Illegal Dumping Continues To Be A Problem In Flour Bluff And There Once Was A Solution; Why Was It Killed And Could It Ever End Up Back On The Table?
The Southside Light
Flour Bluff— The topic of illegal dumping is nothing new in Corpus Christi and in some south side neighborhoods the problem is growing more and more out of control. In recent weeks, the Southside Light has taken several calls from citizens and businesses around the area asking what more can be done about the problem and what the city can do to help fix the problem? At one point, there was a clean and viable solution. But right in the middle of the planning, the solution was shot dead in its tracks and many, especially in Flour Bluff feel like their efforts fell on deaf ears.
The project was known as the Flour Bluff Collection Center. The plans called for it to be a state of the art, cosmetically sound and practical place for south side residents to properly dispose of heavy bulk items at their leisure without having to wait on the city or the so called “Litter Critter” which makes its way through the area several times each year.
The plans for the project called for creating 4 new full-time employees and the cost of operations would be covered by solid waste revenue and consumer growth. The facility would have offered covered areas for residents to properly dispose of their heavy trash and it would have been open on Thursday through Sunday for residents to use. By Monday, the previous weeks heavy bulk items would have been hauled away to the landfill and properly disposed of without any major disruption to area residents. But a small and vindictive little group fought back against the project and eventually stopped the city from moving forward even after the renderings were drawn up, plans put into action and a location secured.
“What this ended up being was a targeted political attack and citizens paid dearly for it,” said Al Gonzales, a former city employee who worked closely on the project. “This project offered a perfect solution to a problem that the residents demanded to be addressed.”
Gonzales says that he believes there is more to the story and that a local special interest group should bear a heavier reckoning for stopping both the project and progress.
On August 17, 2015 it appeared that everything was on schedule for the project to move forward without much objection. Lawrence Mikolajczyk, Director of Solid Waste and Valerie Gray Executive Director of Public Works sent a letter to then City Manager Ronald L. Olson, authorizing him to proceed with design and construction of the Flour Bluff Collection Center project as planned.
Less than a week later, the item showed up on a city council agenda on August 25, 2015. It was there, that the leadership of the Flour Bluff Citizens Council showed up to speak against the project. Kyle Pape and Shirley Thornton, who have spearheaded the special interest group claiming to represent the citizens of Flour Bluff voiced their opposition to the project, along with two other area residents. On that day, 5 Flour Bluff residents showed up asking for more time to allow residents to learn more about the project, which in and of itself didn’t seem unreasonable. But then there was more.
According to city records, Pape’s primary argument against the modern and ecologically sound facility were purely fiscal. In comments both before City Council and to others within the community, Pape claimed that he believed that the project was a waste of money and that other options, such as the cumbersome “litter critter,” which has seen a gradual stagnation in use, were more fiscally viable options.
The Flour Bluff Citizens Collection Center was penned to cost nearly $4.6 million dollars. However, after the city purchased the property, the project was never actually sent out for bid and officials with the city of Corpus Christi and other cities who have completed similar projects, believed that the project would have ended up being substantially less.
Either way, the project was secured with a Certificate of Obligation. Certificates of Obligations can be payable from ad valorem revenue, pledged revenues or a combination thereof. Unlike General Obligation Bonds that always require an election, the Certificate of Obligations do not require an election unless at least 5% of the registered voters in the jurisdiction submit a valid petition protesting the issuance. City of Corpus Christi records never indicated that such protest was ever lodged or that 5% of registered voters ever even became that far involved in the issue.
The state of the art facility would not have been unlike many other similar facilities around the country that are used to help control illegal dumping. Modern facilities like the one proposed back in 2015 work extremely well and have very little, if any community impact, says Michael Franklin, a Solid Waste Engineer who has worked on several similar projects in San Antonio and Temple. Franklin says that most experts agree that these types of facilities truly offer more benefit to the community then they take. So why object?
Couple the influence of a hyperlocal special interest group with political warfare and you have the recipe for a community failure—and that is exactly what happened.
The entire proposal would end up getting even stickier as time went on. In fact, the motion to move forward with the project passed through city council on the first reading without much of a problem. It was after political gamesmanship came into play on the second reading that the project would end up on the shelf.
Colleen McIntyer served on city council at the time and was the last councilmember to serve from the North Padre Island area. Documents obtained by the Southside Light through a freedom of information act request show that friction was building between McIntyre and some of the residents over-the-bridge in Flour Bluff. Former city employees noted that during this time period tension was building all throughout city hall and Mayor Nelda Martinez was struggling to maintain order. Then the former employees say, the friction was compounded by political alliances between then councilman Chad McGill and others who felt that McIntyre needed to “go away.”
Records show that McIntyre didn’t disagree with the Citizens Collection Center on Flour Bluff. In fact, most agree that she seemed to support the project pretty firmly and it was McIntyre that represented the community as a whole and not just a few neighborhoods.
Despite what they claim Kyle Pape and Shirley Thornton, the two figureheads of the politically active special interest group the Flour Bluff Citizens Council, really have no affection for the Island or those that call that section of the city home. In fact, many argue that they are against development or growth of almost any kind—especially in Flour Bluff, the community that they claim to represent.
“They claim all sorts of things and start rumors that all these things are going to happen,” said Flour Bluff resident Liz Carter. “But nothing ever really happens.”
It’s that kind of political gamesmanship that led to the Flour Bluff Citizens Collection Center to be tabled back then. But is the idea totally dead?
Since this ugly mudslinging contest back in 2015, there have been some major changes to city council and at city hall. Council itself has flipped entirely and Mayor Joe McComb has proven that he can be the calm in the storm when needed be. Paulette Gujardo is smart and savvy, capable of actually listening to people. Michael Hunter compliments council as a listener, taking in every detail. The long pole in the tent however, is councilman Greg Smith, who has closely aligned himself with the anti-growth crowd that seems to be really great at disguising their true motives. There is a new City Manager, Peter Zanoni. Zanoni is smart, comes from bigger city experience and seems to be a practical voice of reason. The answer is that it might not come up now, but it might certainly get brought up again—and for good reason.
Dumping along the old Holly Road extension that connects to Flour Bluff Drive is getting worse by the day. Areas East of Padre Island Drive could certainly use a facelift and if a feasible opportunity existed to conveniently and reasonably remove heavy garbage and debris existed, residents over there may actually use it instead of dumping it or just letting it sit.
Residents from the far south side, Flour Bluff and North Padre Island could have used the facility every weekend, should they so choose. But then again, the more things change, the more things stay the same and that’s never any good for progress.
“What I would love to see is a clean and beautiful Flour Bluff and city,” says former city employee Al Gonzales. “But I don’t think that will be in my lifetime because us and them are all about the age. But maybe our younger people will learn from our failures and Corpus Christi and Flour Bluff, you know can really be pretty again.”
*All photos by Matt Briscoe, for the Southside Light
**Legal counsel and legislative aides provided consultation for this article to ensure a factual basis based on public records.