AUSTIN (KXAN) – The head of the Texas Department of Transportation found himself fielding questions from lawmakers about a Dripping Springs dump site full of rotting deer carcasses, garbage and oil exposed in a KXAN Investigation earlier this week.
“It’s highly disappointing,” TxDOT executive director James Bass told lawmakers during a House Transportation Committee meeting Wednesday when questioned about the site by three members of the committee.
Bass downplayed the possibility of there being more “staging” areas across the state being used by TxDOT workers the same way our investigation showed the property along US 290 was being used.
“It’s not a normal practice, it appears to be outside—we have guidelines. It appears there were a few people that did not follow those guidelines,” Bass added. “Here, it appears we have a few outliers that did not follow guidelines.”
Rep. Celia Israel, a Travis County Democrat, appeared to show the most concern.
“The disappointing thing to me was that, yeah it was done, but that somebody thought they could get away with it and they weren’t afraid for their job or that they were doing something inappropriate,” Israel said. “I’m the first one to defend state employees who are doing good work for the most part, but it is embarrassing for all of us that work for you guys that this happened.”
Lawmakers likely found out about the dump site after KXAN Investigator Jody Barr emailed every member of the House and Senate Transportation Committees Tuesday morning, along with Bass and each TxDOT commissioner, seeking answers to questions over the agency’s investigation into assurances there were no other sites like this across the state.
Within hours of the KXAN email, Bass responded and said the agency was conducting an internal investigation. “We will be doing a systematic review to ensure guidelines are being followed throughout the district and the state. We will await the conclusion of the work of the TCEQ and an internal investigation before taking any additional action,” wrote Bass.
Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, told Bass he spoke with TCEQ–which is also investigating the dump site–Wednesday morning.
“They’ll [TCEQ] be making some recommendations and there could be some fines,” Pickett told Bass. “But, I didn’t want to beat that until I heard everything because a news story is one thing, you know, I think they probably should have turned you in instead of let it go on.”
Within days of learning that KXAN had undercover photos of TxDOT crew members dumping at the site, the agency immediately worked to clean up the site.
Pickett said the committee would need to see proof the garbage and dead animals taken from the Dripping Springs site were “properly” disposed of.