With homes across the street from Fort Worth’s Southeast Landfill, Paul Hooper and his Kennedale neighbors are accustomed to unconventional living arrangements.
It’s not unusual to see dozens of buzzards lingering in the trees on North Dick Price Road, attracted to the piles of food waste at the dump. On a recent July afternoon, a line of massive trucks blocked access to Hooper’s home for several minutes at a time.
But Hooper and his family were caught off guard when, during a rainstorm in the evening of June 3 and the early hours of June 4, gallons of mud flooded Hooper’s driveway, woodworking shop and a small apartment behind the shop where his stepson lives.
Muddy water ruined computers, video game systems and appliances in a matter of minutes. Hooper’s wife, Cheryl, said her son was “frantic” as he brought his cat to safety. Photos of the scene show mud overflowing from a ditch in front of Hooper’s home as cars drive down the rainy road.
“It’s a sticky, dried mud – it takes a scraper to literally get it up off the concrete,” Paul Hooper said. “I’ve got that over everything. It crawled up into the cavity of the refrigerator. The water dried out and the refrigerator worked, but I’ve got mud gummed up underneath. It would take a high-pressure sprayer to get that out.”
Hooper blames the incident on the city of Fort Worth and Republic Services, the waste services company that operates the Southeast Landfill and similar facilities across North Texas, including in Arlington.
When a Republic Services employee visited Hooper’s home in June, the employee did not take responsibility for the incident but said a portion of a berm — a raised surface meant to slow down runoff — collapsed at the landfill during the storm, Hooper said.
“This is the second time that this has happened in four years that I’ve lived here,” Hooper said. “The first time, it was a large rain, but it was clear water. It wasn’t mud, but it was still all the water coming out of the landfill.”
Over the past six weeks, Hooper has led a one-man campaign to improve the flood prevention ditches on Dick Price Road and demand reimbursement from the city of Fort Worth.
Although Hooper technically lives in Kennedale, a small town of about 8,000 people, city officials told him the issues associated with the road’s storm drainage and the landfill are the responsibility of Fort Worth. (Kennedale staff Hooper consulted with in June have since left the city, according to a spokesperson).
While he believes his property is the only one to sustain significant damage from the early June storm, which triggered a flash flood warning in Tarrant County, Hooper said similar flooding could happen again without more action from the city of Fort Worth.
“I’d like for someone to take responsibility and to take care of actually stopping the water from coming out of the landfill unless it’s controlled a little at a time and released slowly,” Hooper said. “I’d like to see the areas cleaned out between my neighbor’s house to make sure that water is able to flow through there properly.”
Republic Services, which is contracted to run Fort Worth’s site through 2033, has not admitted liability for Hooper’s property damage. Linda Stern, a spokesperson for Fort Worth’s stormwater management department, said the city’s environmental department recently investigated Republic’s operation of the landfill and did not find the company out of compliance with regulations.
“Inspections after the storm determined that landfill operations did not contribute to the flooding, and the city of Fort Worth declared the storm event an act of God, which ‘could not have been prevented by the exercise of foresight or caution,’” a Republic Services spokesperson said via email.
Toby Hampton, Hooper’s next-door neighbor, said the flooding issues associated with the landfill have grown over the 25 years he’s lived across the street from the property. The problems go beyond this one incident, he said.
“We paid for things to try to alleviate it, but we can’t stop a mountain being next to us,” Hampton said. “The speed of that water coming down has increased through the years, it’s gotten worse, and now we start worrying. We’re (at) retirement age and we think, when we want to sell this place, somebody might be concerned. I’d like to get it fixed so I can tell the next homebuyer that the problem is being taken care of.”
No reimbursement, but Fort Worth is making stormwater repairs
Results of Hooper’s calls to local and state authorities have been mixed. The city of Fort Worth’s risk management department denied his claim for damages on June 30, stating that the city is immune from paying damages incurred by “city functions,” according to a copy of the denial letter. A contractor estimated that a full clean-up would cost nearly $25,000, according to Hooper — not including the value of the belongings lost to the storm.
