The Texas Legislature recently approved the state's budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, with funding set aside to help finish a suspended cleanup project at the Ballard Sand Pits in Calallen.

The budget allocates $13 million for the project, which is what the TCEQ has estimated the project will cost to complete. The project was suspended in September when it was discovered more funding would be needed to complete the cleanup of two areas in the Ballard Pits.

A 63,000-square-foot portion of the Ballard Pits, which is located in a rural area off of County Road 73, consisting of 296 acres of property, was found in 2003 to pose "an unacceptable risk to human health," after samples taken by the Railroad Commission during a site assessment showed numerous hydrocarbon compounds, including benzene.

Nearly $4 million had been set aside for the project, but it was discovered in May that the amount of contaminated soil in the West Pit was nearly four times greater than previously estimated.

As a result, the project was suspended after the money budgeted by the TCEQ for the project ran out in late August, leaving the East Pit untouched due to a lack of funding, TCEQ officials said.

The West Pit has since been cleaned out and backfilled with clean soil. Nearly 7,000 tons of hazardous and 8,300 tons of non-hazardous waste materials was removed from the West Pit and transported to an approved waste disposal facility.

A much greater amount has been discovered in the East Pit, causing TCEQ officials to estimate a cost of $11 million to $13 million to finish the job. The state budget allocates $2 million specifically dedicated to Nueces County for the Ballard Pits. An additional $9 million to $11 million will be available for the TCEQ to use on the project, though it is not specifically labeled for Nueces County, according to information from the office of District 34 State Rep. Abel Herrero.

Crews were in the process of preparing the site for cleanup, but it has since started up again as of last week, much to the relief of Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Pusley.

"We're thrilled they got that (funding) through so they could move on with that project, otherwise it would have come to a screeching halt," Pusley said. "We're very hopeful that the amount of money allocated completes the project."

TCEQ officials said to date, no groundwater impacts from contaminants of concern attributable to the site have been observed in residential water wells surrounding the Ballard Pits.

The site will continue to be monitored throughout the duration of the cleanup to ensure residents' safety, TCEQ officials have said.