TCEQ Calls for Review of Quarry Air Permit
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had good news and bad news Dec. 12 for property owners and other stakeholders trying to stop construction of Vulcan Construction Materials’ proposed 1,500-acre open-pit limestone quarry at FM 3009 and SH-46.
(To watch the meeting on YouTube, click here.)
At their monthly meeting in Austin, commissioners denied “affected party” status to the majority of individuals and groups seeking a contested-case hearing (CCH) before an administrative judge — including Comal ISD; Comal County Commissioners Donna Eccleston, Pct. 1 and Scott Haag, Pct. 2; and the cities of Bulverde and New Braunfels.
They also ruled that only those living within a one-mile radius of the property’s rock-crusher have the right to argue against air quality permit #147392L001, which TCEQ must approve before Vulcan can proceed.
However, community activists with Friends of Dry Comal Creek, Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry and Smithson Valley Heritage Oaks POA will get their say before an administrative judge with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), along with 11 private property owners, sometime early next year in New Braunfels.
TCEQ also ordered SOAH to review 20 specific outstanding issues related to the quarry project.
“Our intention is to send it to hearing, so it’s not done yet,” said commissioner Emily Lindley.
Speaking after the meeting, Sabrina Hauser-Amaya, spokesperson for Friends of Dry Comal Creek and Stop 3009, described this decision as a “huge one.”
“We know their compliance history is terrible, and what this does is open it all up to discovery,” she said.
In a subsequent press release, Hauser-Amaya continued:
“We are pleased that the commissioners acknowledged, via their decisions today, that this permit application needs a more thorough legal review and discovery of the applicant’s actions including but not limited to the quality and validity of the site review, proper and timely public notification, report or lack thereof of cumulative impacts of toxic air emissions, air and water compliance history, and, most notably whether the applicant’s air dispersion modeling properly and credibly all applicable emissions.”
Hauser-Amaya was not so happy with TCEQ’s decision to maintain its “arbitrary” one-mile radius for affected parties.
“The unfortunate aspect of this arbitrary radius is that it presupposes that fugitive carcinogenic particles of PM 2.5 or less will not travel beyond a one-mile radius,” she said.
The air-quality permit is for Vulcan’s rock-crusher only. Emissions from conveyor belts, trucks or any other equipment are not included in the permit.
By law, TCEQ cannot deny the authorization of a proposed plant if the permit application contains a demonstration that all applicable statutes, rules and regulations will be met. Its jurisdiction is established by the legislature and is limited to issues set for the statute.
Vulcan’s Comal Quarry would be located in a residential area of central Comal County between Bulverde, Spring Branch, Garden Ridge and New Braunfels. An estimated 12,000 people live within five miles of this non-industrial area.
If greenlighted, mining operations at the quarry are anticipated to last for 80 years.
Next Steps for Stakeholders
Steve Stanford, spokesperson for Comal ISD, said the district will argue its case for affected-party status at the next preliminary hearing.
Under TCEQ guidelines, anyone not named an affected party on Dec. 12 or, anyone who would like to apply for this status, can appear to present their case before SOAH.
“It’s basically another public meeting, just under a different name,” Hauser-Amaya said. “…it’s the process they have defined, and it’s the process that all of us have to go through before any of us can file a lawsuit against TCEQ and Vulcan.”
She said her groups will continue to work with individual property owners and anyone else interested in preparing for next year’s SOAH hearing. Another community education meeting will be scheduled for sometime in January, 2019.
Vulcans Says It’s Committed to Comal
Scott Burnham, a spokesperson for Vulcan, said the company strives to present a safe and environmentally responsible plan that demonstrates its committment to Comal County.
“We’re a heavily regulated industry, and Vulcan is committed to meeting or exceeeding all local, state and federal guidelines and regulations,” he said. “Earlier this year, the executive director of TCEQ recommended for approval Vulcan’s permit application for the Comal Quarry.
“We look forward to working with concerned citizens, the community and the state on the next steps in the permitting process.”
Issues Referred to SOAH for Review
TCEQ commissioners referred these issues to SOAH for a more detailed review and discovery. An administrative judge has 180 days to make a ruling.
Issue 1: Whether the proposed plant will negatively affect air quality.
Issue 2: Whether the proposed plant will negatively affect human health, including sensitive subgroups, and physical property.
Issue 3: Whether the conditions in proposed permit will adequately protect against dust emissions from the proposed plant, including during periods of high winds.
Issue 6: Whether cumulative impacts of nearby operations were adequately considered.
Issue 9: Whether the controls in the proposed permit constitute Best Available Control Technology (BACT).
Issue 11: Whether the proposed plant will negatively affect welfare, including plants, animals and the environment.
Issue 18: Whether the proposed operating hours of the rock crusher ensure that there will be no adverse impacts to human health, welfare,and the environment.
Issue 19: Whether the air quality modeling conducted as part of this application adequately incorporated the local prevailing winds.
Issue 22: Whether the Applicant complied with TCEQ’s public notice requirements related to sign-posting and newspaper notice.
Issue 31: Whether the proposed permit contains adequate monitoring and record-keeping requirements to ensure compliance with all applicable rules and requirements.
Issue 47: Whether emissions from on-site diesel engines are adequately calculated and adequately controlled.
Issue 49: Whether an adequate site review was conducted for this application.
Issue 50: Whether the background concentrations used in the air-disperson modeling are representative of the proposed location of the plant.
Issue 51: Whether emissions from maintenance, start-up, and shutdown activities are adequately addressed in the proposed permit.
Issue 55: Whether chemical dust suppressant is safe to use as a control for emissions from the proposed plant.
Issue 57: Whether emissions of silica from the proposed plant will negatively impact human health and welfare.
Issue 58: Whether the proposed permit conditions, including emissions limitations, are enforceable.
Issue 61: Whether the permit application, and associated air-dispersion modeling, included and properly evaluated all applicable emissions.
Issue 69: Whether site-specific monitoring data should have been used in the air-dispersion modeling conducted for this application.
Issue 21: Whether the Applicant’s compliance history was properly evaluated.
Hauser-Amaya said Issue 21 was not originally recommended by TCEQ’s executive director and was added to the issues list by commissioners.