Yolanda Fouché, a property and casualty claims adjuster, wrote in the denial letter that the government is liable for property damage, personal injury or death if it is caused by an employee’s operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or equipment.
“These criteria are not satisfied,” Fouché wrote. “Additionally, the storm event on the date of loss produced an abundant amount of rainfall; the storm event is considered an Act of God, something that results from the occurrence of natural causes that could not have been prevented by the exercise of foresight or caution, an inevitable accident.”
Hooper claims that Dave Hildreth, a division manager for Republic Services, offered him $8,000 if Hooper agreed to sign a waiver and not pursue further legal action against the company. Hooper said he refused and is consulting an attorney about his legal options. Hildreth did not return phone calls requesting comment.
However, Hooper has earned the attention of Fort Worth’s stormwater management department. A crew arrived during the week of July 11 with the goal of reshaping and regrading ditches near Hooper’s home designed to hold rainwater.
Stern, the stormwater management spokesperson, said the early June storm was classified as a 50-year rain event, or a rain event with a 1 in 50 chance of occurring in any given year.
“The bar ditch was not a 50-year drainage protection solution,” Stern said. “For the nearby neighborhood, it’s designed only to convey two to five years worth of a rain event, which is a light rain.”
Fort Worth staff does not perform regular maintenance of the ditches, and the crew found an accumulation of silt and other debris that had accrued over the past few years, Stern said. Residents should report any issues with the ditches to the city of Fort Worth, she added.
“It is a little confusing out there for any residents to understand because they’re right there — they are residents of Kennedale, they would expect that to be (the responsibility of) Kennedale,” Stern said. “It’s an area where there’s a lot of jurisdictions that overlap.”
Joyce Hampton, who lives with her husband, Toby, on North Dick Price Road, said she’s not sure the ditch repairs will help with the flooding she and other neighbors have experienced. Her family spent $10,000 to put up a retaining wall to help with erosion in their backyard they believe is caused by water runoff from the landfill.
“I know it was an unusual rain that happened last time. But we’ve had rains like that, and spring rains come fast,” she said. “A little barrier is not going to do anything. It’s just going to go right over that barrier, because the other rain’s gonna be coming right behind it.”
Without flood coverage, family cleans property themselves
Without flood insurance — Hooper lives near a floodplain, but not in one — Hooper and his family are completing the cleanup process on their own. He waited for more than two weeks in the hopes that Republic Services or the city of Fort Worth would step in to help.
After sending mud samples to a lab and ensuring that exposure to the material would not harm his family members, Hooper and his wife decided they needed to get to work themselves. He paid out of pocket for a company to power wash the floors since his insurance company would not cover an “earth movement” incident.
“We had no other choice — I didn’t have the money to bring them in and clean it up,” Hooper said. “There’s some water damage in other areas of town, but I’m not in a floodplain. I don’t have to pay flood insurance. I kind of wished I had now. I always thought that was a good thing until this happened.”
Piles of dried mud and boxes of damaged possessions still surround the shop, where Hooper recently replaced the flooring. He spent thousands replacing a washer, dryer and other appliances for his stepson, who has been staying elsewhere since the June storm made his apartment unlivable.
Hooper has already been in touch with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and the office of his state representative, David Cooke. As the cleanup process continues, Hooper said he will continue researching ways to prove that the landfill’s presence contributed to the flooding that eventually entered his family property.
Neighbor Toby Hampton supports Hooper’s mission, pointing to Republic Services as the responsible party.
“I don’t know all the law, but I know that if I increase the speed of water onto my neighbor’s yard from my place, then I can be liable for damage to his property,” he said. “I kind of feel the same way for (Republic). They’re increasing the speed of water that comes into our property, and that’s causing problems for us.”
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