Mercedes close to settlement with grease lure disposal firm in sewer sludge standoff
EDINBURG — A monthslong standoff between a stable waste disposal firm and the town of Mercedes might quickly come to an finish after concerted efforts to mediate the dispute.
That was the message Chris Franz, the legal professional representing Valley Dewatering Companies, expressed in court docket on Friday, three weeks after 93rd state District Decide Fernando Mancias denied the corporate’s request for an injunction in opposition to the town.
“We’ve made some progress. We’re gonna resume mediation on Tuesday,” Franz mentioned throughout Friday’s transient listening to.
“My consumer remains to be shut down and remains to be incurring a whole lot of overhead … however we’re optimistic we are able to possibly carry this to the end line,” he mentioned.
Operations on the grease lure and septic waste disposal firm have remained at a standstill since mid-January, when Mercedes metropolis officers — accompanied by half a dozen cops — made a present of power on the facility and compelled it to close down.
Mercedes alleges that Valley Dewatering has been dumping extreme quantities of contaminants down its sewer line, which threatened to overload the town’s wastewater therapy plant’s capability to deal with the effluent.
However the firm claims Mercedes compelled the shutdown almost out of the blue, then refused to answer Valley Dewatering’s efforts to work towards an answer.
The corporate additional alleges metropolis officers not solely intimidated its staff however waste haulers, too. That features at the very least one occasion when police stopped a truck en path to the ability and advised the motive force he couldn’t ship his payload.
Valley Dewatering filed swimsuit in opposition to Mercedes on Jan. 20 — in the future after the corporate claims the town severed the corporate’s sewer line connection.
Two weeks later, nonetheless, Mancias denied the corporate’s request for an injunction that will have prohibited Mercedes from interfering with its operations.
With its sewer line plugged, Valley Dewatering has successfully been prevented from processing some 20 truckloads of grease lure and septic waste every day, equal to about 115,000 gallons of waste per week, in keeping with firm President Justin Atkinson.
Atkinson testified throughout the Feb. 3 injunction listening to that few choices exist within the Rio Grande Valley to course of the grease lure waste generated within the industrial kitchens discovered at eating places, hospitals and faculties all through the area.
A type of few choices, an organization positioned in La Gloria, has a a lot smaller capability and sometimes turns to Valley Dewatering for its overflow, whereas the opposite, positioned in Weslaco, Atkinson known as a “personal” firm that offers with a sole consumer.
“Actually, I’m anxious it’s being dumped in pastures,” Atkinson testified of his issues that the work stoppage will result in unlawful dumping.
Talking after Friday’s listening to, Franz indicated that that will already be taking place.
“There’s simply not sufficient locations to course of this waste and it’s our understanding that TCEQ — since we’ve been shut down — has gotten a number of complaints of unlawful dumping,” the legal professional mentioned.
However for Mercedes officers, Valley Dewatering has operated with impunity — and in violation of a decades-old industrial waste ordinance — because it opened up store in 2007.
“We now have an organization that’s been in existence for over 16 years and making the most of the town and the Mercedes residents have been paying for this,” Mercedes Metropolis Supervisor Alberto Perez mentioned final month.
That allegation got here as information to Atkinson, who testified he had by no means heard a single grievance from metropolis officers till after a gathering final spring.
By January of this 12 months, Mercedes had despatched Valley Dewatering a letter demanding it stop operations.
Mercedes officers testified that the town had recognized Valley Dewatering as allegedly the most important single supply of pollution within the municipal wastewater therapy system.
“We now have recognized that they’re answerable for about 40% of the sludge that comes out of the (metropolis’s) sewer plant,” Perez mentioned.
The town has additionally borne the upper prices for the chemical substances and electrical energy wanted to course of the discharge, all whereas Valley Dewatering has been charged as a mean business utility buyer, fairly than an industrial one, the town supervisor testified.
As a part of its grievance in opposition to the corporate, Mercedes desires Valley Dewatering to pay $512,000 in fines for servicing the upper quantity of waste. The town can be claiming greater than $750,000 in damages in a countersuit it filed Feb. 1.
“Why ought to Mercedes be the one accountable to deal with and course of all of that waste?” Perez mentioned.
The town supervisor referred to the scenario as being “held hostage” for processing the entire Valley’s waste when Valley Dewatering has different choices, together with trucking waste to a sister plant in Corpus Christi.
However for Atkinson, that concept is a nonstarter. He known as it financially infeasible.
And with out having the ability to proceed processing waste in Mercedes, he fears his firm can be compelled out of enterprise earlier than a decision may be reached in court docket.
“Over the subsequent 90 days, your organization will exit of enterprise?” legal professional Franz requested Atkinson throughout the February listening to.
“Sure, for positive,” Atkinson replied.
If Tuesday’s mediation talks fail, trial is tentatively set for April 24.