Garland City Council Elections
May 7, 2022
Candidate: JON DEHN
1. ENVIRONMENTAL ACHIEVEMENTS AND GOALS
A. What do you believe is your greatest environmental accomplishment as a government official or as a private citizen?
Successfully monitored and mitigated volcanic hazards in the US (Alaska and Hawaii) and abroad (Italy) for nearly 20 years in concert with colleagues and federal agencies. All the while being attentive to local customs.
B. What environmental goals, if any, would you actively pursue as a member of the Garland City Council?
Though Garland has done well, particularly compared to some other nearby cities, there are still environmental concerns that need to be addressed. Yes, it often falls to the EPA to take care of these issues, however this organization is often overwhelmed. There are many underutilized programs at the EPA that the City could have access to in order to get things done more quickly. It is important to note that this need not be a huge expense for the City, beyond the time of personnel that must keep an eye on this. However, I would also like to stress that this needs to move forward without inflammatory or hyperbolic rhetoric. We need to work together, in a professional and civil manner, to get these concerns resolved.
2. ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS IN GARLAND
A. Are you aware of any issues with environmental contamination in your district?
Again, stressing the last point above, we need to move forward without raising alarms. Having done disaster management for over 20 years, alarms are alarming and trigger bad decision making and the fight or flight instinct. This solves nothing. We need to be alert to and informed on issues. One thing we should be alert to is contaminants from past industry that will inevitably leach into the groundwater. This issue changes with time, so we should setup a rigorous data collection routine and submit proposals to the EPA through Grants.gov and other sources to support this effort.
B. If you became aware of areas that have documented or suspected environmental waste that have not been properly addressed, how would you respond to these concerns as a city council member?
Same answer as above. Simply work the problem. Without raising alarms that hinder getting the issue resolved. There are the usual steps, document and analyze the problem, get data that will withstand scientific scrutiny and standards, inform the parties involved, create a plan/proposal, and monitor the progress to make sure the work gets done, and finally create the final report documenting the efforts. In some cases this may only involve alerting the EPA after step one, however I would still recommend maintaining a long term dialogue with them as the process moves forward.
C. Are you aware of the documented high levels of lead and arsenic contamination in Garland around the Globe Union Superfund site? What would you be willing to do as a member of the city council to help the City of Garland effectively remediate this pollution, keep residents informed, and create citywide standards to make sure that this type of historical pollution is stopped?
Again, this is just one of several and perhaps the one of greatest concerns in Garland. However to be blunt, and I am sorry to say this, past efforts by some private groups have hindered this being resolved and created a stigma around this effort with the residents and the City Council. I am aware of the City funding analyses and other analyses that have been done. However many of these do not have the appropriate sampling protocol and would not stand up to scrutiny. These data are great to get the ball rolling, but a rigorous resampling will have to happen to create what is needed to propose to the EPA. I am sorry to say if this had been approached in a less inflammatory manner when it came to light, it would be much less of a problem today.
Let’s be clear, after writing alerts and releases for years, and teaching disaster management, the goal is to respond, recover, mitigate and prepare. Nothing else. This requires all parties to work together or it will fail. Take the global and US response to COVID for example, this is textbook how not to do it. And I am sorry, something I teach my students (and I appreciate this survey was written hastily) how questions are phrased, particularly when written, can undermine everything with a wrong word. Even above, “create citywide standards to make sure that this type of historical pollution is stopped?” There is so much in that phrase that is problematic, and not the most inflammatory in this questionnaire. But for the purposes of going forward I will try to unpack a few things. First, it’s in the form of “When did you stop beating your dog?”, that never convinces anyone because you start out on the wrong foot. There are citywide standards, this implies there are not. They may not be as stringent as some would like, and we’re willing to go there and work on it with a balance so that we don’t end up crippling Garland’s economy (at which point nothing gets better). Something like “revisit citywide standards” rather than “create” would be better. Then, there are issues with “historical pollution is stopped?” If it’s historic that implies it’s no longer going on, however the phrase goes on to say it must be stopped, a potential accusation that pollution is happening at historic levels. Which frankly, it is not. Federal regulations, as well as City standards are in place, though some may be out of date and could be refreshed, and we can certainly look at improving how reporting is done using more modern (and less expensive and independent) monitoring technology.
D. Are you aware of the dangerously high levels of lead contamination found in the soil on the Parkcrest Elementary property, and are you aware that this pollution has been linked to the former Globe Union battery facility at 1111 S. Shiloh Rd? What would you propose as a member of the Garland City Council to make sure that the students and faculty of this school are kept safe?
