County cleans up health hazard property

HARLINGEN — County workers cleared out a property spanning nearly 5 acres officials suspect was possibly being used as a dump site just outside of Harlingen.

On Monday morning, County Commissioner Gus Ruiz ordered the start of the “Operation Rattlesnake” cleanup near the south side of Dilworth Road.

“There were over 5,000 tires… This was a very, very bad health issue,” said Edgar Chapa, Cameron County Health Department assistant director for environmental health.

“Since this property was in critical condition, we had to take action,” Chapa said. “There will be a lien filed on this property so the county can recover the cost of the expenses.”

County health inspectors cited the property owner with 400 violations, saying 90 percent of the property was covered with accumulated debris that inspectors said was unsafe and unsanitary, according to the Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services.

The property owner was not available for comment.

“The county means business and we will no longer tolerate this behavior by individuals that negatively impacts our communities on many levels,” Ruiz said.

“There is only one way to deal with this growing crisis and that is to abate theses issues by removal or demolition.

“Any expense encumbered in theses operations will eventually be recovered through the court system,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said the cost of the cleanup is estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.

County officials said the cleanup effort comes after the property owner had failed to comply with multiple notices of violations and more recently failed to comply with a Cameron County order.

The county order gives the county authority to clean out a property as long as the owner is given a 30-day notification to clean up the property.

County workers had begun cleaning at 9 a.m. Monday and worked throughout the day filling up multiple dumpsters and dump trucks with the help of bulldozers and backhoes.

“As per the information obtained by the department, the property owner also owns a junkyard within Cameron County and the owner was possibly using the property as a dumping ground,” said Gustavo Olivares, Cameron County environment health director.

Also assisting Cameron County was Republic Services, which offered its assistance to offset the costs of up to $12,000 of trash that will be transported to their facilities.

Chapa said the property owner had been notified last August the property was in violation of rules against unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

Local residents complained about the property again in March.

It led the Cameron County Commissioners Court to amend the ordinance to take appropriate cleanup measures of properties where owners had not cleaned up unsafe and unsanitary sites.

Some of the debris picked up at the Dilworth property included plastics, ceramics, light posts, metal, car parts, gas tanks, computers, rusty barrels, tires and more.

On day one of the cleanup, 35 workers from public works, county maintenance and health inspectors worked together to clear out the property.