Newsmonger: Residents oppose Newell Recycling move, Push and pull over Bexar County Jail

Residents oppose Newell Recycling move

A smelly, metal-shredding neighbor may complicate ongoing plans to revive the iconic Lone Star Brewery to its former glory. Newell Recycling has been operating in Southtown since the 1950s, taking in tons of copper, brass, batteries, aluminum, junked cars, and bulky household appliances every year for shredding. Kicking Newell out of Southtown is key to the area's redevelopment dreams, but the plan to move the recycling facility to the South Side has angered a small group of homeowners who don't want industry dumped on their doorsteps and has drawn opposition from District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña. "The way I look at this case is it's simple," Saldaña said last week. "Yes, I do want Lone Star to redevelop. I think it's a worthy project. But no, I do not want a salvage yard built in the front yards of residents in my district. Unfortunately those two things seem to almost be inextricably tied at this point."

The six or so homes seated directly across from Newell's proposed new location on south New Laredo Highway are easy to ignore — city staffers who recommended changes allowing Newell to move in completely overlooked the small patch of houses when showing maps of the area to Planning Commission members last week. Newell pointed to a number of industrial facilities that already dot the lands north and south of the proposed site, including a CPS plant and steel manufacturing facility to the north and an automobile salvage yard to the south. "It becomes a question of where do we go if not here?" insisted local attorney Daniel Ortiz, representing Newell.

Families living in the area say industry's always been far enough away to ignore, never presenting a problem. What makes Newell's proposal different, said Maria Gonzalez, is that it would put a facility directly in front of people's homes. "It's wonderful that San Antonio is growing, I love that, but not if this is what it's going to do to the rest of us," said Gonzalez, who's lived in a home directly across from the proposed development for 30 years.

Records from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality illustrate why the families are worried. Since 2003 residents living near Newell's current Southtown location have called six times to file complaints over powerful odors emanating from the facility. TCEQ records show Newell has twice been fined for violating clean air standards. One enforcement action in 1999 called for a $116,250 fine, of which Newell paid half, while another 2008 TCEQ enforcement action fined Newell $85,000. The 2008 action accused Newell of spewing emissions containing high concentrations of lead. Samples taken in the late 1990s, according to one commission report, showed lead contaminated nearby soil "in and around the 500-800 blocks of Probandt Street and along Lone Star Boulevard near its intersection with Probandt Street." The TCEQ also accused Newell of dumping industrial waste into or near the San Antonio River, waste discharges containing iron, chromium, aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Lead contamination from the facility, one report stated, had "the potential to pollute surface water through surface water run-off and to seep into the Edwards Aquifer."

Ortiz insisted Newell is hard-pressed to leave its current home as the city ratchets up efforts to revive the urban core. "There's a push to get them out of that area. … Development is happening in every area around them," he told the Planning Commission last week. But the hardest push to move Newell out of Southtown may be coming from Newell itself. Located along the banks of the sparkling newly restored Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, its Lone Star neighbor is prime real estate. In June, the Austin-based AquaLand Development LLC announced it would buy the nearly 22-acre property — land currently owned by Newell — in order to build a $60 million development complete with 700 residential units and about 30,000 square feet of commercial space, including a hotel and beer garden. President Mark Smith has also said he'd like a pool fed by a nearby artesian well, and possibly even a microbrewery.

"[Newell] were once on the outskirts of the city, but now it's clear that they are in the center of the city," said Ortiz by phone, "including along the river where the city has made a major investment." At the city's Planning Commission last week, Ortiz said it's crunch time to get the Lone Star project moving, pressing the commission, which ultimately approved Newell's relocation, to make a decision. Ortiz also said the company spoke to nearby residents last week after the Planning Commission approved the plan, saying the groups are working together to alleviate any concerns. Saldaña had another read on the situation after meeting nearby residents Thursday night, making his disapproval, at least for the moment, crystal clear. "We don't work on a timeline that's predicated on somebody making a business deal. At this point my decision is I don't support moving a salvage yard into that area."

When reached by phone Monday AquaLand Vice President John Readyhough refused to comment on the Lone Star project or whether Newell finalizing plans to relocate its recycling facility has any bearing on how soon the developer may close on the property, which the Bexar Appraisal District values at about $3.9 million. The case was set to go before the city's Zoning Commission Tuesday, but one city hall insider indicated that due to Saldaña's resistance the case might be postponed.

Push and pull over Bexar County Jail

In the most recent push and pull between county commissioners and management at the Bexar County Jail, Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz announced last week he'll seek an independent, third-party consultant to determine whether staffing levels at the jail are adequate. How exactly this differs from County Manager David Smith's call for a jail-staffing review in February isn't clear. Ortiz, who has as of yet refused to cooperate with commissioners on a review, has said only that he'll impose certain limitations of his own.

Population at the jail has dropped over the past three years from 4,500 to around 3,700, a roughly 18 percent decline. Meanwhile the jail's funding didn't move at all until last year, when commissioners instituted a $4 million cut, a total reduction of about 5 percent, that slashed 100 positions through attrition. Commissioners chided Ortiz earlier this month for asking for $1 million of that funding back, saying resources are thin and the jail has had to ship inmates to other counties, something County Manager David Smith says shouldn't have to happen until the jail population tops 3,800 inmates. After Smith, who has consistently blamed the jail's cash crunch on piss-poor management, confirmed that the lockup's finances showed it wouldn't have been able to buy crucial supplies unless the commission approved the cash infusion, Ortiz got both the money and a verbal beating.

So who's right? While we're loath to side with a local jailer, it's notable that a staffing analysis completed by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in late January concluded the jail was about 100 uniformed officers shy of what's needed to run the facility the size of Bexar County's. It's a finding the county rejected. Whether we blame shoddy management or inadequate funding, let's find the answer already.

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