SB 2126 Stalls in Committee

Senate Bill 2126 could open the door to in-river sand mining, but was left pending in the Water & Rural Affairs Committee late last night.

Senator Brandon Creighton, author of SB 2126 and Senator Charles Perry, Vice Chair and Chair respectively of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee.

Uncontested but Not Unquestioned Testimony

Testimony started at about 8 pm. Chuck Gilman from the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and David Perkins from Texas Aggregate & Concrete Association (TACA) spoke FOR the bill. Craig Bonds from Texas Parks and Wildlife Division acted as a “resource” for the committee.

Senator Brandon Creighton, the bill’s author is vice chairman of the committee. Senator Charles Perry is chairman. Only Perry and Senators Lois Kolkhorst, Jose Rodriguez, and Carol Alvarado offered questions or comments. Creighton defended the bill vigorously at every turn.

  • Senator Perry questioned whether the SJRA was the appropriate entity, given its history, to tackle a project like this.
  • Senator Kohlkorst raised questions about how this would impact the Lower Colorado River Authority. She also raised concerns brought to her by the Katy Prairie Conservancy about the lack of permitting and possible erosion issues.
  • Senator Alvarado questioned the impact on water quality and increased treatment costs.
  • Senator Rodriquez questioned why the State was giving away a profitable, salable resource.

Bill Left Pending in Committee

After almost half an hour of testimony and discussion, Chairman Perry left the bill pending in committee. No action was taken on it. At several points during the discussion, members talked about amending the language. Unless it changes substantially, Senator Creighton may not have the votes to get it out of the seven-person committee.

I will continue to monitor this bill as will most citizen groups in Texas. It’s not dead until the session is over.

Watch Testimony

You can watch testimony and committee discussion for yourself at this link. Discussion of SB 2126 begins at 49:50 into the meeting and runs 27 minutes. Here are highlights and time codes for people who want to fast forward to certain parts.

49:50 to 53:00 Senator Brandon Creighton lays out the case for the bill.

53:30 to 54:30 Chuck Gilman, Director of Water Resources and Flood Management with the SJRA emphasizes that the bill will use private contractors to remove the sediment rather than paying a public entity like the Army Corps to do it.

55:00 – 55:30 Senator Perry asks whether the SJRA is the appropriate entity to tackle a project like this.

55:30 – 56:00 Gilman responds by talking about “Building places along the lake” (sand traps) where they could capture materials with beneficial market value.

56:00 – 56:35 Perry asks why the bill, which was once limited to the SJRA, now applies to every river authority in the state. “What’s changed?”

56:35 – 57:20. Senator Creighton interjects and asks Gilman to explain his role in flood mitigation.

57:20 – 58:10. Gilman gives his history. Perry’s question about change is never answered.

58:10 – 59:00 David Perkins speaks for the bill. He claims it would improve water quality without creating excessive cost. And says TACA wants to “Participate where we can.”

59:00 – 1:00:00 Senator Creighton asks Perkins to explain how sand miners wanted to be part of the current dredging effort, but were discouraged and why that policy needs to change.

1:00:00 – 1:02:30 Perkins implies that TACA volunteered to help the Army Corps dispose of material, but was rebuffed. Blames Corps for inertia. Implies storage was a major part of the $70 million project cost. Talks about TPWD’s 8% royalty fee for removing sand from river as a disincentive for private companies to take sand out of the river.

1:02:30 – 1:03:00. Senator Kolkhorst expresses concerns about lack of permitting in the bill’s language.

1:03:00- 1:04:34. Senator Creighton volunteers to work with her on wording and exclude other river authorities like the Lower Colorado River Authority, if that makes it more palatable.

1:04:35 – 1:05:50 Senator Kolkhorst says she will work with Creighton.

1:06:00 – 1:06:45 Senator Carol Avarado worries about decrease in water quality and an increase in treatment costs. Her concerns are never really addressed.

1:06:45 – 1:07:00 Craig Bonds introduces himself as a resource witness from TPWD.

1:07:00 – 1:07:30 Senator Perry asks what should be put in the bill to protect the environment.

1:07:30 – 1:09:00 Bonds replied that he would bypass permitting where dredging was needed but not bypass permitting statewide. He said he wanted to require permitting for the Hill Country but was OK to bypass permitting on the San Jacinto. Said other areas of the state were “highly sensitive.” He also stated that he saw impacts from both regulated and illicit sand mining in the Hill Country. However, he claimed “sideboards” could be put on activities to protect the San Jacinto. He never explains what those are.

1:09:00-1:09:30 Senator Creighton asks Perkins to describe what a sand trap is and where it would be located.

1:09:30 – 1:10:30 Perkins talked about the need to assess the river first. He said sand needs to be removed on a regular basis and that it could be used for construction. He never did explain what “sand traps” were. Instead he suggested they would undertake “Excavation activities once a year or once every six months” depending on the rate of sedimentation.

1:10:30 – 1:11:25. Creighton emphasized “no free reign.” Said all stakeholders would have to agree where problems exist and that removal would be science-based.

1:11:30 – 1:14:12. Senator Rodriguez expresses concern about the fiscal impact of giving away sand which would otherwise be sold. Craig Bonds explains that TPWD charges an 8% royalty for sand taken out of a river. But he also admits that this bill would do away with that royalty, resulting in a fiscal impact on the state.

1:14:12 Creighton explains that 8% is such a disincentive that practically no river mining exists and the state is not receiving much in royalties.

1:17:00. Testimony ends. No one spoke against the bill. Chairman Perry closed testimony and announced that the bill would be left pending.

Questions Still Remain

  1. Why do Hill Country rivers deserve protection but not the San Jacinto?
  2. Who will conduct the scientific studies? An independent entity? If so, how would that affect cost?
  3. Senator Creighton keeps emphasizing that the LAKE needs to be dredged to improve conveyance and capacity. But TACA talks about doing it “where it makes sense.” From separate discussions, I’ve concluded that TACA means “next to their mines, on the RIVER.” Those are FAR upriver. Does this seem like a disconnect?
  4. Creighton and Gilman talk repeatedly about “sand traps”, but when Perkins is probed on that issue, he talks about excavating the river. Is that another disconnect? What do they really have in mind?
  5. They never acknowledge that these activities could increase sedimentation. Why?
  6. What is the basis for Perkin’s claim that this program will “improve water quality and reduce costs”?

So many questions. So little time. In exactly three weeks, final deadlines start kicking in for this legislative session.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/16/2019

595 Days since Hurricane Harvey