 1% annual increase. However, his comments do not reflect the realities of the permit nor the expectations of TCEQ on how they project growth. The 4% growth that was used in the permit application comes directly from guidance documents that TCEQ provides, and the inclusion of possibly accepting another town’s trash came directly from conversations with the permit reviewers at TCEQ. Neither assumption was an error nor a miscalculation by an engineer but was a direct result of working with and through the permitting process.
In another place in his article, Mr. Lee comments that the City has been “cited and fined this year for infractions from 2017 and 2018.” I am unsure just what he might be referring to, but every violation letter from TCEQ comes directly to me, and I have not seen any notification indicating a fine regarding our landfill for several years, and the type of violations that have been noted are the very common type for loose paper or other operational issue that we have easily been able to correct within a day or two. These are some of the most straightforward issues where I believe that the information in his articles is inaccurate, but there are a few others that are also concerning. If these are all questionable, what exactly is he saying that is correct and on track?
Let me also share a few other facts about trash disposal in our region. Texas is divided into various regions for agency oversight and assistance, and we are in the Concho Valley Council of Government headquartered out of San Angelo. There are thirteen counties in the CVCOG and in our region there are eight active landfills. Three of those are limited to Type IV which is basically construction debris, however it should be pointed out that for Type V Transfer Stations which is the alternative proposed to our own landfill there are only three in the region. In addition, those three transfer stations are each privately owned and are registered to take only recycling and composting debris, not household garbage. Although 45% of the transfer stations in the state are owned by public entities, there are none in our region to compare ourselves to, and as far as I am aware virtually all of the ones that have been mentioned as comparable for Mason are not registered or permitted to handle household waste. In comparison, 65% of the landfills in the State of Texas are owned by public entities, and we have a record of operating and monitoring our landfill and can easily continue that type of facility.
I have seen a few rather concerning comments on Facebook, and although I have been homebound for the past couple of weeks I expect there are some rumors and stories going around town about these issues. I would suggest that before you become too concerned you get correct information: for instance there has never been a plan to buy a new scale for the landfill, we will be moving the old one and reusing it, however the building next to the scale is about to collapse and has been discussed for replacement for six to eight years so it will be replaced for the new landfill. We are currently moving forward with the proper steps to modify and build our new landfill, so while there is continuing discussion I see no reason to take a step backward and revisit a decision made with the strong input of many citizens. For the past fourteen years I have tried to provide wise and progressive leadership to our community, and I feel sure that when all of the true facts are presented most people would see the wisdom of what we have done and how we came to these conclusions. If you want to question specific issues, please feel free to do so, but be sure that you are using true and accurate facts. Mason is a great hometown, and the intent of every elected official I have known through the years has been to maintain and improve this community and provide the best services for every resident.