On May 18, Josh Alberson and I gave Tony Buzbee a tour of sediment and sand mining issues on the San Jacinto River. Buzbee is a candidate for Mayor of Houston and got to witness first hand some of the problems I have been talking about for almost two years now. On Caney Creek, we stumbled across a giant breach in the dike of the Triple-PG mine in Porter. We reported it immediately to the TCEQ.
Investigators actually observed the unauthorized discharge of process water from the mine into the City’s drinking water supply. It continued for approximately two weeks.
Not One, But Two Massive Breaches
The TCEQ found not one, but two breaches. The first was on the southwest side of the mine. Water entered the mine from a breach of the dike near White Oak Creek. The water then swept through the mine and exited through a second breach on Caney Creek. That meant the two creeks were actually flushing process water out of the mine into the drinking water supply for two million people.
The TCEQ finished its investigation in July and cited the operation for failing to prevent the unauthorized discharge of process water. The TCEQ told them to repair and widen their dikes. They did. Case closed.
Classic Example of Pit Capture
The breeches appear to be the result of heavy rains in early May. This is a prime example of pit capture. High pressure in the floodway causes dike failure. The river or stream then flows through the mine and breaks out the opposite side. The same thing happened during Harvey when floodwaters carried away a large part of the mine’s stockpile.
This same mine has been investigated five times in five years by the TCEQ for various problems detailed in this report. The mine is owned by a cardiologist from Nacogdoches named Guniganti. His family operates it.
The basic problem with this mine is its location. It sits at the confluence of two floodways. That’s why the dikes were blown out. That’s why Harvey’s floodwaters swept through it. Continuing to operate this mine is like flying a plane into conditions that you know are unsafe.
No Disincentive for Dangerous Business Practices
Yet there’s no disincentive for dangerous business practices. Investigators told the operators to fix the breaches. They did. Business will go on as usual. Until the next disaster.
As a society, why do we tolerate this?
We even seem to venerate it. How strange that one family’s profit outweighs the health and safety of millions! The legislature had an opportunity to fix this problem this year. However, one bill that would have established best practices for sand mining and another that would have established minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines never made it out of committee. Likewise HB-908 proposed by State Representative Dan Huberty that would have provided meaningful financial penalties for such bad practices never made it out of committee.
Tax Breaks Instead of Penalties
This Guniganti family even gets tax breaks from Montgomery County. The appraisal district gives timber and agricultural exemptions to areas actively being mined. Go figure!
Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/23/2019
724 Days after Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.