Sunday, August 9, 2009

     

 

 

  Terrell chemical site could affect Cedar Creek Lake
Abandoned chrome plating plant leaks toxic brew into surrounding water table
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

KAUFMAN–A chrome plating facility abandoned several years ago may have some very lethal consequences for Kaufman County and the surrounding area.
Monday, David Shiels, vice president of Shiels Engineering in Kaufman, presented Kaufman County commissioners with details of the problems stemming from the abandoned Van Der Horst USA Plating, located at 419 E. Grove Street, Terrell.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already completed Phase 1 of its site inspection,” he said.
“The preliminary inspection has ascertained the dangerous chemicals involved,” Shiels said.
He said migration of the chemicals has already spread throughout the nearby neighborhood, seeping into the ground around creeks and streams.
“The migration could reach the drinking water sources, including Cedar Creek Lake,” he said.
They (the EPA) have moved extremely fast – for the federal government – so they are taking this very seriously,” Shiels added.
When the EPA makes tests, they are looking for something around 100 parts (of any chemical pollutant) per billion, he said.
“It (EPA Phase 1 report) sounds like they have found somewhere around 400 parts per million,” Shiels said.
“At these concentrations, it (the water from wells or other contaminated sources) could kill your animals, and if used for watering plants, it could be taken up into the plant and ingested by whomever eats it,” he explained.
The EPA is now ready to move to Phase 2, the ranking stage, based on the risk to humans and animals.
Studies will be made of the subsurface (underground) routes of water and surface areas.
The results will be run through a model. Once the information goes through the model, the date will be ranked. If it (the date) ranks 28 or higher, it will become a superfunded site, Shiels explained.
“They (the EPA) have been out with drill rigs, testing water tables (near the plant),” Shiels said.
“I believe the county needs to be pro-active in getting the data (on the site) from the EPA. The county needs to be a squeaky wheel,” he said.
“For each of theses stages there is a report and it is out there,” Shiels explained
“While the information is not on the (EPA’s) website, the information is in the EPA files in Region 6, in Dallas,” he added.
The EPA has spent approximately $4 million to determine the extent of the problem so far, he said.
Who is ultimately responsible for the financial burden of the cleanup and investigation?
“A law was passed in the 1980s on joint involvement. It says anyone in the chain of leadership (owners, etc.) and anyone involved in the placement of the chemicals is liable,” Shiels answered.
Commissioners will ask for information from the EPA and study their involvement course.
In other business, commissioners:
• set aside $30,000 to build a document storage room at the Kemp Sub-Courthouse.
• tabled action to institute a burn ban, due to rainy weather.
• awarded a bid to low bidder Enviro Tech for soil stabilizer for all precincts, totaling $262,500.
• accepted the quarterly report as presented for the Riter C. Hulsey Library in Precinct 3.
• approved as presented a list of election judges, alternate judges and other officials for all elections through June, 2010.
• approved budget transfers as presented by auditor Hal D. Jones, except for one from the fire marshal’s office.
• paid bills totaling $523,586.37.

Sheriff gives crime overview at chamber chapter breakfast
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

SEVEN POINTS-Stepped-up crime fighting since the beginning of the year has closed down 10 meth labs, opened 609 felony cases and served nearly 2,000 warrants out of a backlog of 10,000 unserved warrants, Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt told chamber members in Seven Points Wednesday.
Nutt sees himself as the leader of the Sheriff’s Department and not merely an administrator, he said.
“We added two more patrol officers and told all of the deputies to go to work to get rid of the criminals,” he added. “I’ve gotten them out of the office. In my experience criminals don’t usually come in and give themselves up.”
Towards that end, Nutt made sure each patrol car had a list of the 10,000 unserved warrants in the county. As a result, 1,879 of those have been served since January, when Nutt took office.
As commissioners continue their budget workshops, Nutt encouraged business leaders to request more funding for the Sheriff’s Office.
“Yes, we have the largest slice of the budget pie, but it only really gives us $1 million to use to fight crime,” he said. The other $7 million is eaten up in salaries and benefits, he said.

