Resolution allows environmental lawsuits

Resolution allows environmental lawsuits

Source: Odessa American (TX), March 31, 2014
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In the wake of the discovery of xylene in the city’s sewer system, the Odessa City Council has passed a resolution that will allow them to file civil lawsuits against companies or individuals who they suspect are in violation of the Texas Water Code.

Under Section 7.352 of the Water Code, a governing body cannot take any action of those they accuse of violating the code of the Health and Safety Code unless they adopt a resolution authorizing the exercise of that power.

The City Council voted 4-0 Tuesday during their meeting to approve that resolution. Councilman Roger McNeil was not at the meeting.

“In other words, it gives us the right to file civil suits the same as the county when someone illegal dumps into our water supply,” Odessa Assistant City Attorney Alison Burton said.

On Jan. 8, employees at the Bob Derrington Water Reclamation Plant reported an odd smell at the plant and sent a sample off for testing. A second sample was sent on Feb. 10 and both came back positive for above-average levels of xylene.

An investigation by local law enforcement discovered that the xylene came into the plant and the city’s sewer system after about 90 barrels of the waste was poured into the sewer system by employees with Roywell Services Inc., a lawsuit filed by Ector County stated.

An unnamed employee told investigators that the mixture that was reportedly dumped into a manhole cover at the property located at 2425 West Interstate 20 was “hot,” and was dissolving caliche rock and dirt.

With the new resolution allowing the city to also file its own lawsuits, Burton said any potential money that would come in could allow the city to recuperate money lost for repairs.

“We can recover money … from those people who damage our pipes and supplies,” she said. “We can even be fined by TCEQ (for above-average levels) so we can recover those damages as well.”

In 2012, the Ector County Commissioners’ Court also passed a similar resolution that allows them to hire a lawyer to file environmental lawsuits on the county’s behalf. The attorney, Daniel Ray, was hired by the county in the same time frame.

“It’s been a great tool,” Ector County Judge Susan Redford said.

Odessa City Councilman Dewey Bryant, who represents District 2, said it was important to have a local resolution that allows the city to seek restitution against companies or individuals who are found guilty of illegal dumping.

In terms of enforcement, Bryant said it was critical that local law enforcement be able to investigate and file charges, instead of waiting on state organizations to do an investigation. Having a local response, he added, allows for quicker response times.

“I think it’s extremely important the enforcement be allowed to be done at the local level,” Bryant said. “You’re on the spot and able to do something at that time and catch them at the point of action.”

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