SOAH Judge Rules in Favor of Quarry Opponents
An extremely vocal coalition of area ranchers, business people, ex-military personnel and retired professionals convinced Administrative Law Judge Rebecca Smith to grant them “affected-party” status at a March 6 hearing to determine who has the right to challenge a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) air permit that would allow Vulcan Construction Materials to turn the old Eric White Ranch near FM 3009 and SH-46 into a 1,500-acre open-pit limestone quarry.
Residents packed Comal County commissioners historic courtroom where they booed Winstead attorney Derek Seal, representing Vulcan, and were admonished by Judge Smith to respect all opinions at the State Office of Administrative Hearing (SOAH).
However, she ultimately agreed with the boisterous crowd that anyone who spoke at the hearing and lived within a five-mile radius of the portable rock crusher, where TCEQ will monitor air quality, has the right to speak at a contested-case hearing (CCH) in June.
Vulcan argued only those living within a two-mile radius of the rock crusher should be included at the CCH. However, residents shot back that the rock crusher can be moved and neither TCEQ nor Vulcan is required to publicly notify anyone.
Residents who were granted affected-party status must now legally ‘align’ themselves with one of the umbrella groups recognized at the hearing in order to streamline the upcoming legal battle.
Judge Smith granted affected-party status to Comal ISD, Friends of Dry Comal Creek/Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry, Harrison Ranch Group, Greater Edwards Aquifer (GEAA), and Smithson Valley Heritage Oaks HOA.
Comal ISD Executive Director of Facilities & Construction Michael McCullar said trustees would have to authorize any legal costs associated with alignment.
Sabrina Houser Amaya, speaking for Friends of Dry Comal Creek, said she was surprised but happy with Judge Smith’s ruling.
“We are very pleased with the fairness and patience demonstrated by the ALJ today,” she said. “The next 180 days will go by quickly in terms of identifying and deposing expert witnesses and other legal activities leading up to the CCH, which we expect to occur in mid-June.”
Heading into the hearing, Houser Amaya had characterized the Office of Public Interest Council’s (OPIC) decision to consider only those living within a two-mile radius as “arbitrary and capricious and not based on any statutory law or legal limitation.”
For its part, Vulcan said it remains sincere about proving its commitment to the health and safety of the community.
“For more than a year, we’ve been listening and working with the community on developing a safe and responsible plan,” said Vulcan spokesperson Scott Burnham. “Yesterday’s preliminary hearing marked the beginning of a six-month-process, which we look forward to participating in as we continue our engagement with neighbors and the community. During that time, we will demonstrate that we have put forth a plan that is responsive to the community, protective of human health and the environment and reflective of doing things the right way.”
Houser Amaya said many of those in Friends of Dry Comal Creek/Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry are retired professionals with scientific credentials which will enable them to challenge what they perceive as TCEQ’s lax and antiquated standards for measuring air quality.
Retired military veteran Keith Randolph, Ph.D, an experimental pathologist who moved to the area 18 months ago, said mathematical modeling estimates for Comal County do not consider actual measurement of particulate matter.
“Current studies suggest Comal County citizens are already at risk of over-exposure to respirable particulate matter,” he said. “Currently, exposure of Comal County residents to particulate matter from a proposed industrial limestone processing facility such as the proposed rock crusher is estimated by TCEQ based upon mathematical modeling estimates.”
Many of those who spoke at the hearing are retired veterans who served in harsh overseas environments and moved to the Texas Hill Country for their health as well as to enjoy outdoor hobbies like gardening.
They said they built the homes of their dreams before learning their new neighbor is a limestone quarry.
Now, several whose say their health suffers today from exposure to Agent Orange during the Viet Nam War face a new battle — this time, in their own backyards.
I FOUND THIS SAYING SOMEWHERE & I HAVE IT POSTED ON MY REFRIGERATOR:
”” ONLY WHEN the last tree has died
and the last river been poisoned,
and the last fish caught,
WILL WE REALIZE WE CANNOT EAT MONEY………
Cree Indian Proverb
When the catfish farmer debated on starting his catfish farm in southern Bexar County many moons ago he first contacted Bexar County Commissioners to get their approval on his plan to drill an artisan well drawing from the Edwards Aquifer to provide flowing water for his catfish farm. Bexar Commissioners gave their approval. I wholeheartedly believe the same thing happened here between Vulcan officials and Comal County Commissioners. Comal County Commissioners will never admit it. Why else would County Commissioners ignore the pleas of residents and do absolutely nothing. Commissioners couldn’t give Vulcan a thumbs up then adopt a resolution against now could they. That is the only explanation that makes sense.
Why does Vulcan always need to be so close to the residents and even In the city with their new found rock quarry? Simple. MONEY! They’re close so they don’t have to spend money on fuel and on their operation. In the mean time they don’t mind tearing up our only roads, damaging our vehicles, houses, property and surrounding area. Buy some dam farm land away from all of us where you can continue to make your millions and let the small time people live in peace and comfort with what we’ve worked so hard for instead of trying to run us out. We lose even what we have by ever decreasing land and home values. NO positives for people while greedy corporations dig their hole and take the rest of us down.
They try to convince us they’re good neighbors as they buy people off. The only thing I’ve seen them do is donate from their very deep pockets to youth organizations in the area in an attempt to buy their “good neighbor” status. I have heard they have laughed about this fight because Stop won’t win. I haven’t heard or seen any evidence they are willing to actually sit down and talk about a real strategy for being a good neighbor. In their comments at the public meeting all they proposed was a fancy facade in front of their property. There was no real discussion about dust and pollution mitigation, protection of night skies or ways to reduce noise pollution. Honestly, even if they had, based on past compliance history and TCEQ’s lack of law enforcement, I’m not sure how Incould believe them.
We would like to know exactly who Vulcan has engaged in the community to make this statement…”working with the community on developing a safe and responsible plan.” None of the residents nor any of the groups named as affected parties have received any kind of olive branch outreach from Vulcan in attempt to discuss our concerns. As such their press release comments ring hollow. For those of us name affected parties, Vulcan has not made any efforts to sit down with the community, residents but sure is very good at spending money on billboards, slick brochures that they mailed to residents, and sending out press releases with false information. You know what VULCAN.. if your serious about being a good neighbor…..step up and stop hiding behind your money and portentious fascade
Excellent article. Thank you.
My wife and I lived inside the loop across from 1604 Vulcan Quarry in San Antonio for over 18 years. You could see and smell the pollution from that quarry. All the roof tops of the houses facing that direction where were ugly and blackened from whatever came from the plant. Our house and AC air filters were always usually dusty and dirty no matter how much we maintained. I to, as a Vietnam veteran, moved away and out to Comal County hoping for cleaner air. I am no scientist but it doesn’t take one to see the adverse affects on people, pets and the landscape near a rock quarry.