Collin County Politics: Contaminated Water Stinks

August 24, 2021

Covid Update: We have a new entry in our fun game of what lawsuit is next. Last week, 14 children and their families filed the first federal lawsuit against Greg Abbott and Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. The suit claims Abbott’s executive order (EO) prohibiting school districts from enforcing mask mandates discriminates against students with disabilities and their rights to public education. If the EO doesn’t go away, I suspect there will be a lot more.

That’s wonderful because the lawsuits are working! The TEA updated their Covid stance to say they won’t punish school districts implementing mask mandates. It’s probably because they can’t police the 50 school districts defying the governor’s executive order banning mask mandates. A few even added masks to the dress code. Now that’s a good use of a dress code! You go, rebellious ISDs! We can help by inundating the emails and voicemails of all our school boards and school superintendents and letting them know we DEMAND universal masking in our schools with only legitimate medical exemptions. Our teachers, staff, and children are depending on us!

The TEA also broadened notification requirements for when a positive Covid test is reported. Previously, schools only had to notify people and parents of students considered close contacts. Now, schools must notify all teachers, staff, and families of all students in the classroom or activity. Before you breathe a sigh of relief though, TEA guidance still allows the selfish parents of close contacts to send their kids to school without quarantining first. And, from what I hear on the ground, the contact tracing from the health department is minimal if not non-existent. I also hear that the Covid numbers are the school dashboards are artificially low. Do better, schools!

Covid cases continue to rise and hospital ERs – even the free-standing, super expensive ERS – are overwhelmed. There are reports of people having to wait in their cars to avoid the Covid patients crowding the waiting rooms. Collin County currently has 105,208 active Covid cases, an increase of 147 from yesterday. This is 2,775 more cases than I reported last week. Pfizer just got FDA approval, so everyone who can needs to be vaccinated and we all need to mask up!

Collin College: Although the administration tried to keep this quiet (remember, these are the same folks who lost their minds over having a Covid dashboard last year), the college’s dean of nursing, Jane Leach, just died from Covid. We don’t know if she had an underlying health condition, was vaccinated, or had a breakthrough infection. Supposedly, her family asked that her untimely death not be politicized. That’s not going to happen. As former Collin College history professor Lora Burnett pointed out, “It’s because of politics that vaccination has been turned into a political issue rather than a health issue. And because of that, people aren’t getting vaccinated and COVID is spreading, and the delta variant is spreading.” So true. It’s why a Collin student also recently died.

In response to Collin College’s nonsense, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a campus free speech nonprofit, speculated that the school’s latest COVID guidelines banning faculty from encouraging students to wear masks could be unconstitutional. FIRE also pointed out that, while Abbott’s EO prohibits schools from instituting mask mandates, it encourages Texans to mask up in areas where transmissions are high. They wrote, “It is disappointing to see colleges and universities use laws banning mandates about conduct as an excuse to ban speech.” I wouldn’t say disappointing. I’d say it’s infuriating and dangerous.

Frisco City Council: The council has a subcommittee determining what to do about their ethics code. Council members have wrestled with multiple ethics complaints over the last year. Martin Woodward charged Mayor Jeff Cheney and council members John Keating, Brian Livingston, and Dan Stricklin with threatening public health after they failed to wear face masks and maintain social distance during public gatherings. Even though he was right, the other council members voted to dismiss it. They later handled complaints from Sarah Rouse against Cheney for hosting an underage keg party and against Keating for inappropriate conduct in a social media photo. These also were dismissed.

In 2000, city attorney Richard Abernathy advised against having a code of ethics since there are already consequences for bad or criminal behavior. He naively said bad behavior leads to that person not being re-elected. If only that were true! However, during the subcommittee meeting, public sentiment was overwhelmingly in support of keeping the ethics code and adjusting the process. Martin Woodward pointed out how difficult it is to even file a complaint. He joined several other citizens in requesting an independent review board rather than allowing fellow council members to decide on the validity of a complaint. That seems fair.

Keating threw everyone for a loop when he apologized for his poor behavior towards Woodward and then said he and his family have been dealing with personal issues that unfortunately were made public. He mentioned his loving and forgiving wife and that they wish to keep their personal life private. I don’t know what Keating’s personal issues are but the picture in question appeared more frat bro than city leader. It definitely showed poor judgment on the part of both Keating and Cheney who also was in the picture. Do better, guys!

