TCEQ Rules in Favor of Quarry Permit
Residents who oppose Vulcan Materials’ proposed 1,500-acre open-pit limestone quarry at FM 3009 and SH-46 have until Oct. 15 to submit their requests to be named affected parties eligible to protest the project at contested-case hearings (CCH) before Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
The administrative clock began ticking on Sept. 14, when the agency issued its long-awaited “Response to Comments” (RTC) made at a heated Feb. 17 public hearing in New Braunfels. The RTC is the written response to all formal comments received during the comment period for the application.
To read the RTC in its entirely, click HERE.
TCEQ ruled Vulcan’s permit application meets the requirements of applicable law. However, the RTC does not authorize construction or operation of any of Vulcan ‘s proposed facilities.
TCEQ commissioners will decide the fate of Air Quality Permit Number 147392L001 at a later meeting.
Until then, Vulcan can’t proceed on the controversial project, 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.
Activists Remain Optimistic
Sabrina Houser-Amaya, a community activist who spearheads Friends of Dry Comal Creek/Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry, said she remains optimistic her group will prevail despite the fact TCEQ’s report largely favors Vulcan Materials.
“We remain steadfast that our science findings will show that Vulcan Materials and Westward Consulting have provided erroneous information,” she said in an email. “The TCEQ must take notice and re-review the current application’s modeling, cascading injurious events, and impacts upon residents in the short-and-long term, and initiate more stringent monitoring standards.”
Stop Vulcan 3009 is now focused on helping community members pursue individual CCHs and affected-party status, Houser-Amaya said. For more information about the process, click here. To contact the group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vulcan Materials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A legislative aide for Rep. Kyle Biedermann, Texas House District 73, said his office does not have an official response to the RTC. Comal County commissioners are reviewing the document, according to Jen Crownover, Commissioner Pct. 4.
RTC includes a lengthy list of state and local officials who either oppose authorization of the proposed plant and/or support the concerns of area residents.
First the RTC, Now the CCH
According to Friends of Dry Comal Creek/Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry, anyone living within a five-mile radius of the proposed quarry site should submit a hearing request to be named an affected party eligible for a CCH.
Contested-case hearings are legal procedures similar to civil trials, Houser-Amaya said. They allow affected parties to appear before an administrative law judge and explain how the proposed quarry would harm their health, property, or natural resources.
Affected parties are defined as residents, landowners, organizations, counties, cities and school districts.
TCEQ Rules According to Applicable Law
According to its RTC, TCEQ reviewed the permit application in accordance with applicable law, policy, procedures and its mandate to protect public health and natural resources consistent with sustainable development.
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.
Major Points in RTC
These points were made in response to multiple comments by hundreds of citizens and elected officials.
- Emissions authorized by this permit are protective of both human health and welfare, including physical property and the environments;
- There is no expectation of adverse health impacts from silica emissions created by the crushing of limestone rock;
- Adverse short- or long-term health effects for the general public — including sensitive sub-groups like children and elderly as well as animal life, crops and vegetation — are not expected as a result of exposure to proposed emissions;
- Adverse health effects are not expected for person living on or visiting nearby properties;
- TCEQ does not have regulatory jurisdiction over quarry operations or any associated blasting, roads or trucks and rules do not require an applicant to analyze emissions resulting from quarry operations, blasting, roads, or the use of trucks in an individual permit application;
- If operated in accordance with requirements of the permit, adverse impacts to endangered species are not expected;
- Emissions from the plant are not expected to cause an exceedance of national ambient air quality standards;
- There is no restriction on the amount of time the crushers may be used on-site apart from the typical permit renewal cycles;
- The draft permit does not authorize the processing or handling of materials TCEQ or U.S Environmental Protection Agency has designated as hazardous, nor is the rock-crushing industry associated with these materials. Accordingly, the hazard potential is low;
- TCEQ cannot limit hours of operation;
- TCEQ does not have the authority to consider local economic impacts or the potential for future development because of a plant’s location;
- TCEQ does not have the authority to consider concerns regarding aesthetics, zoning and land-use issues, or effects on property values when determining whether to approve or deny a permit;
- Emissions from the proposed plant are not expected to cause an exceedance of secondary national ambient air quality standards. As a result, air emissions from the plant are not expected to adversely impact land, soil, livestock, wildlife, crops or visibility. Nor should emissions, including particulate matter emissions, interfere with use and enjoyment of surrounding land or water;
- TCEQ’s does not have jurisdiction to consider traffic or road safety when determining whether to approve or deny a permit application. Trucks and their emissions are considered mobile sources, which are not regulated by TCEQ. TCEQ also is prohibited from regulation roads;
- The agency does not have jurisdiction to consider noise or light from a plant when determining whether to approve or deny a permit. Noise ordinances are enacted by cities and counties.
