Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan announced today that park acquisition and improvements, recreational facilities and educational programs will be among those funded by a lawsuit he filed against the owners and managers of a waste disposal site on the San Jacinto River.
The Harris County Commissioners Court today approved an agreement to accept $10 million from the State to fund projects that will benefit the San Jacinto River and surrounding areas.
McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. agreed to pay $29.2 million to the State and County in a case filed in 2012 seeking civil penalties for dioxin contamination in pits located just north of the IH-10 East bridge and along the west bank of the San Jacinto River in east Harris County.
Harris County and the State of Texas each received about $10 million as a result of the lawsuit.
The waste pits are a federal Superfund site that contains dioxin, one of the most deadly chemicals in existence.
“These waste pits are an environmental disaster waiting to happen,” Ryan said. “We know that dioxin has leaked into the San Jacinto River, ending up in fish and crabs that are caught and eaten by unsuspecting citizens. Imagine the catastrophe that would occur should a hurricane hit Harris County. While these projects won’t affect the waste pits themselves,” Ryan continued, “they will improve the environment and the quality of life for those who live along the river or use it for recreation.”
The $10 million from the settlement that went to the state was appropriated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) by the Legislature, a move led by then-State Representative Sylvester Turner. The funding approved by Commissioners today will pay for projects chosen by TPWD and the county from ideas and input solicited from the local community.
The projects include acquisition of land and improvements for parks and boat ramps on Lake Houston and in Baytown and Juan Seguin Park; habitat restoration at the San Jacinto Battleground and Sheldon Lake Prairie Wetlands; and educational programs on the environment.
The County’s portion of the settlement was set aside by Commissioners Court for additional equipment and resources for Harris County Pollution Control and to fund projects focusing on the area within five miles of the pits.
County Attorney Ryan has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to order the waste pits removed from the San Jacinto River. A decision from the EPA is expected soon.