This is particularly difficult challenge, because of where the contamination is, the existence of the school for some time on that property and the community that school serves. But again, the path forward has to be clear and well planned with all the stakeholders working together. The first thing would be to test the exposure levels, and there are resources available beyond the EPA, now crossing into Department of Education territory to get this going. The presence of lead, in and of itself does not necessarily mean critical exposure levels (though there are no safe levels for children). The vectors of the exposure have to be mapped and then interrupted. Regardless, this is something that everyone has to be on the same page about and move forward harmoniously or the issue will just drag on and get worse.
After reading and hearing so much, I took some time on Easter to visit the sight. It seems that most of the contaminated soil is well managed and blocked off, with a garden on one side where plants look to be chosen (either on purpose or by good fortune) to keep heavy metals in the soil. Direct access to the stream is blocked by high fences, also helpful to keep balls from getting in the neighbors yards and in the stream. The area around the playground equipment might be a challenge. I understand why there can’t be concrete around these things like when I was a kid, I’ve got a few scars to show you, but if that soil hasn’t been replaced there that could be a possible vector when its gets roughed up under the straw during play. If this is the case, I’d propose a grant to the Department of Education and or EPA to replace that with mats, like those around the play equipment at the Arboretum. Otherwise the equipment looks well maintained, and the nearby neighborhood shows no outward signs of contamination. I suspect the original work done there to cap the site was actually fairly effective, though as we know these things are no permanent solution. I had no handy way to measure lead, I did take a few spot radiation measurements, and found nothing above background. Also the EM fields were negligible from the nearby power lines. As I’ve stated, I would support a regular, rigorous check on all facilities at this school and others so we can get ahead of problems and have the tool we need to get the support from Federal agencies to mitigate any potential problems.
E. Even though Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been testing and remediating soil in Garland since 2019, most Garland residents are not aware of the contamination or that EPA has been present. What would you do as a Garland City Council member to improve the communication between the EPA, the City of Garland, and the affected residents?
Not to be cynical, but most residents are not affected by this. I don’t know, but would imagine, that most residents rely on their elected government to manage things like this, so they can get on with their lives. Is this trust misplaced? Sometimes, and it is those moments that grab all the attention. However it is important that we don’t forget or disregard the good work that has been done so far that is unsung.
Never the less, when doing research for my candidacy in District 5, I came across this and of course it would fall into my duties to keep an eye on this an help things to move forward. I am appreciative of the private groups who have kept this an active concern of the EPA when perhaps some on the Council have moved on many of the other pressing matters, relying on the EPA to take care of things. Communication is a two way street. Clearly when I looked for this information, it was all readily available. Some of it was alarmist, but it was there. But to directly answer the question, I would consider a section on Garland’s internet presence (website, social media etc.) that would regularly give updates on the work being done here and direct citizens to the EPA, where the ultimate responsibility lies by Federal law. This communication should fairly show the achievements Garland and EPA have made as well as the work still to be done. It should not be alarmist.
F. Garland has many polluting industries, especially cement batch plants, especially in underserved neighborhoods. Many Superfund sites also exist in Garland. Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), the EPA was tasked with administering the Superfund program. A Superfund site is any land in the United States that has been contaminated with hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because of the risk to human health and/or the environment. There are over 20 such Superfund sites in Garland.
Given these facts, would you support the establishment of a Garland citizens environmental commission with members appointed from each city council district to advise the council on environmental matters of concern to the community?
I would be generally amenable to this. I am not sure if it would be a permanent commission, perhaps just for as long as it is needed. The simple fact is this, the EPA has limited staff and time to handle the herculean task laid out in the CERCLA. This is why there are so many other programs at the EPA that can help Cities and States to share in the effort, at relatively low cost. After all, the EPA would hire contractors to do the work, no reason the City or a State can’t do that either, with the funds provided through the grant programs. The challenge comes in how those proposals are prepared, administered and reported, and by who. A burdensome, impenetrable, bureaucratic, Federal task that falls mostly on the City in our case. Some of this could go to the commission. They would have the standing to submit such a proposal. Having had a lot of experience in this arena, I warn you, it is a very difficult thing to do. This is likely why many of these programs are underutilized and most Cities are content to give the EPA time to do the work at the prodding of independent groups. In order for Garland to do this, there would have to be dedicated paid staff to support the commission. And again I caution you, the first few proposals will likely not get funded, so to the City it will appear as if the staff and commission are getting nothing done, perhaps for years. These are also one time funds that will have specific uses only, and not a source of ongoing revenue so there is no way to fund the staff or the commissions activities other than the City’s coffers. I wish it were otherwise, but there are realities to this situation. Not to be entirely negative though, eventually there will be success, and great things can happen. They key is to never give up and keep a positive attitude. The best way to not get funded is for the program director to see your name say to themselves, “Oh no.”
