In the western oater, it’s always the cowboy in the white hat that wins. What’s really satisfying is when it happens in real life – like the Waller County Citizens Against the Landfill victory recently.
This little brawl began about the time I moved to Hempstead, Waller County, Texas, about 7 or so years ago, and I watched from the sidelines as my cousin and a lot of other ranchers fought to protect their water aquifer. I’ll try to catch you up on the plot, at least in summary.
You see Texas, like many rural states, has not adopted conservation and recycling standards for its big cities. Which means Houston, with 2-1/2 million people and an MSA of almost 7 million, has to find somewhere to bury all its garbage. Which puts them in the hunt for available land on a major highway – like in Waller County 50 miles away on I-290.
Unbeknownst to Waller residents, their County leadership had secretly approved the sale of ranch land to a Landfill company, giving them all the necessary land use approvals without community notice or hearings. When the nefarious plan was discovered, the you-know-what hit the fan – including large billboards on 290 pillorying the County Judge who negotiated the deal.
Years of battles followed – not only because this was a shady deal that skirted the law, but primarily because rural aquifers were being put at risk for ranches throughout the County. A grassroots effort sprung up. They hired an investigator and a law firm, and organized the rest of the ranchers and concerned citizenry. There were rallies and meetings, lawsuits and hearings before TCEQ (that oversees water quality in Texas).
Waller is hardly a wealthy County, so this was definitely a story of simple farmers and ranchers and schoolmarms banding together to fight the professional gunmen hired by the Landfill corporation. There were auctions that included everything from ranch equipment to longhorn cattle and fine western art, and dozens and dozens of smaller events, from garage sales to holiday festivals.
There were skirmishes, small wins, some setbacks. The County leadership was mostly replaced at the voting box, the TCEQ set aside the original approval for the siting of the landfill, and the corporation started again with a new application. Still the guys (and gals) in white hats stuck to their guns, and just recently the Landfill corporation decided to go elsewhere.
At this point in the movie, the audience would be applauding as the hired guns rode off into the sunset and I am sure there is plenty of that jubilation for the Waller County folks. They fought off the guys in black hats, cleaned up their County leadership and protected their aquifers.
But it is also a good time for the rest of us to cheer – and to be reminded that grass root politics still work in this country when we think things really, truly need fixing.
— Jonnie Martin