Residents fighting to keep Vulcan Materials from turning a former ranch in central Comal County into a 1,500-acre open-pit limestone quarry are asking the Texas Supreme Court to vacate a May lower-court ruling that greenlights a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) air quality permit for a rock crusher.
“This is not the end of the road for the air-quality permit,” said Milann Guckian, who shares a property line with the proposed quarry and spearheads Preserve Our Hill Country Environment (PHCE), a group of volunteer citizens that has fought Vulcan’s request for an air permit since August 2017.To see PHCE’s petition to the Texas Supreme Court click here.
In the meantime, PHCE getting its legal ducks in a row concerning the protection of the Edwards Aquifer just in case the Supreme Court decides not to take its case.
Vulcan, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates like crushed stone, sand and gravel, is required to submit a Water Pollution Abatement Plan (WPAP) for the Edwards Aquifer before it can break ground.
The company would have to outline best management practices for operating in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
Its proposed quarry, located near residential areas in Bulverde, Spring Branch, Garden Ridge and New Braunfels, stretches across nearly three miles of the recharge zone, the source of water for over two million people in Central Texas.
Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, said aggregate operations like Vulcan’s proposed quarry already use 21.4% of Comal County’s water — and 0% of that is recycled.
PHCE’s latest petition follows several years of court battles over a March 2021 ruling by 459th Civil District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble that vacated TCEQ’s 2019 decision to grant Vulcan Materials’ request for the permit, which the company needs before it can break ground.
Under Texas law, TCEQ can only permit a facility if it finds no indication it will harm the public’s health and physical property.
TCEQ, joined by Vulcan, asked Texas Third District Court of Appeals to overturn that decision, and unelected, retired Judge J. Woodfin Jones, sitting “by assignment,” agreed in a 39-page ruling issued in September 2022.
Appellate courts review procedures and decisions to ensure they are fair and the law is applied correctly.
“The panel showed no regard for relevant legal issues raised by Texans living and working in the area and essentially concluded Vulcan’s claims seem fine, and we trust them, no need to verify — or even see — the underlying data,” said PHCE Communications Director David Drewa in an interview then.
In November 2019, TCEQ granted Vulcan an air-quality permit for a rock crusher. Its decision followed several years of legal wrangling with an alliance of Comal County citizens, community groups, and Comal ISD.
Opponents claimed the quarry would destroy property values, negatively impact water supply and quality, threaten the environment, harm nearby caves, and create traffic nightmares for over 15,000 residents who didn’t realize they’d purchased homes near a proposed major industrial development.
In March 2021, 459th Civil District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble agreed with them and overturned TCEQ’s decision to greenlight the permit.
TCEQ and Vulcan challenged her ruling to remand and vacate by filing a notice of appeal on April 30, 2021.
Vulcan Materials did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has set up this website to share information about its proposed quarry.