Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Former City of Houston Velasco Incinerator?
The Velasco Incinerator is 4.56 acres of vacant land at the 800 Block of Velasco Street in Houston's 2nd Ward, located just north of Navigation Blvd and south of Buffalo Bayou. The site was formerly operated as a municipal incinerator facility by the City of Houston from the 1930s through the late 1960s. Municipal waste from all over Houston was brought on-site to be incinerated. The byproduct of incineration was ash and remnants that did not burn, like glass and brick. This ash and fill material was spread out on the property during the 40+ years of operations, resulting in the deposit of up to 35 feet of incinerator waste on the property, covering approximately two-thirds of the site.
Where is the Former City of Houston Velasco Incinerator?
The Velasco Incinerator is 4.56 acres of vacant land at the 800 Block of Velasco Street in Houston's 2nd Ward, just north of Navigation Blvd and south of Buffalo Bayou. The Velasco Incinerator has been the subject of community concern for over 40 years, dating back to Dr. Robert Bullard’s groundbreaking research from 1979, which demonstrated that 100% of city-owned landfills and 75% of city-owned incinerators were in neighborhoods of color. The Velasco Incinerator Project is an opportunity to rectify an environmental hazard and transform a blighted area into a community asset. With this funding, we can progress toward a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous future for the 2nd Ward and the entire City of Houston.
Who currently owns the Velasco Incinerator?
The City of Houston owns and formerly operated a waste incineration facility at the Velasco Incinerator property.
What testing has been done on the Velasco Incinerator site?
Multiple environmental assessment activities have been conducted since 2006 to test soil and groundwater, and to delineate the extent of incinerator ash on site. Environmental reports can be viewed in our public resources page.
What is the current risk to public health? What is being done?
Contaminants detected in soil and groundwater on the Velasco Incinerator site are above acceptable levels to human health if exposed through dermal (skin) contact or ingestion (eating/drinking). Data collected to date does not show significantly high contaminants that would seriously threaten human health for people living, working, or recreation nearby. Further investigations are necessary to understand better the nature and extent of contamination related to threats to human health for future site occupants.
It is also suspected that there are potentially unhoused individuals currently living on-site. The City of Houston is working with its partners and advocacy organizations to identify solutions for these individuals and prevent future trespassing as the clean-up advances. To date, the City of Houston has secured a fence around the property to prevent trespassing.
What are the current environmental impacts of the Velasco Incinerator?
Incinerator waste covers approximately two-thirds of the site, including ash and fill material containing glass, brick, and other debris. Soil and groundwater samples collected since 2006 demonstrate that there are elevated levels of environmental contaminants in soil and groundwater, including heavy metals (arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and silver), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs), Dioxins, and Furans.
Why hasn't the City of Houston cleaned or redeveloped the site?
During operation, the City incinerator deposited up to 35 feet of incinerator waste and ash on the property, covering approximately two-thirds of the site. Due to the complexity and cost of cleaning up environmental impacts, the site has remained abandoned and vacant since operations ceased in the early 1960s. As the party responsible for depositing the waste on-site, the City of Houston is limited in securing funding from the EPA's Brownfields Redevelopment Program to assess the site and remediate contamination. The City has also been unsuccessful in securing a development partner for the property through the Reinventing Cities competition and other solicitations due to physical development restrictions and clean-up costs.
It is worth noting that the incinerator waste is not structurally sound enough to support any building structures, including housing or commercial use, which restricts development financing options and limits opportunities for a return on investments made to the property.
Houston Land Bank
What is a Land Bank?
A land bank is a public entity with unique powers to put vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties back to productive use according to community goals. Land banks are granted special powers and legal authority according to state-enabling statutes to accomplish these tasks. Land banks are designed to acquire and maintain problem properties and then transfer them back to responsible ownership and productive use per local land use goals and priorities, creating a more efficient and effective system to eliminate blight. This process is known as land banking.
When thoughtfully executed, land banks can resolve some of the most challenging barriers to returning land to productive use, helping to unlock the value of problem properties and converting them into assets for community revitalization.
Texas State Bill SB 1679 Land Bank legislation currently governs landbanks in Texas. Houston officially formed a local land bank called The Houston Land Bank in 2018.
Who is the Houston Land Bank?
The Houston Land Bank (HLB) is a local government corporation and a 501c-3 nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing and redeveloping underutilized and vacant properties in Houston. HLB collaborates with public and private stakeholders to strategically acquire, manage, and dispose of properties that foster community development and enhance the City's quality of life.
The Houston Land Bank has five focus areas for the next phase of use for properties that align with community goals. These focus areas include housing, parks and public spaces, conservation and resiliency, economic development, and food access solutions.
Why is the Houston Land Bank the right partner?
