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Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Sierra Blanca sludge farm dumped by NYC

From Staff and Wire Reports
PECOS, Wed., June 20, 2001 -- Thousands of tons of treated New York City sewage has  been spread on West Texas farmland every month since July 1992,  but that practice will end this week.

MERCO Joint Venture's contract to dispose of the sludge will be terminated Friday, said Geoffrey Ryan, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

Ryan said the city doesn't have enough waste to continue all its contracts. He said the MERCO contract is more expensive than the city's four other sludge disposal contracts. All the contracts guarantee payment for a minimum amount of sludge.

"It was costing us $2 million to $3 million a year that we don't need to spend because of the guaranteed quantities," Ryan said.

Messages seeking comment left with MERCO and its law firm were not immediately returned Tuesday. Ryan said MERCO's initial six-year contract was worth about $168 million, but he didn't have access late Tuesday to the current contract figures.

Ryan said the contract has a provision that allows the city to terminate it without paying any penalties.

MERCO's contract was the first one signed by New York City to dispose of its wastewater sludge, after a new federal law banned the city from dumping its sludge in the Atlantic Ocean. The ban went into effect on July 1, 1992, and the first trainload of sludge arrived at the ranch, just west of Sierra Blanca in Hudspeth County, on July 26, 1992.

The use of the Sierra Blanca ranch for depositing New York's sludge was only scheduled to be a temporary solution, until seven plants could be built within New York City for treating the sludge. The plants were supposed to convert the sludge into fertilizer pellets, but after only one pilot plant was built in the Bronx local opposition forced the city to cancel the plan. New York then entered into new contracts for disposal of the wastewater sludge and extended its original six-year contract with MERCO.

Hudspeth County Judge James A. Peace said the manager of the sludge farm had told him the operation would shut down this month.

"It'll be a jolt to the (area) because this is a small place," Peace said. "If you take 40 jobs, it's going to hurt us."

Peace said more than 30 of the employees live in Sierra Blanca, which has a population of about 600.

MERCO started spreading the sludge in 1992 and its latest registration from the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission allows it to use 78,500 acres of a 102,555-acre farm.

In the past few months, the company has spread an average of 6,000 tons each month on the site, said Terry McMillan, water and waste manager for the TNRCC's Region 6.

The registration - a state-issued certificate that is less stringent than a permit - doesn't expire until May 28. Archie Clouse, TNRCC regional director, said MERCO could continue to spread sludge at the site if it finds another customer.

If the site does close down, Clouse said the TNRCC will continue to make inspections - including testing for contaminants leaching into the soil and uncontrolled runoff - for several years.

McMillan said there had been only one problem at the site. In 1994, MERCO applied sludge before receiving proof that it had been through a pathogen reduction process. It turned out that the load had been through the process, but MERCO was fined $12,800 for applying the sludge without the proper paperwork.

MERCO later sued Columbia Pictures and producer Michael Moore for damages in connection with a report critical of the project on the NBC show "TV Nation." A U.S. District Court jury in Pecos found for MERCO in the suit, but awarded the company only minor damages.

Some Sierra Blanca residents opposed the sludge farm because of concerns about pathogens, heavy metals and other contaminants in the sludge that could seep into area groundwater or blow off the farm.

"It's showing no problems," Clouse said of recent tests.

But Bill Addington, with the West Texas Water Protection Fund, said most of the information used by the TNRCC is provided by MERCO. He said news of the shutdown is "bittersweet" because there are "many, many thousands of tons (of sludge) that's on the surface out there, and it's not decomposing ... everything degrades super slow in the desert."

Addington, who lives in Sierra Blanca, said, "There is a stench (from the sludge) that is not only a nuisance it is also a health hazard, we believe."

The success of the MERCO project led a group of investors from the Amarillo and Houston areas to seek to buy land in Reeves County for disposal of wastewater sludge. Land for the project was secured in the Verhalen area, but the group was unable to secure wastewater disposal contracts amid strong local opposition, and the deal fell through.

Peace said MERCO has been a good neighbor, donating thousands of dollars to community projects.

"It was good for our community," Peace said.

Pet owners warned on summer heat dangers

Staff Writer

PECOS, Wed., June 20, 2001 -- With the summer heat increasing and temperatures rising even  more, pet owners should be more cautious with their pets.

Town of Pecos City Animal Control Officer Jaime Renteria is asking all pet owners to be even more caring and cautious with their pets during the hot summer months.

"Some people don't realize that pets are not like humans," said Renteria.

Pets don't sweat like humans, and their lungs are their main cooling system, he said. "They also breathe through their paws and leaving the window half-cracked is not going to work," said Renteria. "With nothing but overheated air to breathe, your pet cannot live very long."

