DA office dismisses dumping charges

DA office dismisses dumping charges by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, October 28, 2012, Denton Record-Chronicle
The Denton County district attorney’s office dropped a felony case against a Denton man accused of illegally dumping wastewater from a gas drilling site into Hickory Creek, part of the Lewisville Lake watershed. State’s attorney Karen Anders agreed to dismiss the case against Jonathan Garza on Oct. 1, citing insufficient evidence to meet the definition of a waste or pollutant, according to a motion to dismiss signed by the visiting Judge Vicki Isaacks.

Garza was working for Eagleridge Operating at a natural gas well pad site in the 3100 block of Airport Road when Denton city employees discovered a pump forcing contaminated water into the creek in September 2011. The city ordered a cleanup of the site, which included removing a pit liner that was being buried, and about 48 yards of soil and 24,360 gallons of water from the creek bed, according to city documents. The city referred the case to both Denton County and to the Texas Railroad Commission for its own investigation. A Denton County grand jury indicted Garza in June. The Texas Railroad Commission approved an agreed order in September after Eagleridge paid a $1,875 fine, according to state documents.

In a news release, Eagleridge said city investigators were inexperienced and that Garza’s own test of the water showed the discharged wastewater “met standards.” City watershed protection employees gathered water samples, some of which were field tested and others of which were later analyzed in the laboratory, according to assistant district attorney Jamie Beck. The water samples were only tested for chlorides, not any other potential pollutant that could have been in the drilling company’s wastewater, she said. The field samples showed chlorides in the water were too high, but the district attorney’s office needed the lab samples to prosecute the case. In the lab samples, the chlorides came out OK, Beck said. Because environmental crimes are moving to the forefront in Denton County, the district attorney’s office met with city officials and the water department to discuss what each agency needs to prosecute these kinds of cases, she said. “The police know how to establish probable cause,” Beck said. “Our standards to prosecute are much higher.”

As the operator of 61 gas wells in the Denton area, Eagleridge said in its news release that it sets high standards for its employees and contractors. “Eagleridge subscribes to the best practices in the industry to assure its operations, including the services of qualified professionals, maintain the highest standards in order to protect the environment and the health and safety of its workers and the community,” the statement said. [Emphasis added]

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