The City of Houston has turned to the Houston Land Bank to champion the clean-up of the former incinerator property back into productive use for the community. As a land bank, Houston Land Bank has special powers and legal authority according to state-enabling statutes to accomplish this task.
The Houston Land Bank has an active and successful Brownfields Redevelopment Program, currently funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that aims to advance revitalization projects and build healthy communities by addressing environmental issues through assessment, clean-up, and redevelopment of brownfields.
The clean-up and redevelopment of this property directly align with HLB's focus on converting contaminated properties into productive use according to local community goals. Through the success of their current Brownfield program, The Houston Land Bank has the expertise and
and technical resources from the EPA to support clean-up activities.
Clean Up Process
What is the process for the clean-up of the Velasco Incinerator site?
First, a land banking agreement between the City of Houston and the Houston Land Bank (HLB) will occur to transfer ownership and activate HLBs special powers and legal authority. HLB will utilize local brownfield experts to help create a remedial action plan (RAP) and an analysis of brownfield clean-up alternatives (ABCA) report in collaboration with the community.
Through a transparent and inclusive process, HLB will seek public input and host open public meetings to ensure alignment with local community goals and visions for the site clean-up and redevelopment. A final clean-up grant proposal will be submitted to the EPA in November 2023. During this process, with the help of local experts, HLB will also initiate clearing heavy vegetation, conduct vital assessment activities to address data gaps, and conduct regulatory reporting to TCEQ. Once funding is secured, HLB will develop a final remediation design with input from the
community to align the cleanup efforts with community goals and priorities.
HLB will update the community on project milestones throughout the life of this project with
regular meetings, as well as solicit feedback from community members and stakeholders to incorporate into the process.
How long will the clean-up take?
Based on preliminary estimates, the clean-up process could take up to 4 years or longer, depending on the funding availability.
What is the cost to clean up the Velasco Incinerator?
The estimated cost for the Velasco Incinerator site clean-up is $5-7 million. We will pursue federal funding through the EPA and request the $5-7 million needed for clean-up. The process will also require long-term monitoring to ensure the integrity of the engineered structure remains protective of exposure pathways over time. Additional funding options are also currently being explored.
What are the main objectives of the Velasco Incinerator Remedial Action Plan?
A Remedial Action Plan is a regulatory document that requires TCEQ approval of the proposed cleanup process, remediation design and engineering specifications, cleanup objectives, and closure requirements. The Velasco Incinerator remedial action objectives will require the removal of human health exposure pathways through remediation of the affected media, control of the affected media, or a combination of remediation and controls.
An analysis of multiple clean-up scenarios concluded that the most cost-effective and beneficial clean-up scenario is to conduct limited soil remediation and cap the property with little infrastructure or features. The clean-up plan would include the construction of an engineered barrier to prevent exposure of contaminants to humans and ecological receptors, which would support limited site infrastructure.
Examples of redevelopment that involve limited site infrastructure are a street extension, parking options, parks, and open space.
What is the plan for community involvement and engagement throughout this project?
The Houston Land Bank is committed to the principles of environmental justice.
Expressly, HLB affirms EJ Principle # 7, which demands the right of communities to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement, and evaluation, and EJ Principle #12, which affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities, and provided fair access for all to the full range of resources.
Community engagement, integrity of ethics and transparency, and meaningful partnerships with community stakeholders will be paramount to the success of this clean-up and reuse project. Upon acquiring the property, HLB will launch this website to communicate project status updates, reports, and other critical information.
HLB will also create a Community Engagement Plan detailing opportunities to inform the community, engage stakeholders, and give and receive feedback regarding project decisions.
How can I stay updated or get involved? Where can I get more information?
We are asking community members and all stakeholders to help us spread the word about this project and get involved. Community input is vital for designing a clean-up solution for the Velasco Incinerator!
To keep the public informed and remain connected with our community partners, HLB will host public meetings and post milestone activity and updates throughout the life of the land banking agreement.
To learn about more opportunities to participate, call our office at 281-655-4600, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How does the Velasco incinerator relate to the adjacent 800 Middle Street project the Houston Housing Authority owns?
The Houston Land Bank is reviewing technical reports from adjacent properties to understand better the potential extent of ash and contamination from the original incinerator location. HLB is aware of community concerns and claims that ash exists off-site, including along the banks of the Buffalo Bayou. We will work with our partners at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and adjacent property owners to understand the nature and extent of contaminants of concern as part of the clean-up process.
The ability to collect additional field data will be contingent upon securing the funding, which we and our partners in the City are diligently working towards.
What happens if EPA does not fund the project?
As part of the agreement between the City of Houston and Houston Land Bank, HLB has five years to secure clean-up funding. If funding is not secured, HLB will transfer the property back to the City.