By Chris Edwards
WOODVILLE -- Representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Department of State Health Services appeared at a town hall-style meeting last Thursday to address citizens' concerns about the proposed meat-processing facility.
The event, which was emceed by State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) drew a large crowd to Eagle Summit in Woodville. White emphasized that the controversial facility, planned to open north of Woodville, is only in the proposed stage and reiterated the word "proposed" throughout his remarks during the two-hour event.
"They have a real steep curve they have to reach before they ever start," White said.
The TCEQ officials on hand were from its Region 10 Beaumont office, which is involved in environmental code enforcement procedures. DSHS representatives came from the department's Austin office.
Audience members supplied questions written on index cards. The officials fielded questions on a variety of topics ranging from wastewater treatment to the monitoring of slaughterhouse workers' mental health.
Kathy Sauceda, regional director with TCEQ, as well as White, noted that the only information they had to reference in answering questions specific to the proposed facility was the company's press release along with media coverage. "We know as much as you know," Sauceda said.
One audience member asked if anyone from East Texas Packing was contacted to appear at the town hall. White said he did not invite anyone from any specific entity and asked the audience if anyone from the company was present, to which no one responded.
Sauceda assured the audience that several other meat-processing operations operate throughout the state without any issues. "If they don't comply, that is why TCEQ is here," she said.
Many of the questions dealt with specifics on the plant's water situation. Ronnie Hebert, the regional water section manager for TCEQ, said the plant will not process water on-site, but will send its wastewater to the City of Woodville's treatment plant. He said some pre-treatment will be done at the facility, but no processed wastewater would flow into creeks.
Hebert said current figures show that the plant's wastewater output would represent 3% of the acceptable amount for the city's system and that it would not overwhelm its capabilities. He said the city has authority over the water treatment and will monitor it closely.
Several in the crowd had questions about odors emanating from the plant. Representatives from both agencies referenced the company's press release and claimed that the carbon-based filtration system it plans to implement will minimize any odors. Sauceda said there would be more of a concern with odors if animals were to be housed and fed at the facility, which is not the case. "They shouldn't have any major odors off-site," she said.
Sauceda said that if it is built and opened, the facility will be beholden to a host of regulations. "If they don't comply, that is why TCEQ is here," she said. "We act quickly if there are complaints."
White said that the large turnout represented the involvement and concern of area residents and said it made him proud to represent the region.
Despite all of the information presented last Thursday evening, some who attended still have questions. Woodville resident Tina Coggins said it appears as though Tyler County residents are being forced to accept the plant coming to fruition and said that many citizens still oppose it.
"We have made it very clear that we the people do not want it here. We won't give up," she said.