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Pollution Clouds Plans for Farmers Branch Parking Lot Development

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: At the busy intersection of Welch and Alpha Road in Farmers Branch sits a five-acre field. Except for some oak trees, it's mostly plowed now. Just months ago, this site looked a lot more like a park, with grass and more trees. Twenty years before that, it was home to a chemical packaging plant.

Jess Pettit, Vice President, Jackson-Shaw Company: Ground water became contaminated; chlorinated hydrocarbons, dry cleaner chemicals. This site is under an agreed order with Texas for cleanup.

Zeeble: Jess Pettit is a Vice President for Jackson-Shaw, a construction company just down the street that put up some neighboring buildings near this polluted field.

Pettit: That cream colored building is a pump hose. And underneath this site is a series of wells that extract ground water, process it, scrub contaminants, and release clean water into the sewer, and then vapors go up stack.

Zeeble: The owner of the property, Univar, has decided to remove nine of those extraction wells, and turn the field into a concrete parking lot. Tuesday Morning is leasing the site for more than 200 of its tractor trailers. Jess Pettit says at least twenty nearby schools and businesses - including Siemens, Eurway and Cantoni - don't want the polluted plot turned into a giant trailer lot. Neighbors, he says, aren't only worried about customer and worker health, but about the continued spread of chemicals onto their property, which would then lower its value. The businesses turned to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the TCEQ, for help, but didn't get it.

Doug Crist, Remediation Division, TCEQ: It's been demonstrated those wells could be removed.

Zeeble: Doug Crist, with the Commission's Remediation Division, says the soil at those wells is now clean.

Crist: They're really not aiding in helping out. The contamination is in another part and that's where they need to focus their remedial efforts.

Zeeble: Crist also says the concrete parking lot will not damage the remaining 27 wells. So with that assessment, 25 local businesses sued to halt development. Their motion for a temporary restraining order was rejected. The plaintiffs then appealed to Farmers Branch, hoping it would stop the parking lot. But Farmers Branch Assistant City Manager Greg Vick deferred to the TCEQ.

Greg Vick, Farmers Branch Assistant City Manager: In terms of can you put a lot or ten-story building or whatever on that piece of land, from an environmental standpoint, that's best channeled with Doug Crist at the TCEQ.

Zeeble: But Crist says the TCEQ never makes construction decisions. It defers to cities. Jim Oak is a Farmers Branch building official.

Jim Oak, Farmers Branch Building Official: We're sensitive that property owners wouldn't like that, but with it being an allowable use, there's no way the city could say you can't use it for that use.

Zeeble: While that leaves business owners frustrated, Farmers Branch and the TCEQ say they followed procedures. There's one more chance for the parties to resolve the dispute. A court-ordered mediation between the business owners, the city, and parking lot owner is set for August 18th. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.


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