Residents in the Spicewood community posted a sign outside the Deerpath Way subdivision in an attempt to gain support to halt a proposed asphalt plant on Texas 71 in Burnet County. Staff photo by Connie Swinney
CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
SPICEWOOD —Michael Moore says he will continue the fight against a proposed asphalt plant adjacent to his neighborhood on Deerpath Way because of concerns about health and safety as well as to save his own livelihood.
“I have built a horse ranch. We’re ready to go,” Moore said. “My whole goal was to exit California, come here and be a rancher. I have a house that’s ready to be a bed-and-breakfast, part of that horse ranch experience. I just moved an old house onto my property for a wine-tasting room to work with Spicewood Vineyards. I’ve sunk my life savings into this property. That’s all going to stop now. It’s all on hold.”
Asphalt Inc. LLC’s operation—referred to in the industry as a “hot mix plant” due to the chemicals used to prepare the gravel for road base — is being proposed for a 15-acre tract at 6755 Texas 71.
The location is adjacent to Little Cypress Creek in the unincorporated community of Spicewood.
Subdivisions nearby include Quail Creek and Deerpath Way.
“What happens is these big powerful companies go into poor or rural communities and they dump five or six plants, and who can stop them?” Moore said. “You have noise, dust, smell, traffic, large trucks pulling out into the traffic 24 hours a day.”
On Sept. 16, the Lower Colorado River Authority issued a stop work order against Asphalt Inc. due to concerns about public notifications and failure to install erosion and sediment controls required through the Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance.
“The contractor had graded about 10 acres of land to clear an area to construct an industrial facility without the required permit,” according to an LCRA statement. “As part of the development permit application process, the applicant is required to notify property owners with(in) 500 feet of the proposed project.”
Within a two-week period, the company provided evidence of notification of about 50 nearby residents and installed the erosion and sediment controls.
In a letter dated Sept. 30, LCRA officials sent the company notice of approval of a development permit stating “the permit application has been accepted as adminstratively complete.”
Calls to Asphalt Inc.’s project engineer firm, Westward Environmental Inc., were not returned Nov. 6.
Residents in the area continue to raise concerns with county and state officials.
“I’ve had calls and emails concerning it. They’re worried about the water. The effects on a small stream that cuts through the plant,” said Charles Shell, president of the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District. “I understand their concerns. It’s noisy, a lot of truck traffic, heavy equipment. I wouldn’t want it next to my house either.
“But it appears they’re trying to do everything they can to be in compliance,” Shell added, referring to the asphalt company.
Along with the asphalt plant, the same stretch of highway has experienced an influx of concrete batch plants within the past year.
Three have appeared. Another concrete operation is pending adjacent to an existing quarry within a few miles of the asphalt plant.
“We’re going to get hit with four or five concrete plants plus a hot mix (asphalt) plant,” Moore said. “If you’re going to have toxic chemicals or dirt from one plant, now multiply it times five.”
County officials say unincorporated areas lack regulating authority on private industry.
“There’s some citizens who have reached out and want to know what the county can do,” Burnet County Judge James Oakley said. “The long and short of it: The county does not have any type of land use authority. There is no zoning in the unincorporated areas.
“The only thing the county can do is to make sure if they build a septic system that it meets state requirements,” Oakley added. “Any entrances on the highway must be coordinated by (Texas Department of Transportation) standards.”
Any constraints or limits on such industry involves state water and air regulatory agencies and state law.
“It’s a double-edged sword. I’m all about property rights, and once you’re out in the county, you should be able to do pretty much what you want as long as it adheres to state laws and health standards,” Oakley said. “At the same time, you have industrial-type businesses like this, and the people who are there take on the ‘not in my backyard’ theory — the NIMBY —and it’s hard not to have compassion for that. But at the same time, there is a need for asphalt, concrete and roads. It’s a delicate balance.”
To try to build more support to halt the plants, Shell and other Spicewood residents have launched a group called Citizens Against the Asphalt Plant in Spicewood.
The group has invited the public to meet at 6 p.m. Nov. 12 at Opie’s BBQ, 9504 Texas 71 in Spicewood.
“The elementary school is about three miles away (from the asphalt plant). The vineyard’s about a mile and a half away,” Moore said. “There’s two communities adjacent to the hot mix plant. This is a Texas issue, and Texans need to take care of Texans.”