Peñitas residents lost access to their local county waste disposal site last week in an ongoing disagreement between the city and the county.
That loss of access is the ultimate result of a new city ordinance restricting trucking in town, though the city of Peñitas and Hidalgo County Precinct 3 differ in their understanding of whether that ordinance actually restricts county trash collection within the city.
Precinct 3 says the ordinance means it can’t run trash trucks in town, so it can’t operate its waste collection facility.
Peñitas says the ordinance allows for a route through town for the county’s trash trucks to continue operating — which Precinct 3 denies being aware of.
Both sides say the other is acting maliciously and motivated by politics.
All that’s resulted in a good deal of posturing and press releases over the past week and a half.
That is, perhaps, not surprising: Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Everardo “Ever” Villarreal is running for reelection against Peñitas City Manager Humberto “Beto” Garza.
Garza has alleged that Villarreal is using the ordinance as a pretext to close a site that the county would have closed years ago, were it not for the intervention of public outcry.
Villarreal’s staff have expressed frustration over the city’s communication about the ordinance, and say they’re largely beholden to the city in the matter.
Aside from the current drama, the city and the precinct traded shots in court last year over where to vote in town — a matter that’s not entirely resolved itself.
It’s fair to say that the city and Precinct 3 have a habit of taking swings at each other.
So what’s up with trash collection in Peñitas?
The city pointed the Progress Times to a resident it said had been wrongly denied services at an alternate county trash collection site after the closure.
That resident said he’d learned about the closure of the Peñitas site, gone to the county’s Palmview site and bounced around a bit discontentedly before he worked out where he could actually dump his trash.
The city claims the county denied him services based on his Peñitas address (which the county says would have been a mistake), though the resident — a disabled man who drives the trash to the dump as a chore to get him out of the house — was mostly just confused by the service interruption.
Perhaps predictably, he and his wife would only speak about the situation anonymously: they feared political retaliation.
The trash fight has certainly taken on a political bent.
The county announced the closure of its Peñitas facility last Wednesday.
“I apologize for any inconvenience this closure may cause. However, as a public servant, it is my responsibility to ensure strict adherence to all city ordinances for the safety and well-being of our residents. We appreciate the understanding of the public and their cooperation during this transition,” Villarreal wrote in a statement that pointed residents to other precinct sites.
That closure follows the passage of a new city ordinance on December 7 that largely prohibits big-rig traffic in town.
Though the ordinance nominally exempts trucks with regular business in Peñitas, the city says it doesn’t exempt the county.
Local police, Precinct 3 says, hand-delivered a copy of the ordinance to their waste station employees the day after it was passed.
Staff at the precinct spent most of the month looking for clarity on the new ordinance, they say, contending that information received from the city was usually vague or contradictory — if information was received at all.
That information didn’t, Precinct 3 Chief of Staff Jorge Arcaute said, result in the county finding a roadway to operate its trucks on.
“I can stare at this map all day long, and if the section in front of the site is not part of a truck route, I don’t understand how we’re going to get our trucks there. No amount of rerouting gets us to that entrance,” he said.
Arcaute described the situation as frustrating. He says he can’t see why the city pushed through the ordinance so fast, and he doesn’t know why his office has had such a hard time getting clarity from the city.
Lacking a solution, the precinct says it had no choice but to close the site last week.
That decision quickly earned a response from Peñitas.
“This ordinance was approved for the safety of our residents and to protect the integrity of our city streets, and in no way affects Precinct 3’s ability to keep its Waste Collection Station open and functioning, but it was the Precinct’s decision to close it,” Mayor Ramiro Loya said in a release, adding that Precinct 3 is welcome to continue operating the station “within the city limits of Peñitas while abiding by the guidelines and regulations established in” the ordinance.
The precinct, to reiterate, claims that it’s not aware of a way to do that.
Garza later took a more combative stance on the issue.
“This week my opponent chose to take an issue regarding safety and turn it into an issue that affects all my neighbors and fellow Precinct 3 Taxpayers,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “My job is to help protect the taxpayers, it’s what I do. I follow and help make reality the decisions made by the people elected to represent the citizens of the City of Peñitas. I can’t choose what to do politically, I have to do my job. My opponent could have rerouted county trucks…He could have asked the city how could the county and his office work to remedy some of the safety concerns. He didn’t. He chose to take a drastic action to make safety political.”
Garza pledged to reopen the site if he becomes commissioner.
Speaking to the Progress Times about Precinct 3’s concerns, Garza pointed out that the county almost closed the site in 2021 but didn’t after it was faced with public criticism.
So why did the city pass the trucking ordinance in the first place?
Last month Police Chief Roel Bermea told the Progress Times that the city passed the new trucking ordinance with protecting the physical integrity of city streets in mind.
Garza said that near the county’s waste facility, there’s also a safety component: he describes the road there as narrow and prone to erosion, and says the city recently became aware of a deaf child who lives in the neighborhood.
“I would like to see the numbers on violations of the city’s previous trucking ordinance,” Arcaute said, skeptical of the city’s arguments behind the ordinance.
Garza scoffed at the precinct insinuating that the city’s making up issues.
“If it’s politics, do you think I would be dumb enough to do something like this that would affect the voting public?” he said.
At present, the situation doesn’t seem likely to reverse itself.
Garza says the city will likely weigh the feasibility of opening a site in-house in the near future.
“We were already exploring that idea months ago, but we kind of tabled it. We are looking forward to maybe exploring that idea of adding another collection site soon,” he said.
The city has a current contract with Republic Services, a company that picks up trash, which Garza says gives residents some option other than driving out of town to an alternate Precinct 3 site.
Garza says a new contract with Steven Cruz’s CNC waste management company approved in mid-December pertains strictly to wastewater and isn’t relevant to the trash feud.