DALLAS –- Representatives from several government agencies gathered to discuss strategies for potentially bringing water to the southeast Dallas County community of Sandbranch on Wednesday.
It is the second time the local, state, and federal agencies gathered to discuss Sandbranch’s ongoing water and sewer access issues.
Juanita Bean, 85, is one of the oldest residents living in the small community of Sandbranch. She says her family moved to the area in 1966. Bean calls the place home.
Like many of her neighbors, her porch is stacked with several water bottles. Dallas County partners have been delivering clean drinking water to homes in Sandbranch because the well water is not safe to drink.
"The day they told us it was contaminated, that's the day I quit," Bean said.
Neighbors in this unincorporated community have been fighting for water and sewer service for several decades.
“At one time, this was the best water in the world,” said neighbor Mary Nash, as she tinkered with the rusted water pump outside her family’s home.
The well water in the area has been contaminated for several years.
"It's been a long, hard fight, but the fight is not over,” Nash said.
The economically-challenged community of Sandbranch and its residents’ fight for water service has been getting a lot of attention. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins brought 11 agencies together on Wednesday to discuss strategies.
"We are working to knock down all of the road blocks -- these 11 agencies, together -- to bring water to the community,” Jenkins said.
The governmental partners’ long-term plan includes bringing water to the community, finding resources to help residents fix up or repair their homes, and removing hazards from the community.
Commissioner John Wiley Price, whose district includes Sandbranch, came to the meeting with photos showing a variety of code violations. Price also had county staff hand out a legal opinion from Assistant District Attorney Russell Roden, who is chief of the civil division.
Price told the group the fire marshal has been building a list code violations and concerns that need to be addressed in Sandbranch. Among them, Price said there are unmarked drums, human waste, and at least 50,000 tires dumped in the community and posing a safety hazard.
"The tire removal, just on what we've estimated out there... I think we've estimated what $600,000 to $700,000," Price said. "And that's at $7 a tire."
Neighbors question the tire and cost estimates Price revealed. Nash called it a tactic to delay progress.
"It just seems like it's always something wrong,” she said. “They are always looking for something wrong."
The community of Sandbranch has been working on its own strategic vision and plan for improvements with . the help of environmental attorney Mark McPherson, who is helping Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church pro bono.
McPherson and some of the community’s residents came into the governmental partners meeting with lots of questions. The attorney says none of the agencies contacted him since the group’s initial meeting on March 22.
McPherson says he also has concerns about some of the points Commissioner Price tried bringing up during the meeting. He says the legal opinion Price had staff hand out was filled with a lot of errors.
“A lot of facts they assumed were incorrect,” McPherson said.
A volunteer group is prepared to stage a massive clean-up operation in Sandbranch, according to McPherson. He says that plan would include private sector donations.
“We will have licensed transporters, we will have manifests, we will tell you how many tires were picked up from a lot, who transported them, and where it went,” McPherson explained.
Judge Jenkins urged the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to meet with McPherson about a plan to identify and remove the hazards in line with government regulations and in a manner that will not impede the group’s efforts to bring water to Sandbranch.
“Judge Jenkins has done an incredible job of pulling together off of these government agencies,” McPherson said.
Neighbors say they are encouraged by the momentum they are seeing with the new efforts to look into establishing water and sewer services.
Bean said residents in Sandbranch do not want to risk being disappointed again.
"It hurts,” she said. “When you go through thinking you are going to get it, and then you don't, it really hurts."