Monitor Photo/Pearl Cantrell
Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt described how he leads his department to successful closings of drug labs, warrants served and felony cases investigated during the monthly August breakfast meeting of the Tool/Seven Points Chapter of the local chamber of commerce.

“Tax revenues are down. I’d hate to see us take a step backwards, due to shortened funds,” he said.
Nutt noted, the public can also help the department by tipping the sheriff off to suspected drug activity in their neighborhoods.
“That’s really the only way we can made narcotic arrests,” Nutt said.
The most telling signs of a drug lab in the neighborhood is the distinctive smell of anhydrous ammonia and traffic going in and out of the neighborhood.
Nutt has also designated a special assignment deputy to put certain areas called in as suspicious under surveillance, looking for traffic violations and probable cause to search for drugs, he said.
“Without informants, we have very little luck making narcotic arrests,” he said.
The county’s newly expanded jail is starting to fill up, he said. The jail population now is around 300, with 92 inmates from out of county.
“That will be a big revenue producer for the county,” Nutt said. He’d like to see the 500-bed facility top out at 400 inmates, leaving 100 places for ongoing arrests from warrants, traffic stops and felony investigations.
Under Nutt’s leadership, several gambling operations have been closed, with the department seizing $30,000 from them. Others have closed because the Sheriff’s Office has strongly suggested that they move out of the county, Nutt said.
It’s not illegal to have 8-liners or to play them, as long as the prize does not exceed 10 times the bet made, Nutt explained. No cash prizes are allowed.
“Proving gambling, a felony offense, is difficult. Again, we need an informant,” he said.
Closing these operations is important, because its controlled access is also a good environment to sell drugs, he added. “Lawlessness breeds lawlessness,” he said.
“I’ve been accused of being old-fashioned,” Nutt said. “But some old tactics still work.”
Nutt has directed his patrol officers to leave door hangers at buildings in outlying areas when his officers have given them a security check or responded to an alarm call.
“It gets officers out of their patrol cars and more familiar with the layouts of their patrol routes, as well as let the property owner know the Sheriff’s Office is doing its job to protect his property,” he said.
So far, his office has gotten very few complaints, which they handle, Nutt said.
In addition, the Sheriff’s Office is training each patrol officer to offer immediate response to situations at schools.
The office is mapping out each school layout throughout the county, so its rapid response team will have the information it needs in any emergency, he said.
“I feel those are some of the lessons learned from Columbine,” he said.
“I have a complaint,” Danny Hampel of the Seven Points Dairy Queen said. “Your officers are so busy, they don’t have time to come visit the Dairy Queen.”
In other business, Tool/Seven Points chamber members:
• heard a ribbon cutting for the completed highway work is expected the second or third week of September. RK Hall is presently completing a punch list, establishing roadside vegetation and waiting for ADA certification.
• heard the Optimist Club gave $1,000 to Tool Elementary to help provide needy children with school supplies.
• learned the chapter’s welcoming ice cream social for new teachers at Tool will be 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19.
• congratulated Tool Elementary on earning an Exemplary rating from the Texas Education Agency. A celebratory breakfast is to be held at 8 a.m. Monday, Aug 17, at the school when a banner announcing the accomplishment of the 2-year-old school will be going up.
• heard a “Meet The Teacher” event is set for 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, at Tool Elementary.

