Local and state environmental groups are calling for an environmental impact study that could delay a decision on a company’s request to dump treated wastewater into a tributary flowing into Dickinson Bayou.
In letters to the state’s wildlife department, the Lone Star Chapter and the Houston Regional Group of the Sierra Club and Galveston Baykeeper in Seabrook requested an aquatic study in Dickinson Bayou where a company is seeking a permit to release wastewater.
Waste recycling and storage company Clean Harbors San Leon Inc. is seeking approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to dump up to 350,000 gallons a day of treated water from oil and petroleum waste into a tributary flowing into Dickinson Bayou.
The permit will be up before a state administrative judge in a Feb. 2 hearing. The permit application landed in the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings after residents protested the filing last year.
In the hearing, attorneys for the company and the contesting parties will make their cases for why the application should or shouldn’t move forward to an administrative judge. The judge will then issue recommendations, which the environmental commission will use to make its decision.
Ahead of that hearing, the groups are gathering data about the existing permit and pushing for more information on the proposal.
The study could delay any decision on the permit, said Evelyn Merz, conservation chair for the Houston Regional Group and Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club.
The environmental groups oppose the permit moving forward at all.
An environmental regulatory official for Clean Harbors Inc. did not respond to a request for comment Friday. But the company has repeatedly said the wastewater will be treated and not pose a risk to the environment.
The waste processed by the company contains chemicals such as mercury, chromium and lead, according to the permit application.
The company would be discharging about 33 pounds of oil and grease into the tributary on a daily basis, according to the environmental groups’ analysis of the permit data. The environmental groups argued such contaminants could be harmful to marine and estuarine organisms.
“We need to proceed very carefully,” Merz said.
The area where the company has sought to release its treated wastewater is already the subject of a major restoration project aimed at increasing the number of bird colonies, Merz said.
The government is spending about $20 million from the Deepwater Horizon settlement to restore four Texas islands, including one in Dickinson Bay, she said. The company’s releases could affect water quality in the area and undo the restorative work being done, she said.
“It doesn’t make sense to cancel out the good things you’re doing on one hand by increasing pollutants on the other,” Merz said.
In separate letters filed to the general counsel for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the environmental groups request the department conduct an “aquatic life baseline study” in the Dickinson tidal segment to determine the species present and their health.
If the permit were accepted, the area could continue to be monitored to determine whether the waste discharge was damaging the environment, Merz said.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has not yet made a decision on the request, officials said. An aquatic baseline study is a broad term that could mean many different things, department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said.
“There’s no cookie-cutter assessment,” Lightfoot said. “It depends on what you’re trying to sample and where.”
The studies could also take several months or longer, depending on what they are looking for, he said.