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Public to speak at Oct.1 town hall on quarry industry

State Rep. Terry Wilson

State Rep. Terry Wilson (R-District 20) led a virtual Aggregate Production Operation town hall Sept. 30. He will hear public comments on Thursday, Oct. 1, during a 9 a.m. meeting on his Facebook page. Screen capture

After two days of presentations, public comment will be front and center Thursday, Oct. 1, at the third and final Aggregate Production Operation town hall held by state Rep. Terry Wilson (R-District 20). The 9 a.m. virtual meeting follows presentations by representatives of the rock crushing, quarry, and sand mining industry on Sept. 29 and groups addressing the environmental, quality of life, and other community issues on Sept. 30. The Oct. 1 meeting can be accessed on Rep. Wilson’s Facebook page

“APOs create the raw materials that help support the expanding infrastructure for the growth that Texas is experiencing,” said Wilson at the start of the first town hall. “However, over the last couple of years, the interaction between APOs and nearby people and communities has become a more commonplace issue. Not only in our district, but across the state.” 

Wilson’s district includes Burnet, Milam, and Williamson counties. 

First-day topics centered largely on self-regulation, good neighbor policies, and the need for more and faster rail capacity to reduce truck traffic associated with the operations. Former APO operator Jill Shackleford talked about planting vegetative cover, installing windbreaks, holding outbound trucks during school bus hours, and a whole host of practices that could preempt concerns from the community.

Above all, she stressed communication.

“As a former owner and operator, when I opened my quarry, I made some mistakes,” Shackleford said. “I made some real mistakes communicating with the public, with my neighbors. I had the mentality that I had a big ranch and had carved out a significant amount of acreage for a buffer zone, and I thought that was enough.”

The conversation dipped into self-regulation and the importance of good neighbor practices before the discussion was joined by Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association (TACA) president Josh Leftwich. TACA is an advocacy group and trade association that creates industry training materials and offers guidance to companies looking to allay community concerns.

“An unnecessarily burdensome regulatory system would only serve to critically diminish the buying power of Texas to address its infrastructure needs,” Leftwich said. “It just does not make sense for Texas.”

The second day examined environmental and quality-of-life issues raised by those living close to APOs. Speakers touched on dangerous levels of particulate matter, responsible regulation, proximity of blast sites to residential areas, and impacts on springs, aquifers and waterways.

Members of Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining (TRAM) dominated much of the early morning. In his statement, which served as an introduction on behalf of the other members of TRAM who spoke, Mark Friesenhahn stressed the widespread impact of APOs and the need for governmental assistance in tackling these issues. 

“APOs are literally popping up everywhere, many with standard permits that are issued within weeks of the permit application by the (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) without public input,” Friesenhahn said. 

Aggregate production is a $2.4 billion operation, according to TRAM, and is largely unregulated in the state of Texas. 

“They’re building massive moonscapes in numerous areas with no responsibility to clean up after they’re done,” he said. “Reclamation is left to chance and serendipity.”

Speakers also critiqued water use by APOs. Depending on the mining and processing methods used by a given APO, it could need access to large quantities of water. 

“The TCEQ permitting process doesn’t require detailed review of mine water requirements or planned water sources,” Friesenhahn said. “Even more concerning, the local groundwater conservation districts do not have, in most cases, explicit authority to manage volume withdrawals for all new water permits.”

Health and the impact of particulate matter exposure was also a major topic brought up by TRAM representatives. Ultra-fine dust, sometimes invisible to the naked eye, can cause a slew of health issues, including inflammation of the lungs and exaggerated hypertension.

“Notably, in the time we are in now with COVID, it weakens the immune system,” Dr. Keith Randolph said. “This is all documented by thousands of published research papers in the medical literature.”

The deadline to register to speak at the Oct. 1 meeting is 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30. To submit written testify, email no later than Oct. 30.