Sand-Mine Fines vs. Lake-Houston-Area Damage During Harvey

Numerous posts on this blog have documented how sand mines made flooding worse during Harvey. Yet the total amount of fines levied against mines in the second half of last year state-wide was less than the average repair cost for one home flooded during Harvey.

Let me state some caveats upfront in this post.

However, NO sediment should have come from any mine. It could have been easily avoided. Most mines choose to operate in the floodway…downstream from a major dam…in a flood prone region. They have other choices.

But they continue to mine in floodways. Partially as a result, millions of cubic yards of sand now clog the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, creating higher floods on smaller rains. Meanwhile, the public, businesses, FEMA, and insurance companies are stuck with the cleanup bill and increased flood risk.

Having said that, let’s look at the scorecard.

Fines Levied Statewide by TCEQ on Sand Mines in Last 5 Years

TCEQ fines levied since passage of HB571 through end of 2017. Image scanned from TCEQ report to Texas legislature.

That’s about $800 per fine or a half-million dollars total during five years. If you look just at the last half of 2017 (after Harvey), the TCEQ levied about $140,000 in fines STATEWIDE – far less than it cost to repair ONE average home in Kingwood as a result of Harvey.

Damage to Lake Houston Area During Harvey Related to Excessive Sedimentation

  • $60 million in repairs to Kingwood High School
  • $60 million in repairs to Lone Star College/Kingwood
  • $1.4 billion for 7000+ homes flooded at estimated repair cost of $200,000 each
  • $1.5 billion in lost productivity ([100,000 people x 200 hours each] + [10,000 people times x 1000 hours each] = 30 million hours x Ave. $50 each)
  • $70 million for Phase 1 dredging of 2.1 miles out of 13 miles
  • $50 million for Phase 2 dredging allocated in County Flood Bond
  • “Billions” lost in home values and tax revenue according to City of Houston
  • 44% of Lake Houston area businesses flooded and closed for months, many closed permanently
  • Total: Estimated $5+ billion

So Much for Fiscal Conservatism

Even if you think the mines contributed only 10% of the sand in the river and are responsible for only 10% of the damage, they still came out ahead by a pretty lopsided margin, especially considering that we’re comparing statewide to local statistics and extended periods to one event. AND they are not being asked to contribute one penny to clean-up costs beyond their normal taxes. If you or I backed up into a light pole, we would probably get a bill for damaging City property. But not these lucky guys.

You would think the City, County, State, businesses and residents must be flush with cash to absorb these kinds of losses without raising a peep. So much for fiscal conservatism! Since when did Texas  replace “You Break It; You Buy It” with corporate welfare and subsidies?

But hey, we need cheap concrete to attract new residents who will make up for these losses. Right?

It’s Time to Change the Conversation

Call me unrealistic, but maybe it’s time to:

  • Prioritize taxpayers over newcomers.
  • Compare the tax revenue from mining to losses from other sources.
  • Balance public safety and private profit.
  • Put some teeth in TCEQ regulations.

Make all miners move out of the floodway and you could level the playing field for them while protecting them from liability. You could also avoid a lot of that damage, protect lives and property from unnecessary risk, avoid unnecessary losses, make the banking and insurance industries happy, reduce mitigation costs, increase savings and investment, hold down taxes, and attract newcomers. But wait. Win-win? That’s too radical a notion to succeed in politics these days.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on August 31, 2018

367 Days since Hurricane Harvey