3. POLLUTING INDUSTRY CONCENTRATION IN GARLAND NEIGHBORHOODS
Sierra Club’s values are rooted in principles of equity, inclusion and justice. We support policies that not only preserve and protect the natural environment, but also improve the human environment by promoting environmental and social justice.
A. Will you support and actively promote strong enforcement of environmental regulations that protect air and water quality throughout our city, including the most disproportionately affected communities?
Mostly. Inclusion yes, Justice yes, Equity however is a problem. That term covers all manner of sins and too often is used to drag everything to the least common denominator. In fact to serve the needs of a community and promote adherence to the environmental regulations and best practices, equity fails every time. Some areas need more attention and funds than others and all of this in turn changes with time. Every situation is different, and requires a tailored and flexible response within fair guidelines. I support striving for equality of opportunity, and the distinction is important.
There has been a history in Garland of permitting industrial facilities, such as cement batch plants, in low-income neighborhoods whose residents have not always been heard by the City in their fight to protect their own health and safety from harmful emissions.
B. Will you support providing these vulnerable communities with adequate resources to challenge these attempts to increase air pollution in their neighborhoods?
Well, here is an example of equity. Every resident of Garland has equitable access to the City Council, the permitting process, and are even asked by mail as well as on social media about every development and permit in their area. At every council meeting the number of letters sent is announced, as well as the number of responses, both for and against. Comments on social media are considered and residents are given time to speak if they ask for it. One could say these are adequate resources, and this question suggests there aren’t any resources available and that the development targets communities in attempts to increase air pollution in their neighborhoods.
I would be happy to consider ways to improve the feed-back we get from residents, tailoring it to the needs of the affected neighborhoods. Garland is already doing a lot, such as the new system where residents can call and communicate in any language, with real time translation services.
There are also technologies to help minimize particulate emissions that may be incentivized for the existing plants to help mitigate this issue. As ever though, it takes all parties working together without hyperbolic accusations of targeting neighborhoods to make their air worse.
C. Would you support a plan to stop siting new pollution sources in Garland neighborhoods with a concentration of polluting industries?
I am going to have to say no to this one. Not because I promote clustering pollution sources (as the question implies), but because there are zoning rules in place that already attempt to mitigate this issue. There are also opportunities to grant variances when the zoning rules might hinder a good development approved by the Plan Commission. The City Council regularly looks at the zoning plan and other guidelines, and has a schedule on which these are updated. If I am not mistaken, that is coming up in this term, and we’ll examine this issue more closely. In doing my research for running I have been impressed over all with how the City Council and Mayor have managed Garland, volunteer positions, and am looking to help Garland stay the course. We’re going in the right direction, yes, perhaps some things can go faster, maybe even some things are going a little too fast. And there is certainly a lot yet to be done, but the only way to get this moving is working together, not against each other.
I might also say one more thing, one of the greatest challenges for management and government is trying to prepare for the future. After all the past is what we use guide our expectations, but too many fall into the trap of assuming that in the past it was like it is today, and how it is today will be how it is in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hindsight is 20/20, and the future will bring things unimaginable. Nothing is truly linear, and I do know that things will get better (at least in the long run), and new profitable technologies are constantly emerging to address issues of the past and present. We must resist the prison of two ideas and draconian shutting down of industry and innovation that drives our economy, gives people jobs and amenities, and provides more opportunity for all. Garland has to be flexible to respond to these opportunities to help clean up and mitigate some of the remnants of the past and make a cleaner brighter future.
Finally, a little note to my qualifications.
I grew up in the Midwest, and got my Bachelors and Masters at Arizona State University. I worked for a year at the Smithsonian helping to automate the world volcano database. I was awarded a Fulbright to Germany and got my Doctorate in Geology and Geophysics in 1992 focusing on undersea volcanoes in the Indian Ocean. I worked in Arctic Paleoceanography for a few years and returned to Volcanology working for the Geological Survey of Japan in Sapporo for two years. In 1998 I went to Alaska to work for the Alaska Volcano Observatory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, rising to running their satellite monitoring division, being chair of the remote sensing research group and Faculty Senate President. I have acquired large grants and managed hundreds of people and multimillion dollar programs. I am also a certified mediator. I have experience dealing with local state and federal legislators to advance projects. My wife and I moved to Garland in 2016, and I taught Disaster Management at SMU and taken private contracts helping companies with airborne assets to keep them safe from drifting volcanic ash.
Thanks for your time!