County explores seamless radio communication
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS- “Can you hear me now?”
Tuesday, Henderson County Commissioners looked at the first step to being able to communicate with other agencies statewide via wireless radio.
East Texas Medical Center EMS proposes a partnership with the county to create secure and seamless emergency communications among first responders and other public and private emergency service providers, called Project 25, or P-25.
Currently, the Federal Communication Commission mandate has named 2013 as the date for all emergency communications to switch from analogue to digital, just as cell phones and television broadcasts have done.
ETMC along with other key members have initiated the TxWARN system, a far-reaching digital system, covering a 16,000-square-mile footprint.
Now beginning its third phase, the system builders are offering the county the use of its digital infrastructure in exchange for a cost-free 10-year lease of 17 of the 35 acres (originally 40 acres) the county has owned since 1985. Four acres of it is being used for the county’s own 340-foot VHF communications tower.
East Texas Medical Center EMS is the main architect of the Texas Wide-Area Radio Network (TxWARN).
It is a public/private partnership formed to achieve regional interoperable communications ETMC already provides emergency ambulance service and communication throughout 16,000 square miles of Central and East Texas to Louisiana. About 2,300 public safety users have been using the system since 1995.
Its goal is to offer a digital system compatible with other similar digital systems throughout the state by the end of 2011.
Placing a 440-foot tower on public land, with a no-cost lease, is a critical component to erecting a large regional system for $25 million by 2013. Most of the funding is provided by grants, and it’s ready to erect one in Athens.
It takes an estimated six to eight weeks to erect a tower, and TxWARN hopes to have it up by the end of this year, commissioners heard.
A rough contract calls for a 10-year initial lease with an option on 10 more in two consecutive cycles. In exchange, the county may use the tower, and/or its transmitters and digital infrastructure now or at sometime in the future, without having to bear the cost of providing its own infrastructure, ETMC communications expert Jeff Haislet said.
Commissioners asked questions, which had no ready answers, such as:
• What are the benefits and the drawbacks of accepting the offer?
• How does it compare to the county constructing its own digital system, using its existing tower?
• What would be the costs to maintain such a system, or be a part of ETMC’s system?
• How much would it cost the county to replace all its radio units? And, what about the cities and volunteer fire departments within the county?
• Are their any adverse affects to the deal?
“I’m not ready to make a motion or to vote on this until I have some hard data,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Wade McKinney said.
Representatives said the second tower and its 800 MHz band signals would not interfere with the county’s current analogue transmissions on the 150 MHz frequency.
The upside to the county switching over, as Smith County has, is clearer transmissions with no carryover from other frequencies.
“It’s wide open,” communications salesman Tom Rushing said.
The downside, is anyone not on the system, such as Kaufman and Van Zandt County and cities within the county, would not be able to communicate with those on the digital system. And that includes EMS, who plans to be fully digital by February, 2010.
While Navarro and Kaufman counties are still on VHF, Kaufman is planning to switch to 800 MHz, assistant chief Dan Parker said.
“Our communication system is working fairly well, now,” Sheriff Ray Nutt said. To switch over would require replacing every police radio and walkie-talkie, he said.
Emergency management supervisor Joy Kimbrough pointed out that last year, the county was awarded $30,000 in grant funding to upgrade communications.
“The county held off on taking that action; there were issues,” she said. “But now, I’m glad that it did, because now we can get much more bang for our buck.
“The more in compliance we are with FEMA regs, the more likely we will be to get funding in future for security equipment,” Kimbrough added.
“On the COG (Council of Governments) side, no P-25 plan, no funding,” Rushing said. “A plan to build your own system, you’ll have a slim chance (at grant funding); joining with an existing system - will be highly favored. There would be a cost for the county, but also a ton of grant money.”
Haislet refuted commissioners’ lack of confidence in the 2013 date.
“2013 has been offered to us as a hard and fast date. A state plan was adopted by the legislature and the governor’s office. The big picture is to have a system of systems in place and interoperable statewide by 2015.
“ETMC is taking responsibility to build the infrastructure, maintain it and partner with public entities. To keep the costs to a minimum, we’ve selected locations that give the best coverage (line-of-sight), we just need your permission to build a 440-foot tower on county property,” he said.
“This is an opportunity for the city and Henderson County to get an 800 MHz digital infrastructure at no cost. All you have to do is upgrade your consoles and replace your mobile units,” he added.
As a user of the system, the county would share in its maintenance.
“You carry no liability,” Haislet said. “The more users join the system, the lower the cost will be. But at any rate, we’re responsible for the maintenance of the towers.”
In other business, commissioners:
• inked an interlocal agreement with Van Zandt County to house inmates.
• accepted $25,000 from XTO Energy for road damage in Precinct 3
• paid bills totaling $226,804.81; $180,222.56 in fees to the state; and $2,500 for the Sheriff’s Office.
 


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