Of all the sand mines on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, the Triple PG Mine is unique. It alone sits inside the confluence of TWO floodways. The Prabhakar Guniganti family owns the mine. So far they have cleared, grubbed and mined about 700 of the 2000 acres they own in the area. But that hasn’t stopped them from receiving timber exemptions from the Montgomery County Appraisal District on the land being mined (that has no timber).
After Harvey, when I found 30 acres of sand up to 15 feet deep covering East End Park (just downstream from the mine), I rented a helicopter to see where the sand came from. That’s when I discovered this horrific mine for the first time.
Owned by Cardiologist Turned Sand Miner
I hope he’s better at cardiology than mining. His mine has received 15 citations in the last two years from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (see the MSHA site for a key to the citations). The one highlighted in yellow had to do with a breach.
Fifteen in two years averages out to more than one every other month. And that does not even include notices of enforcement from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, for instance when Tony Buzbee, candidate for Mayor discovered a massive breach in the dike of the Triple PG mine back in May.
Will This Never Stop?
Last week, Charlie Fahrmeier, a Lake Houston Area resident and an expert in sediment control, observed the same breach open AGAIN. Right above East End Park, which was destroyed by sand AGAIN.
So Friday, I rented another helicopter to see what I could see. What I saw turned my stomach. There was more than one breach. There were at least two and possibly three.
It appeared that Caney Creek (from the north) and White Oak Bayou from the west “captured the pit.” The streams then apparently crossed the mine sweeping out through the breach on the southeast side back into Caney Creek and then down the East Fork of the San Jacinto River.
Where Breaches Occurred
Three Breaches from the Air
A reverse shot shows how water tore through the mine.
Designed to Fail?
Two engineers told me that patch looked like it was “designed to fail.” Mine Safety and Health Administration regulation §56.20010 regarding retaining dams specifies that “If failure of a water or silt retaining dam will create a hazard, it shall be of substantial construction and inspected at regular intervals.” Clearly, sand is not substantial. “Built properly, that repair would not have reopened in this past flood,” said Fahrmeier.
TCEQ Requirements for Dike Construction and Repairs
Here are the TCEQ requirements for constructing dikes and levees. Note the paragraph on page 2 about structural integrity. “Construction must be based upon sound engineering principles. Structural integrity must withstand any waters which the levee or other improvement is intended to restrain or carry, considering all topographic features, including existing levees.”
These dikes had the structural integrity of a sand castle at a beach when the tide comes in.
Also interesting: Paragraph 4, Rights of Third Parties to be Protected. It’s a good read as far as regulations go.
Certainly, East End Park, just downstream was not protected.
How to Tell Mine from River Sedimentation
Charlie Fahrmeier who first discovered the most recent breach said that when he discovered it, water and sediment was streaming out of the mine. The water color was distinctly different from the color of water coming down Caney Creek. If the creek were responsible for all the sedimentation, the colors would have been reversed.
Caney Creek Now Averages 1.7 Feet Deep
In a future post, I will examine the growing mouth bar on the East Fork. That’s right. The East Fork and Caney Creek are barely navigable now. John Alberson took his jet boat up Caney Creek today and noted giant sand bars stretching across the river below the pit. He said the deepest part of the creek was 1.7 feet. The more sand there is in the creek and East Fork, the less room there is for water, so the higher the water rises during a flood.
How to File a Complaint With Mine Safety Authorities
I encourage everyone to file a Hazardous Condition Complaint with MSHA. You can do it online at https://lakmshaegov01.msha.gov/HazardousConditionComplaint.aspx. If they get enough complaints it could elevate the review.
Here’s some information you’ll need to file:
- Mine ID: 4104950
- Mine Name: Triple PG Sand
- Mine Operator: Triple PG Sand Development LLC
- Mine is in two zip codes but breaches appear to be in 77365.
- Location of Breach #1: Long 30.102968°, Lat -95.171932°
- Location of Breach #2: Long 30.055360°, Lat -95.104712°
- Location of Breach #3: 30.065451°, Lat -95.102904°
Please help shut this mine down. It’s dumping its process water loaded with sediment and chlorides into your drinking water. Moreover, the City doesn’t have enough money to dredge the East Fork and its tributaries every time we get a big rain. Let’s stop this problem at the source. We need sand for concrete, but we don’t need it from this mine.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/29/2019
761 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in the 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.