Renteria said his office has received many complaints about pet owners leaving their animals unattended in hot cars.

"They shouldn't leave their pet in the car, even for a short trip to the supermarket," said Renteria. "The buildup of heat inside the car can kill the pet very quickly."

On an average summer day, the temperature inside the car can reach an unbearable 160 degrees in the sun. Even if you leave the windows cracked a bit, the dog or cat can die of heat prostration within a short time, according to Renteria. And, those that survive can suffer unseen brain damage.

Renteria said he has also received numerous complaints of pets left in the yard without adequate water or shade.

"We want to let pet owners know that during the hot summer months, the pets require extra water and shade, if they can provide it," he said. "It's a cruelty case, to leave the pet without enough water, or very little shade, because especially here in Pecos it gets very hot."

Renteria said he was recently called to McDonald's about a dog being left in a vehicle, while the owners ate inside. "They called me and told me the animal was suffering inside the vehicle, but by the time I got there they were gone," he said.

No animals he had received reports on have been found dead, but some were suffering. "If they did die inside the vehicle they didn't report it to us," he said.

"We want to urge pet owners to be more careful," said Renteria. "If they love their pets, don't leave them in the car like that, leave them at home."

Renteria said that his department is urging pet owners to be more responsible in other areas as well. "They need to make sure their pets have their shots and are neutered or spayed," said Renteria. "But most of all, during the hot summer months, take extra precaution with them."

If anyone sees a pet left alone in a vehicle or without adequate water and shade they can contact the Pecos Animal Control Office at 445-5921 or the Health and Sanitation Department at 445-9656, "because this is cruelty to animals," said Renteria.

Free immunizations scheduled in RCH clinic area

PECOS, Wed., June 20, 2001 -- A free Immunization Clinic and CHIP enrollment will be held from 3-7 p.m., Thursday, at the Reeves County Hospital in the Specialty Clinic Area.

This is a community clinic that is being sponsored by the Reeves County Hospital, Pecos EMS, Texas Department of Health, Trans Pecos Health, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and the Texas Department of Human Services.

The clinic is for all school-age children.


PECOS, Wed., June 20, 2001 -- High Tuesday 100. Low this morning 70. Forecast for tonight:    Partly cloudy. Low in the mid 60s. Southeast wind 10 to 20  mph. Thursday: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of showers  and thunderstorms. High 90 to 95. Southeast wind 5 to 15 mph:    Becoming east 10 to 20 mph in the afternoon. Thursday night:    Mostly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms.  Low in the mid 60s. Friday and Saturday: Partly cloudy with a slight  chance of showers and thunderstorms. Low in the lower to mid 60s. Highs in  the lower to mid 90s.

Police Report

EDITOR'S NOTE: Information contained in  the Police Report is obtained from reports filed by the Pecos  Police Department, Reeves County Sheriff's Office, or other  officers of those agencies.

The serving of warrants by an officer for outstanding fines of either traffic citations, animal control violations or other court costs are considered arrests and will be printed as such unless indicated that the fines were paid. In such instanced we will indicate payment and release.


Clifton Ikeler, 20, was arrested at 5:52 a.m., on June 19 at Yucca and Missouri Streets for driving while intoxicated.


Alfonso Garcia, 32, was arrested at 8:34 p.m., on June 17 in the 1000 block of West Sixth Street for failure to signal.


Reynaldo Rodriguez, Jr., 24, was arrested at 8:56 p.m., on June 16 in the 1300 block of Cedar Street for driving while intoxicated.


Jason Eric Gonzales, 18, was arrested at 9:55 p.m., on June 16 in the La Tienda Parking Lot for driving with license suspended.


Irma Jiminez, 24, was arrested at 1:15 a.m., on June 17 in the 2400 block of Highway 17 on several warrants for no seat belt, failure to adjudicate, having an unrestrained child under two and another failure to adjudicate.


Rolando Rodriguez, 18, was arrested at 4:15 a.m., on June 17 at Flying J on two warrants for minor in possession and a warrant for failure to adjudicate.


Rudy Minjarez, 47, was arrested at 7:53 a.m., on June 16 in the 400 block of Hickory Street for public intoxication and disorderly conduct.


James Esparza, 21, and David Lee Levario, 17, were arrested at 10:50 p.m., in the 2100 block of Country Club Drive. Esparza was arrested for furnishing alcohol to a minor and Levario was arrested for minor in possession, third offense-class B misdemeanor.


A one-vehicle accident occurred at approximately 4 p.m., on June 19 at mile marker 29 on Interstate 20. DPS, Reeves County Sheriff's Department and Pecos EMS responded. One Odessa man was transported to Reeves County Hospital where he was treated and released.

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Pecos Enterprise
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