Houston Chronicle- Settlement deal near in Waller County landfill lawsuit

By Rebecca Elliott | January 28, 2015 | Updated: January 28, 2015 4:23pm
Asettlement agreement is on the horizon in the lawsuit over Waller County's approval of a proposed landfill, but it would not end the dispute over a company's plans to locate the project near the Hempstead city line.
County Judge Trey Duhon had anticipated that the settlement terms would be presented Wednesday morning to the county's commissioners court for review, but they were not. Members of the court attributed the hiccup to small procedural hurdles, saying that the negotiations were continuing to move forward.
"I think they are very close, but until we have something that's signed by all of the parties, it's not written in stone," Commissioner John Amsler said.
The anticipated deal comes more than a month after a jury found that Waller County commissioners violated transparency laws in agreeing to host the landfill. The profile of the commissioners court changed this year after the November election of three new members, and Duhon is among a current majority opposed to the landfill.
Duhon said he expected the settlement terms would include a judgment to void the county's 2013 landfill ordinance and agreement to host the 250-acre waste site. The county would also pay attorneys' fees totaling about $570,000 to the plaintiffs: Hempstead and a citizens group opposed to the project. Duhon said that the plaintiffs were originally seeking fees in excess of $800,000
Additionally, the deal was expected to release the county from any contractual obligation with Pintail, the landfill developer, Duhon said.
Blayre Peña, an attorney for the citizens group, said that should a settlement agreement be reached, she did not expect there to be any appeals in the case.
Even so, a deal would leave the future of the controversial landfill in question, as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has final say over whether the landfill gets approved.
Pintail attorney Brent Ryan could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but he said last month that the company would move forward with its permit application regardless of whether its agreements with Waller County were invalidated. Pintail's application is scheduled for a contested case hearing in August with the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
In the meantime, Hempstead attorney Corey Ouslander said he expects attorneys to present the terms of the agreement for approval to the city council on Monday.
Then, assuming the other parties in the suit also agree to the terms, Duhon said the commissioners court would vote Feb. 11 on whether to approve the settlement.
"I think it's going to be a great thing for the county because it enables the county to move forward," Duhon said of the expected settlement. "It'll enable a lot of healing to begin between the citizens and county government."