Perceived Risk and the Siting of a Controversial Wastewater Treatment Plant in Central Texas



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This thesis is a participant observer case study that examined how three primary intervening variables (resources, trust, and risk communication) influenced the amplification and attenuation of perceived risk during a regulatory permitting process. The objective was to better understand the role of risk perception in a water policy decision, the issuance of a permit by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the Waco Metropolitan Regional Sewerage System permitting them to discharge 1.5 million gallons of waste water effluent a day into Bull Hide Creek. The study took place between March 2008 and October 2009.

The plant, designed to serve the sewer needs of distant cities, was planned without the participation of the residents of the creek community. After being notified of the permit application, they organized to protest the issuance of the permit which they felt presented a serious risk to their community. It is the conclusion of this researcher that risk perception played a key role delaying the issuance of the permit and construction of the plant. When perceived risk attenuated to a mutually acceptable level for all stakeholders, the permit was issued.

It is postulated that if risk perception is recognized as a significant factor in potentially controversial urban and regional planning and policy decisions, implementation may be less difficult. The validity of this conclusion is constrained due to the fact this was a single case study and generalization is limited.