“We’ve presented a safe and responsible plan that demonstrates we’re committed to Comal County and the community,” said Vulcan spokesman Scott Burnham. “As part of the plan, we will implement a comprehensive dust control plan, ensure water resources are preserved, and work with TxDOT to make sure traffic outside the facility flows safely and efficiently. These are measures Vulcan has successfully implemented at numerous facilities across that state and country that are located in close proximity to residential neighborhoods, schools, medical facilities, shopping centers, and places of worship.”
The large 1,500-acre property is uniquely designed to fit within the existing landscape and typography and will include more than 600 acres of buffer zones, setbacks and natural landscape, meaning 40 percent of the property will not be mined, Burnham said.
Follow the money. Which of our elected officials is getting money from TACA and/or related PACs? It’s easy enough to find out (just Google it!). Know the facts – I mean the REAL facts – about who you’re putting your trust in to do the right thing. Are we going to continue to elect those who say one thing, but are influenced by big corporate donors to do another? This isn’t about partisan politics; this is about preserving and protecting our beautiful Hill Country. Huge swaths of land have been bought up around us by the aggregate industry and we have NO SAY in any of that. When we step away from the constant onslaught of disinformation, think and research for ourselves…THIS is when we learn the facts about those who purport to have our best interests in mind. Who says they’ll work on legislation and then somehow it never passes; ever wonder why? Please do some independent research away from career politicians and the influence of media, talk to your neighbors. November 6th: YOU have the power to make a difference in what will happen in Hill Country.
Environmental health = Public health. It’s that simple. TCEQ can’t (or won’t) see the obvious due to their overriding priorities which are to support the industries that support the politicians. They’ve proven time and again with their record of fraud and abuse regarding their mission of protecting Texans’ public health and welfare that they could care less about the oath of office they all had to swear to upon taking their positions of public “service”. This they swore before God, the same God who will judge each of them soon enough.
It is important to note the TCEQ’s standard verbiage “IF operated in accordance with requirements of the permit” it will be safe. The problem is Vulcan Materials has shown a clear disregard for following their permit rules. At their closest quarry operation in San Antonio (also on the EARZ) on 1604 Vulcan has violated just about every permit requirement they have in just the past 5 years. Despite an unusually high volume of complaints about this facility the TCEQ simply looks the other way. In one such case 2 nearby neighborhoods were “dusted” with “80% cement dust” and many reported sickness (breathing problems, chronic nose bleeds etc) Vulcan admitted to committing 33 violations during that investigation but the TCEQ did not even give them a single written violation notice for any of them much less an incentivizing fine. Because Alamo Cement was close by (3x as far away, in the wrong wind pattern, with no violations) the TCEQ said they could not find a responsible party. It makes one wonder how this could happen especially when the Texas Audit Act was subverted. That is until you realize that the industry lobbyist group TACA has these incredible membership benefits including #4 “TACA has strong relationships with the state and federal regulatory authorities, such as the TCEQ..EPA etc, TO INSULATE OUR MEMBERS FROM ADVERSE RULINGS IN THE CASE OF AN AUDIT OR INSPECTION. Also know that the “Good Neighbors” at Vulcan are on the Board of Directors for TACA. All of this means that Vulcan has no real incentive to follow these permit rules and according to TCEQ’s own documents they often don’t, and it can taken them years to rectify violations. The people of Comal County should be concerned about this company moving in. The County Commissioners should be as well. If Vulcan wont follow their permit requirements on the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone just around the corner from the local TCEQ office why should we believe they will do so here?
It is simple to see that the TCEQ is a “pay to play’ agency. The Emissions from this plant will cause adverse health effects on humans and livestock as well as adverse effects on the environment that are either likely to be within the 5 mile radius of this facility daily or live with the same 5 mile radius of the facility. The potential is very great to see adverse health conditions and environmental endangerment within 5 miles of this facility. The seemingly corrupt TCEQ uses a air monitoring station apprx 35 miles away first of all. So what good is that upon the science which is or should be required here. Then this same corrupt agency uses the ‘in my mind’ reasoning’ which seems to say that air and water pollution meets state and national standards if that air or water pollution once mixed into the ‘total’ environment would not constitute the exceedance of pollutants. By means of exceedance to a particular body of water likely means the either the entire body of water including the entire river including the flow of the headwaters and to include the gulf of mexico. TCEQ likely regards meeting air standards using the air of the entire state of texas…. and not just the air within the five mile radius of the facility. We all know for a fact that at the fenceline to this rock quarry, the air quality standards will exceed the national standards and state standards unless it is raining 24 hours a day.