Fort Worth

Fort Worth to Fight Lawsuit Over Environmental Mess Near Downtown

City denies claim it mishandled cleanup of oil-industry waste

The Fort Worth City Council is expected to vote Tuesday to spend $85,000 on outside lawyers to defend a lawsuit alleging the city has mishandled the cleanup of toxic chemicals along the Trinity River near the Panther Island project downtown.

A city attorney acknowledges ground water on the property is contaminated with hazardous materials and said the city has a plan to clean it up.

Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga, CEO of a construction company hired to do excavating work on the property, put the city on notice he plans to file a lawsuit.

Evangelista-Ysasaga said his company, PennaGroup, was never told before it started the 2010 project that the dirt contained hazardous chemicals, and his workers immediately complained of headaches and dizziness.

“When my guys complained, I was furious,” he said.

They encountered what he calls “hazardous waste sludge” pouring into a trench area at the rate of 33 gallons a minute, he said.

He hired experts to test the soil and found it contained unsafe levels of arsenic and benzene.

It was a big surprise to us. We were deeply disappointed we weren't told about this before we got into this ar"It was a big surprise to us," he said. "We were deeply disappointed we weren't told about this before we got into this areaThe property, behind the police auto pound at 2500 Brennan Ave., was home to oil industry tank farms dating to the 1940s, said assistant city attorney Christa Reynolds.

“Those companies are gone” and the city has worked since 2009 to clean up the contamination, she said.

Reynolds declined to comment on the lawsuit but did talk about the extent of the contamination and how the city is addressing it.

“It’s not an issue we’ve been ignoring,” she said.

The city likely will have to spend millions more to clean up the remaining mess, she said, acknowledging the contamination includes arsenic and benzyne.

“There is a long-term plan,” she said.

The city is working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to approve a barrier, which would keep groundwater from flowing downstream, she said, adding other possible solutions are being considered.

Evangelista-Ysasaga claims both groundwater and surface water is contaminated and that it is slowly flowing into the nearby Trinity River.

The city attorney disputed that, saying the city’s tests show only groundwater is affected and the remediation efforts on the surface water have worked.

“(Contaminated) water is not seeping into the river,” she said.

However, the contractor showed NBC DFW a trail of rust-colored sentiment flowing from the area where the fuel tanks used to be directly into the river.

The area smelled like diesel fuel.

A steady stream of what appeared to be dirty water also flowed into the river -- even on a hot, dry day.

Reynolds said the city has tested the rust-colored sentiment and found it is not hazardous and added she would ask city crews to investigate the separate flow of water.

Meanwhile, Evangelista-Ysasaga is locked in a separate battle with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over his fees for the project, which he said cost him far more because of the hazardous waste.

A Corps spokesman, Clay Church, declined to comment on the case.

A spokesman for the Trinity River Vision Project, which is also named in the planned lawsuit, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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