A new Sherman ordinance will allow businesses and property owners to apply for what is called Municipal Setting Designations through the city and TCEQ. The designation will allow for some steps in environmental clean up to be waived on the condition that ground water from the site is never used for potable purposes.
Sherman City Manager Robby Hefton said the city has been contacted by two local businesses that were interested in the program as a way of cleaning up sites, prior to the meeting, Strauch confirmed that the two businesses were Texas Instruments and Presco Products. Calls to the two companies for comment Tuesday were not immediately returned.
Through this designation, Hefton said property owners of properties under a current Texas Commission on Environmental Quality enforcement can be relieved of some responsibilities. In some cases this is used as a part of general environmental cleanup, while in other cases it can be used to prepare a site for sale.
“It was new to us to be honest,” Hefton said. “What we propose tonight is to evaluate on a case-by-case basis the merits of this program and make a decision as staff and council on whether we should produce an ordinance that would be in support of these applications.”
Prior to the creation of MSDs in 2003, a property owner under TCEQ action would need to clean the ground water to the point that it would be at drinking standards. This can be expensive to property owners and can hinder the redevelopment of sites, said Cynthia Bishop, an environmental attorney with C Bishop Law.
“It can take years and can be a waste of resources,” Bishop said.
The program has been popular with developers over the past 16 years and more than 60 cities have participated with more than 400 applications. Among the cities to make use of the program are Euless, Wichita Falls, Irving and Grand Prairie, among other.
Consultant Carol May, represent Halff Associates, said the designation is an alternate form of clean up for sites that are currently in an federal or state environmental programs. The designation is issued by the city, but the TCEQ is the entity responsible for guidance and oversight.
In order to be approved, a site must not threaten to contaminate existing water sources. In the case of Sherman, May said the regulations cover groundwater that is up to 200 feet, while Sherman’s water sources are all 1,000 feet or deeper. As such, contaminants would not reach the city’s drinking water resources.
The designation would only apply to cleaning ground water and other requirements to resolve TCEQ cases would still need to take place, May said.
The designation only affects and applies to the single site and doesn’t apply to off-site drinking sources, she added. The designation also does not remove the property owner’s liability or responsibility in pursing site clean up. In the event a property is sold, the liability of the contamination would remain with the original owner, May said.
Bishop said the program is useful as it provides a faster and more cost effective solution to TCEQ enforcement in areas where the ground water would never be used. Instead of investing money and resources on a long recovery, these resources can instead be invested elsewhere.
This can also provide a quicker route to closing out any TCEQ cases, which can be major hurdles for someone looking to redevelop or sell a property.
“Having an open TCEQ file is always a red flag to lenders and buyers,” Bishop said.
Council member Sandra Melton asked if the city would need to weigh in on sites applying for the designation if it is handled by the TCEQ. Hefton said that the city’s support is needed for a request to be approved by the state, and the requirement would also allow the city to have some role in screening applicants. If an entity is a repeat contaminator, the city would be less inclined to assist in getting the designation, he said.
The new ordinance also includes a $5,000 application fee for property owners. Hefton said this was designed to help the city pay its administrative costs related to the program.
The request received unanimous support from the council when it was put to a vote.