News Story Excerpt:|
SIERRA BLANCA, Tex - New York City has the people, drains and the toilets - more in a few blocks than in this entire West Texas county. Hudspeth County has the land, 15 times as much as all of New York. Which is why, when New Yorkers flush their waste often ends up here, 2,065 miles away, in an isolated impoverished county on the Mexican border whose largest town can't even afford a sewer system of its own.
Behind these simple facts lies a tale of political intrigue and maneuvering and big city money, spent to persuade Texans to accept some 225 tons a say of what New Yorkers wouldn't. For a Long Island company named Merco Joint Venture, the prize was a $168 million, six year contract, beginning in 1992, to dispose of nearly a fifth of New York's sludge, the gunk left over after sewage has been treated. Making virtuoso use of the legal means available, Merco took only 32 days to win a state approval that normally took months.
Merco, based in Freeport, L.I. hired former state environmental officials, handed out political contributions and threatened to sue anyone who stood in the way. Public relations costs alone had reached $598,000 by January. A $1.5 million contract study the project effects went to Texas Tech University, which endorsed it even before the study began. Merco put more than 40 local people on its payroll, including a former county sheriff and his wife, a county auditor and several relatives of county employees, as well as a state game warden.