As we approach the next legislative session, we have a rare chance to pass meaningful legislation that could reduce sedimentation from sand mining. Such legislation has been defeated repeatedly in the past by lobbying efforts of the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA). TACA has spent millions to lobby against regulations that protect downstream citizens and property.
How Texas Fails to Protect Citizens & Property
Did you know that Texas, unlike other states and countries:
- Has no minimum setbacks from rivers for mining
- Permits mining in floodways, where the main current of the river will wash through mines during floods.
- Requires mines to file a reclamation plan to get a permit, but doesn’t actually require miners to execute the plan when they quit mining.
- Lets mines clear land years before they mine it, exposing the public to needless risk from erosion during floods.
- Makes no provision for river migration when permitting.
- Allows mines to shift their tax burden to you by falsely claiming timber and agricultural exemptions.
At the moment, people still hurt from Hurricane Harvey. By the next legislative session in 2021, the energy required for regulatory reform may die. The time to do something is now if we are going to do it. But what to do?
After studying government regulations and scientific literature from around the world for a year, I have concluded that citizens need three things to protect themselves from the ravages of Texas sand miners. The legislature needs to:
- Publish and enforce best management practices for sand mining that bring Texas standards up to those common in the rest of the country and the world. Among them, prohibit mining in erosion hazard zones. The water supply for two million people deserves nothing less.
- Put some teeth into penalties for non-compliance. Mines have left dikes unrepaired and open to the river for years without fines. Yet TCEQ fines average about $800 in the seven years since HB571. That’s a slap on the wrist and no meaningful incentive to change business practices.
- Establish a water protection district for the San Jacinto, such as the John Graves district on the Brazos. It pushes mining back beyond the 100–year flood plain and makes miners post a performance bond that ensures reclamation of the property when they are done mining.
Not surprisingly, TACA has a different set of recommendations. See the full text here.
Instead of moving farther back from the river, they are lobbying to move INTO the river.
To “mitigate adverse impacts of sedimentation associated with flooding,” the association proposes:
- Building sand traps in the river that would allow them to mine river sand in exchange for payments to the SJRA.
- Selective dredging of impacted areas.
- Converting sand pits to a network of off-channel floodwater storage structures to mitigate flooding.
- Letting land conservancies turn abandoned mines into wetlands or natural areas for wildlife habitat preservation.
Discussion of Differences
The ReduceFlooding.com recommendations would prevent damage from excess sedimentation currently attributable to sand mines.
TACA recommendations might help – in some cases – if miners actually implemented them. And if they followed best practices in doing so.
But those are big “IFs.” Nothing in TACA’s proposals actually obligates them to do anything.
They say only that the option “can be” implemented, not that they will implement it. They also don’t specify what the traps are. While meeting in Austin with TACA, the TCEQ and legislators two weeks ago, I asked and got three different answers from three different people. They basically wanted to mine sand bars in the river adjacent to their property. However, river mining has proven so damaging in other parts of the world that it is outlawed in many countries, including most of Europe.
Sounds good. But note the qualifier “selective.” Who selects? When KSA asked mines to remove the sand deposited in River Grove Park, no mine would take it. They said it was unsuitable for sale. And that’s the same kind of sand and sediment found in the mouth bar.
So is this offer an empty promise? I suspect it is. I’ll believe it when I see these words in print: “We promise to dredge the mouth bar at our expense.”
In the meantime, I will keep wondering. How will they get sand 10-20 miles upstream and make it cost competitive with the sand that they take from their mines? It’s a pipe dream, no pun intended –
Off-Channel Floodwater Storage
Note that they have committed only to developing a strategy. They say the lakes “could be” cost effective, but the Texas Water Conservation Association disagrees. The TWCA says that this strategy relies on pumps which cannot move water fast enough during floods. They also explicitly state that this approach is not cost effective. See page 10 of their report on Flooding in Texas.
Donating Abandoned Mines
Donating abandoned mines to land conservancies? Basically, they’re donating liabilities (i.e., their obligation to reclaim mines) to a third party.
We Need Promises, Not Puffery
In closing, TACA claims their recommendations will cost taxpayers NOTHING. Maybe TACA thinks Mexico will pay for everything. Or maybe they think they won’t have to do anything after this legislative session.
Before closing, TACA pats itself on the back. They claim, “As an industry that is focused on stewardship of our natural resources…we stand ready to work together with all stakeholders…”
In my opinion, that’s where the BS gets nose deep and the English language – our currency of communication – is devalued to ZERO. I’ve met with these people three times (including the trip in Austin) and…
In six months, they haven’t once made any solid commitments to changing the way they do business in order to protect downstream residents and businesses. They haven’t even discussed it.
They just keep making the same empty promises in an attempt to delay any meaningful discussion of issues past legislative deadlines. This paper makes them appear positive when, in reality, their current business practices have contributed to the destruction of billions of dollars of property and helped undermine the infrastructure of entire communities.
Tomorrow…more about how you can help if you wish to get involved.
These are my opinions on matters of public policy, protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak on December 11, 2018
470 Days since Hurricane Harvey