HARRIS COUNTY GETTING IN ON THE PASADENA REFINERY AIR POLLUTION LAWSUIT ACTION In the wake of the lawsuit the Sierra Club and Environment Texas filed last week alleging that the century-old Pasadena Refining System plant has violated the federal Clean Air Act some thousands of times, Harris County attorney Vince Ryan has filed another suit against the plant. This one’s to do with the facility allegedly breaking state level environmental laws, Diana Wray writes in this week’s Houston Press; incidents of particular note include last summer’s major sulfur dioxide leak, which briefly shut down both the nearby Washburn Tunnel and the rest of the Ship Channel (while sending Galena Park into duck-and-cover mode). Wray writes that both lawsuits seem mostly geared toward getting the plant to clean up its act; each suit also has the potential to require that some kind of compliance watchdog or overseer be assigned to plant to ensure that it’s doing so. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pasadena Refinery Systems, Inc. plant at 111 Red Bluff Rd.: Center for Land Use Interpretation (license)
UNIDENTIFIED CHEMICAL STENCH, HAZE DRIFTING ACROSS TOWN OFFICIALLY NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN Suggested and mandatory restrictions on hanging around outside were issued by the Memorial Village area’s fire department and by Katy ISD respectively for a while this morning, in response to the acrid odor and haze blowing in some 40 miles across the city from somewhere near the Ship Channel. The Houston emergency response folks say that their monitoring has turned up no air quality red flags, but that anyone who can avoid the stink should probably do so just in case. The particular origin and composition of the odor also still seems to still be up for debate this afternoon: The Albemarle facility at 13000 Bay Park Rd. (shown above) called into the CAER hotline this morning to report that they might be releasing natural gas odorizer throughout the day as their gas facilities got worked on, and LyondellBasell’s Sheldon Rd. facility also sent a message to the CAER line that they would be conducting flaring today in response to a “unit upset,” but no official suspects have been named by the city. The extent of the odor’s inland spread is notably broader than last month’s quickie Valero tank overfill stench incident in Manchester: KHOU reports that some of its viewers on the southeast side of town started calling in about the smell around 10 am, and that “by 11 a.m. the smell and an apparent haze covered most of downtown Houston and the west side, with some reports from as far north as Bush Airport.” [KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Albemarle facility at 13000 Bay Park Rd.: April R.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE PASADENA REFINERY THAT RELEASED 3 MORE TONS OF AIR POLLUTION ON THURSDAY? “We worry about this plant more than we worry about the others,” Air Alliance Houston director Adrian Shelley tells Dylan Baddour after last week’s release of a 6,000-pound cocktail of toxic air contaminants from the Pasadena Refinery System complex, south of Buffalo Bayou just east of the Washburn Tunnel. The release occurred in the wake of a 7-hour power outage at the Petrobras-owned refinery (which played a role in the massive Brazilian corruption scandal that came to light last year); Baddour says this is the 8th contaminant release the company has reported so far this year (and the 65th since 2005). Shelley notes that the plant has a reputation for “large particulate matter (soot) release events that you really don’t see at other Houston refineries,” including the 2 tons of soot released on Thursday with sulfur dioxide gas and other contaminants; Shelley also notes that one of the plant’s key federal permits expired last year, resulting in a $7000 fine from the TCEQ. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pasadena Refinery Systems, Inc. plant at 111 Red Bluff Rd.: Center for Land Use Interpretation (license)
A field of rippling grass between the Denny’s and the Comerica Bank branch on Spencer Hwy. currently holds the half-finished form of one of the Krispy Kreme donut shops planned as part of the chain’s post-lawsuit re-emergence into the Houston market. The chain still has the location on its list of upcoming grand opening donut-campouts (labeled as down-the-street 4601 Spencer Hwy., though both Eater Houston and a look at neighboring addresses put the property number at or around 4061), but arch-ive-ist and daily demo reporter Lauren Meyers notes the overgrown site is pretty light on signs of active work.
Some of Fisher Elementary’s T-buildings can be seen loitering to the left, with the stadium lights of the McGuire baseball field and track facility rising distantly in the background on the right; on the west side of the building is a would-be drive-thru window:
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Cold Now on Spencer Hwy.
Yesterday’s entry in Houston’s recurring game of what’s-that-mysterious-black-cloud was brought to you by LyondellBasell’s Pasadena refinery at 12000 Lawndale St. (the same one that caught fire back in early April). The shot above was taken from an overpass near the junction of Loop 610 with Hwy. 225, though for parts of the afternoon the trail was visible from at least 7 miles away at the Hilton Americas building downtown. A LyondellBasell spokesperson tells Swamplot that flaring was triggered just before noon after a Calpine facility sending steam to the refinery lost power, reportedly due to a lightning strike. The company sent a message to the East Harris County Manufacturer’s Association’s emergency response info hotline stating that observers “may notice a bright orange flame, black smoke or a rumbling noise,” but that it was no big deal, and no one in nextdoor Manchester or Deer Park needed to do anything like leave or tape their windows shut this time.
