Work on cleaning up a former waste site in Robstown has been suspended until September after officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported higher than expected levels of hazardous waste on the property.
On-site preparation of the area was completed in late March and work crews began the process of removing the waste from one of the two pits that was scheduled for excavation. TCEQ officials said in a written notice that "the vast majority of the waste coming from the pits, approximately 90 percent of the waste excavated and disposed of to date, has been hazardous waste."
A 63,000-square-foot portion of the site, which is located in a rural area that consists 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.
TCEQ officials have said the nearest drinking water intakes serve more than 284,000 people and are located about two miles downstream of the pits.
Barry Lands, project manager, said in March that the state is concerned about the site, located at the end of Ballard Drive near County Road 73, primarily because of the flooding that occurs in the area.
Since the pits are within a half mile of the Nueces River and flood waters have inundated the impoundments in the past, state officials said "the potential for releases of hazardous substances from the impoundments into the Nueces River is a concern."
The notice said that "as excavation and disposal activities have occurred, TCEQ and its contractor have also discovered that the volume of waste in the west pit is greater than indicated by prior investigation."
As a result, TCEQ officials have said the project costs have "increased substantially," causing there to be a temporary suspension of removal activities until the next fiscal year, which will be Sept. 1.
The notice also said the state agency will "stabilize and monitor the site to ensure that waste material from the pits does not spread to the surrounding property or infiltrate into the shallow groundwater."
Residents living near the site, particularly in the Twin Lakes Estates subdivision, have expressed concern over the safety of the groundwater at prior community meetings held at the Calallen High School Auditorium.
Another meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday in the auditorium of the Johnny S. Calderon County Building in Robstown, at 710 E. Main Ave., during which TCEQ officials will provide an update on the current status of the removal action and future plan of action at the Ballard Pits.
Calls to Lands were not returned as of Monday.