The council had numerous other issues to deal with during their regular meeting, including two major environmental concerns. The first deals with the cleanup of Stuart Creek which was contaminated by the Exide Technologies battery recycling center. The plant operated from 1964 to 2012 and caused significant contamination to Stewart Creek and to the air. Air quality in Frisco didn’t meet the EPA’s minimum standard for years. Exide was forced to agree to a cleanup but then filed bankruptcy and kept dragging out the process. In October of 2020, the Department of Justice approved a bankruptcy settlement that allowed Exide Technologies to abandon its former battery-recycling plants across the country (including Texas), leaving the states and taxpayers responsible for continued environmental cleanup of their sites. Awesome. This is why our planet is in such trouble: we don’t hold businesses accountable for their mess!

The good news is that Frisco purchased the property from Exide in order to control the cleanup process. The bad news is that this is estimated to take seven years and cost double what was originally estimated. The $25 million provided by Exide is earmarked for this purpose but they’re still asking the council to consider a $1 increase to solid waste and water/sewer revenue to completely fund the cleanup.

The second environmental issue was the request for a municipal setting designation (MSD) for the site of the former Hutson Industries plant at Preston and Hutson Drive. This allows the Hutson family to sell or develop the property without having to clean up a plume of pollution in shallow groundwater on the property. Valerie Honeycutt, a geologist working for Compliance Partners (hired by the Hutson family to comply with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requirements), said the contamination has been diminishing over time – it may take 50 years to become clean again – and no local wells are affected. She talked about a plume management zone surrounding the contamination zone and that groundwater is tested twice a year. She claimed the management zone protects everything but the water isn’t drinkable. Since drinking the groundwater isn’t allowed, this isn’t a problem.

John McGilvery, a local engineer who’s worked for NASA, disagreed with Ms. Honeycutt’s assurances that the plume is receding. He attended her presentation and said the basis for her conclusions were (1) because roadways surrounding this area are dammed up, pollution isn’t going anywhere; and (2) because these chemicals don’t penetrate aquatards. Roads don’t have a 5-foot bed. The water table is 5 to 20 feet, so any water is capable of flowing below roads. Moreover, the Department of Energy, Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Environmental Protection Agency all say these chemicals can and do penetrate limestone and other aquatards.

Mr. McGilvery called the TCEQ and they would like to see it cleaned up. He mentioned that the Hutson family has been saddled with this problem for years and may need some guidance. Toward that end, he contacted Alan Fink, a pollution prevention specialist at Kansas State University, who has been involved in multiple cleanup sites with the same chemicals. Dr. Fink volunteered his assistance and advises there is federal money available for such a project. Mr. McGilvery asked that the council do the right thing and get this cleaned up.

Ms. Honeycutt claimed the site isn’t that dirty and the cost would be prohibitive to clean it up. She also said that surface water isn’t contaminated. Mr. McGilvery tried to correct another claim made by the council with his gathered evidence but they cut him off and said he only had one chance to speak. The council then quickly passed the motion, 6-0. Many in attendance were upset about them dismissing Mr. McGilvery’s concerns.

The council seemed anxious to let the Hutson family off the hook because of the expenses they’ve already borne. That the Hutsons profited handsomely when the company was in operation and actively polluting the ground didn’t seem to register with them. That’s a true shame. The company buried organic toxins in barrels, which then leaked and had to be dug up, but not before the shallow groundwater was contaminated. This is why we can’t have nice things, like a healthy planet.

Finally, an amendment to the ordinance about public testimony at city council meetings was discussed. The amended ordinance would decrease citizen testimony time from five to three minutes per person under certain conditions. The public speakers all disagreed with the amendment, with several referencing their anger over Mr. McGilvery being silenced. Yeah, that was terrible! The council members took no action on the amendment, acting as if it were politically radioactive (which it is). Several mentioned that there are better venues to be heard than citizen comments at meetings and suggested meeting personally with council members. There you have it, folks! They’re saying we should meet with them personally. We need to take them up on it.

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