Photo: Michael Muguerza via t.e.j.a.s.
Pasadena Smoke Signals
Some of the shadows in Pasadena’s Shadowlawn Terrace neighborhood fall within a property fitted with a cavernous structure soaring over the pool and terrace (top). The 1978 custom contemporary was designed by Richard Ainslie (“with input from O’Neil Ford,” the listing says — the San Antonio architect was a family friend of the owners). Well-tended by its original (and only) owners, the climate-controlling property splashed onto the market last week bearing a $250K price tag. It’s located east of S. Richey St. between W. Harris and W. Southmore avenues. Let’s take a peek at the teak within . . .
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The city of Pasadena is likely to go ahead with the sale of the Corrigan Center at Shaw Ave. and Pasadena Blvd., which includes the once-grand Capitan Theater, to a New Jersey oil-industry inspection and lab-test company called Camin Cargo Control. Under the $4.6 million deal, already approved by city council once earlier this month in a 6-3 vote, the city would lease back the 31,982 sq. ft. of the property — the parts currently occupied by fire department administrative offices and the city’s municipal court. The lease-back wouldn’t include the long-vacant 1,500-seat art deco theater.
But a reader tells Swamplot that decorative pieces from the front of the 1949 theater — which after an exterior renovation looked pretty spiffy until recently (see photo at right from last year) — have already been removed. “The marquee boards, neon, and the whole vertical metal section that said “Pasadena” are gone, leaving just brick behind it,” Spence Gaskin writes. “The marquee stuff had been gone a few weeks at the least, but I just noticed the Pasadena sign removal.”
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Cite magazine editor Raj Mankad leads readers on a brief photo tour of “one of the most mind-boggling sites in the Houston area.” Hills, in Pasadena! “Many of the slopes are planted with grass,” he writes. “On one visit several years ago, I saw a horse grazing at the base of one. If I squinted, I could imagine myself in Montana, if not the Alps.”
Better than a waiting-for-snow ski resort, though, these landforms north of Hwy. 225 inside Beltway 8 east of Red Bluff Rd. on the south side of the Houston Ship Channel are made of phosphogypsum. Phosphogypsum is a byproduct of the production of phosphate fertilizers, which took place on the site between 1960 and 2011, under the successive stewardship of a series of companies including ExxonMobil and Agrifos. Why was all this gypsum kept in mountainous piles instead of stuffed into wallboards or something? Well, the EPA doesn’t allow that if the material is too radioactive, which phosphogypsum generally is. So the glowy stuff has to be stored somewhere.
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There’s Glow in Them Thar Hills
MAKING MORE SPLASH IN PASADENA The Pasadena city council got together last week to have a look at a $4 million plan that would expand the community pool at Strawberry Park on Lafferty Rd. and Parkside Dr. into something a bit splashier, reports the Pasadena Citizen: “Progressive Commercial Aquatics’ Steve Davis explained the success public and private entities have had with water parks, including nearby Pirates Bay, owned by the City of Baytown. In Davis’ plan for Pasadena, the . . . project would add a new bath house, ‘lazy river,’ concession area, multiple shaded areas and lots of other pool features.” But not all council members were sold. Says Pat Van Houte: “To me, it’s not really a priority. I would look at the economics of, ‘How much is this going to cost long run?’” [Pasadena Citizen] Drawing: Progressive Commercial Aquatics
Dunkin’ Donuts announced yesterday where it’ll be sprinkling 4 new stores across Houston. This rendering shows the standalone planned for 18315 W. Lake Houston Pkwy. in Humble. There’ll also be a location inside IAH’s Terminal E, one at 4130 Fairmont Pkwy. in Pasadena, and another, as suspected, at the renovated former Arby’s at 2330 S. Shepherd and Fairview. Last month, the chain opened the first of a reported 24 stores planned for the Houston area at 10705 Westheimer in Westchase.
Rendering: Rogue Architects via Houston Business Journal
Custom in 1967, this barn-meets-barn Dutch-like home spreads across a lot of lot over in Pasadena. An early example of an upscale Kickerillo number, the listing’s interior finishes offer cavernous ceilings — some of them given an extra bit of zip by some vibrant plaid wallpaper (above) — and “built-ins galore,” including a handy off-the-den pre-SodaStream soda fountain bar (at right). The super-sized property listed last month with an asking price of $379,210.
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Construction has started in Pasadena on one of the largest loading and unloading zones of beer in Texas. Silver Eagle Distributors, whose lookalike company headquarters you can see from I-10 north of Memorial Park, says that the $25 million, 400,000-sq.-ft. distribution center will sit on 50 acres near the Sam Houston Tollway and those Independence Trail scenes painted on the Pasadena Freeway refineries.
Image: Silver Eagle Distributors via Swamplot inbox