By CHRISTIN COYNE
PARKER COUNTY – More than two dozen angry, frustrated residents living near land southwest of Springtown where a contractor for Fort Worth applied treated sewage product as fertilizer for nearly three weeks showed up to a public meeting Monday to voice complaints and find out how to stop it from happening again.
A City of Fort Worth spokesman confirmed to the Democrat Monday that the city ordered the contracting company, Renda Environmental Inc., to cease applying the foul-smelling sludge in Parker County on Friday and are investigating the odor complaints and evaluating options to prevent the issues from occurring again.
The decision came after Parker County Judge Mark Riley said he spoke with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and council member Jungus Jordan twice last week about the issue, including speaking with Price at an event Thursday night.
Local officials have received dozens of complaints about the Class A biosolids blanketing hundreds of acres of Hutcheson Ranch since Memorial Day. In addition to complaining of the odor that has driven them indoors, many residents also voiced concerns about the health and environmental impacts of the biosolids.
However, because of a state permit allowing the city and contractor to produce the biosolids, the Texas Commission on Environmental is responsible for regulation of the biosolids rather than the Parker County Fire Marshal’s office, which would typically handle many public nuisance complaints, according Fire Marshal Shawn Scott.
TCEQ received nine complaints regarding the sludge in Parker County and was investigating, a spokesman told the Democrat last week.
Results of testing on samples collected by TCEQ in Parker County had not been provided to county officials as of Monday.
There is no permit or other restrictions, such as buffer zones, required to apply the sludge because of the higher standards for Class A biosolids, which must meet certain metal limits as well as meet certain pathogen and vector attraction reduction requirements according to TCEQ. Instead, the company notifies the state of where they intend to apply the biosolids.
Legal or not, Riley said Renda Environmental is being irresponsible and lacks ethics to do it in a neighborhood like that.
The Parker County Commissioners Court, along with TCEQ’s DFW Region Director, Tony Walker, heard from residents Monday morning, including many who live on J.E. Woody Road, Goshen Road or in Stella Estates, areas north of the Hutcheson Ranch hit particularly hard by the stench.
A short time after a morning rain shower and days after the company stopped putting the biosolids on the ground, a slight odor was still in the air during the meeting.
Resident after resident stood up to ask questions or express their frustration.
“I don’t know who in Fort Worth is proud of this but I invite them to come out here and smell this,” said Cynthia Scott, who lives on J.E. Woody Road.
Don Hale said they’ve been dealing with the smell 24/7 and can’t sit outside and drink an ice tea or do yard work.
Hale noted that one man in his neighborhood is attempting to sell his house and that could negatively impact it.
“I want to know what I’m supposed to do to let my kids go outside and play,” Grady Mansell asked, questioning whether he should buy his children gas masks so they didn’t vomit due to the stink.
“I’m sitting there in my house and I smell it in my house,” a woman who lives off Goshen Road said. “There’s no place to get away from it.”
Another father wondered if the odor might have anything to do with his 6-month-old son’s recent onset of asthma symptoms.
“This can’t be healthy for us,” another man who lived off J.E. Woody Road stated, adding that he’d never seen so many flies.
Russ Carr, who lives in Stella Estates, said he was raised near cattleyards but has never smelled anything like it.
“Everything you eat tastes like the smell,” Carr said. “I don’t think it’s healthy no matter what the studies say.”
Walker gave an overview of the processing and treatment the sludge goes through to those at the meeting.
“The performance standards are set to protect human health,” Walker stated.
They’ve also been meeting with the Trinity River Authority and the City of Fort Worth about the complaints, according to Walker.
Since this summer, TCEQ’s also been doing their own independent sampling at locations and facility, Walker said.
In addition to making TCEQ aware of any issues, Walker urged residents to document how they are affected with things such as sworn affidavits.
Documentation led to the Wise County enforcement action last month, according to Walker.
Asked about it, Walker said the agency received notification of Renda’s intent to apply the sludge in Parker County prior to the state agency taking enforcement action in Wise County.
Walker said a petition has been submitted by an Ellis County resident requesting the TCEQ consider a rule change.
If TCEQ accepts the petition today, the process will be opened up with hearings and other input allowed.
The proposed rule change is written to apply to counties with more than 140,000 people and adjacent to counties with 2-4 million in population, which wouldn’t apply to Parker County.
However, that’s not a done deal and could change during the process, according to Walker.
Riley plans on being present in Austin today when the TCEQ decides whether to accept the rule change petition.
As they pursue changes in the regulations, the county will also submit an open records request to get all the information they can from TCEQ regarding not only the Parker County investigation but complaints in other counties, Riley said. A TCEQ hearing in Parker County is also expected to be requested.
The crowd clapped as Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley told those attending that county leaders were going to try their best so that the company never comes back.