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Private Prison Company Cleans Up Texas Creek, Finally Gets Prisoners

by Matt Clarke

In July 2008, Louisiana-based private prison company LCS Corrections Services agreed to remove junked cars, appliances and other debris inhibiting the flow of Petronila Creek, which runs close to LCS’s newly-built 1,100-bed Coastal Bend Detention Center near Robstown, Texas.

The company had applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for a permit to discharge up to 150,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater into the creek.
The permit was opposed by residents, especially those from nearby Lost Creek colonia, because the creek already had putrid, stagnant water and tended to flood due to blockages.
A colonia is an unincorporated, often impoverished community in the southwest, usually without potable water, sewage systems or paved roads.

Although water tests had not shown high levels of E. coli bacteria, Lost Creek residents complained that the creek water sickened both community members and livestock. The contamination may have resulted from people dumping animal carcasses into the creek, or from brine pits and brine injection wells located close by. The creek tested high for chlorides, sulfates and total dissolved solids. State agencies had refused to clear the creek’s flow obstructions because it cuts through private property and was not considered navigable water.

Initially, LCS had also refused to deal with the creek’s flow obstructions. Faced with a September 2008 opening date for the prison and no discharge permit, however, the company announced it would spend between $20,000 and $30,000 to clean up the creek. TCEQ regional director Susan Clewis said the removal of the blockages and increased flow from the prison’s wastewater discharge should clear out the stagnant creek and improve its water quality.

The LCS facility, which was expected to hold federal prisoners, received preliminary TCEQ approval for the wastewater discharge. What it didn’t receive was prisoners. After the wastewater situation was resolved, LCS’s plans to house federal detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service, ICE and Border Patrol stalled, and the prison remained vacant. In late January 2009 the facility laid off 35 employees, and most of the remaining staff had their work hours cut.

The company’s contract to house federal prisoners was dependent on a “pass through” agreement with Nueces County, in which the county will transfer overflow prisoners to the LCS facility in exchange for a share of the fees. Federal prisoners were removed from the Nueces County jail in 2006 due to unacceptable conditions. [See: PLN, Jan. 2006, p.1; Aug. 2003, p.28].

Under a contract approved by the Nueces County Commissioners Court and the U.S. Marshals Service in February 2009, the county will provide oversight for the Coastal Bend Detention Center and another LCS facility in Hidalgo County, and will receive pass through fees ranging from $1.25 to $2.25 per diem for each federal detainee housed at the private prisons. Prisoners began arriving in early March, and LCS rehired the employees who had been laid off. Their starting pay was $11.00/hour.


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