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Donna faces similar woes as Martinez and Gardendale

Residents of Donna, a small town in the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville, have grappled with similar problems faced by those living in Martinez and Gardendale.

In 1994, BFI received a permit from the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission to open a landfill less than 1,500 feet from a reservoir that serves as the water supply for 23 rural schools and 14 cities.

BFI's original permit called for the landfill to be 44 feet tall. The height increased to 103 feet and BFI wants to pile on more garbage to a level of 123 feet.

Farmer Jimmie Steidinger, the North Alamo Water Supply, and the Hidalgo County Drainage District sued BFI over the expansion. In February 2003, a Hidalgo County jury found that BFI had breached a contract about with the drainage district that emanated from a previous lawsuit about the landfill height.

BFI claimed the agreement left open how high the landfill could go; the TCEQ agreed that the waste hauler could expand, but a Hidalgo County jury disagreed, ruling in favor of Steidinger and the other plaintiffs that BFI cannot expand the landfill.

Steidinger, who lives a little more than a mile from the landfill, said flies, rats, stray dogs, and coyotes, and an estimated 700 buzzards have been spotted loitering on and around the landfill. In addition, contaminated runoff from the landfill could contaminate the water supply, harming crops and residents, including those who live in nearby colonias.

After Steidinger became one of the parties to the lawsuit, BFI retaliated by suing him for $40 million, alleging he committed fraud and conspiracy. But when the case went to court, BFI's lawyers couldn't produce any evidence to back up the charges, and the judge dismissed BFI's suit.

"They don't have respect for nobody," said Steidinger, who spent $9,000 in legal fees to defend himself. "When I started looking into BFI, I found out they have big, long horns on them."

"The same thing that happened in Martinez happened down here, big time." •

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September 23, 2020

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