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Prairie View A&M students join in opposing proposed landfill

By Jesse Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jun 4, 2012 - 1:10:08 PM

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Another case of environmental injustice?

PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas - Opposition is growing against a proposed landfill many fear will be an environmental time bomb with toxic waste, polluted air and contaminated water.

“The students of Prairie View A&M University and the community are very upset by this landfill being proposed and it has become a major issue. Its proximity to Prairie View will not be good for the health of the students and the surrounding communities,” Frank Jackson, mayor of Prairie View, told The Final Call.

The Atlanta-based Green Group Holdings is at the helm of the proposed 434-acre Pintail landfill. It would be located on Highway 6, one mile from Hempstead, a 69 percent minority population city and four miles from Prairie View A&M University, a HBCU in a 94 percent Black community.

Some of the land that the proposed landfill would be constructed on at the intersection of Hwy 6 & 290 in Hempstead, TX. Photos courtesy, the Citizens Against The Landfill in Hempstead (CALH) Facebook page
Hempstead Mayor Michael Wolfe told The Final Call, “We have to fight this and we intend to because this shows they do not care about our constituents. This is a dangerous move.”

“We don’t want the landfill. With the health issues it could cause for the student body it may sway parents from even wanting to send their children to Prairie View,” said Jarren Smalls. He served as president of the student government this past school year.

“We have spoken out about this and we’re doing more investigations to ensure the students are thoroughly educated on this issue,” said Mr. Smalls. “Prairie View has historically been an overlooked and boxed out population, even by those in the surrounding counties. Who can the student body trust? So we want to ensure we’re strategic in who we align ourselves with in fighting this issue.”

“We’re going to be very sensitive to their concerns. We’re setting in place the EPA standards to make sure nothing happens such as a liner leakage. There will be an odor at the site, but it won’t impact the air quality because we will not have sewage sludge,” Ernest Kaufmann, president and CEO of Green Group Holdings, told The Final Call.

“Without saying it, the clear message being given by this company is that the people of Prairie View and those surrounding areas are comparable to garbage. Minority communities are historically targeted by landfills,” Dr. Robert Bullard, an environmental justice expert, told The Final Call.

Dr. Bullard is a dean at Texas Southern University in Houston. “In my research we have found that we’re chosen as a dumping ground as if we’re an invisible community. That’s the nature of environmental racism,” he said.

“Was this dump site considered near College Station, the home of Texas A&M, Governor Rick Perry’s alma mater? The answer is no! Then why Prairie View? Is it because it is next to a HBCU and the population is Black and poor?” asked Robert Muhammad, the Nation of Islam’s Southwest Region student minister and an urban planning expert.

Mr. Kaufmann says selecting the location for the landfill had nothing to do with targeting a specific race of people or those who are economically disadvantaged. “We have never permitted that. We do our own environmental justice research and there is not a single minority household within a mile of this site. No trucks will be going through any of the neighborhoods,” he said.

“The long term environmental effects will be seen in the pollution of groundwater, the air quality from prevailing winds that will blow the dump in the direction of PV, and a radical change in the ecosystem due to the appearance of scavenger birds and rodents that will be attached by the landfill. This must be stopped,” countered Mr. Muhammad.

“This will undoubtedly have a negative impact on us. Who would want to build a business near a dumbing site? We already have a history of being unable to attract businesses to this area,” said Mayor Jackson.

Black neighborhoods: The perfect dumbing ground?

A study conducted five years ago by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice found that “people of color make up 56 percent of residents living in neighborhoods within two miles of a commercial hazardous waste facility.” The percentage is higher in most Southern states.

“They feel by placing them in the predominately Black communities they have found the path of least resistance and it will go under the radar. But that’s not the case today,” said Dr. Bullard.

This past school year, students at Paul Quinn College marched to the steps of City Hall in Dallas to oppose the expansion of a nearby landfill.

In January, residents of the “Black Belt” Perry County in Alabama filed a complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights alleging racial discrimination in the issuance of a new permit to the Arrowhead Landfill. The landfill is near Uniontown, which is 88 percent Black with nearly 50 percent of its families living in poverty.

The 256-acre Arrowhead Landfill made headlines in 2008 when it received shipments of millions of gallons of coal ash from the clean-up of an ash pond spill at a fossil plant in Tennessee.

Uniontown residents, some reportedly living 100 feet from the landfill, have complained about respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and nausea.

According to Mr. Kaufman, Green Group Holdings owns and operates the Arrowhead Landfill. He disputes any notions of environmental hazards or discrimination. “There is not an environmental issue there. There has been many lawsuits filed before and nothing has come out of them,” he said.

“Stop the Highway 6 Landfill” campaign

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has reportedly given the Pintail Landfill application serious consideration, but has yet to issue a permit. If approved the construction could take up to four years on the land that’s owned by a former resident of the county according to Mayor Wolfe.

Green Group Holdings says the landfill will contribute to the local economy in the form of royalties paid on every ton of waste received, property taxes, and the creation of at least 20 new jobs. They are also assuring that the landfill site will meet state and federal solid waste regulations, and will be subject to TCEQ oversight.

This is not enough to ease the concerns of Citizens Against the Landfill in Hempstead, an organization formed by residents of Waller County. They launched the “Stop the Highway 6 Landfill” campaign with the use of a website, community forums and social media to garner support.

“We still stand adamantly opposed to the landfill. We should more appropriately refer to it as a trash dump because that’s exactly what it will be,” group member and resident Bill Huntsinger told The Final Call. “It will bring health and traffic issues, smells and around-the-clock noise. I agree it could even impact the enrollment at Prairie View A&M. We will continue to oppose this landfill.”

The group believes the landfill would contaminate their drinking water and potentially pollute a bordering spring-fed creek that empties into the Brazos River, the water source for downstream cities. 

Green Group Holdings has challenged these claims with statements posted on their website. “All rainwater that comes in contact with waste is contained within this closed system, and cannot ‘run off’ to streams or creeks,” the company says.

Trent Johnson, a recent graduate of PVAMU, says students have printed t-shirts, created an online petition and reached out to alumni to mobilize. “The school hasn’t officially taken a side in this issue, but the student body has made it clear that they do not want that landfill constructed. It will be a sight for sore eyes and a major hazard,” he said.

 “Those who are proposing this just want more money. If it is not properly structured, the Highway 6 landfill will affect the soil physical and chemical structure and the ground water,” said Seifullah Schoffield, 24. He’s pursuing a master’s degree at PVAMU in agriculture soil science.

Mr. Muhammad said, “We must keep vigilant while the students are away during summer recess so that the applicants don’t try to quietly get this application approved. We will work with the local, county, state and federal officials to prevent this injustice from occurring in the dead of night.”