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Don't mess with Texas? Consumer advocates say state falls short enforcing environmental law

Don't mess with Texas? Consumer advocates say state falls short enforcing environmental law
Don't mess with Texas? Consumer advocates say state falls short enforcing environmental law 04:31

FORT WORTH — It's been two years since someone dumped thousands of tires, shingles and other construction materials onto a patch of land in east Fort Worth. Neighbors have filed complaints with the city and state, and while it seems everyone knows about it, the I-Team learned the challenge now is getting someone to do something.

Fort Worth has an environmental investigative unit as part of its code compliance department, which handles complaints of land, water and air pollution. 

"Fort Worth is like 350 square miles, so we don't get all of it, but we get as much as we can," said Roland Bell, the unit's supervisor.

The criminal charge for illegal dumping depends on the weight of the trash. Anything up to 1,000 pounds is a misdemeanor; Above that, it's a felony.

According to Bell, the dump reported on Randol Mill Road in May 2022 was too big to weigh.

CBS News Texas

It's so big, Bell said he isn't sure who will clean it up. 

"Technically it would be on the property owner," he said. "Is he going to be able to afford to do that? I don't know."

Fort Worth PD issued an arrest warrant and called in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. TCEQ investigators sent the property owner and property manager notices and ordered them to clean it up. But two years later, there has been no arrest, and the dump remains.

"The average Texan who is unfortunate enough to interact with the TCEQ typically comes away disappointed," Adrian Shelley told the I-Team. Shelley is the Texas Office Director for Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer rights group that regularly deals with the TCEQ.

"It's not an easy process," he said when asked about the complaint process. "And it hasn't been designed to be accessible to members of the public."

According to the TCEQ, there are around 500 regional environmental investigators in the field across Texas. Last year, they conducted 68,000 on-site investigations; roughly 136 for each investigator.

Only a small percentage of those investigations come from citizen complaints. While the agency receives about 10,000 complaints from individuals each year, they investigated just half that number in 2023.

And even when a case is closed, it doesn't mean the problem is solved. "Often what we find is the TCEQ issues a fine, recommends a corrective action, but then doesn't see that through," Shelley said.

While the Randol Mill case is marked "closed" online, a TCEQ spokesman told the I-Team the investigation continues. In an email, he told the I-Team "an agreed order is in development, which will describe the alleged violations and any actions that need to be taken to correct them."

"I was pissed off. I was really, really angry," said Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens, in response to a CBS News Texas report on the dump site.

She represents the east side of the city, where it's located.

"I never thought I would see that. Not on the inside of Forth Worth," she said. "The idea that you could have someone have that kind of waste possibly contaminate the water supply. This is more than just trash."

Bivens says the lead agency with the greatest impact will be the state. That doesn't absolve the city, though, from responsibility, according to her.

"What I'm prepared to tell you is whatever the city needs to do, we will step up," she said. "Let's find them. Let's get the stuff moved. And, thank you for bringing it to everyone's attention."

Watch the I-Team's investigation into the land and the property tax breaks its owner is receiving. 

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