In October, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued a notice of enforcement (NOE) to a Texas Concrete Plum Grove sand mine for discharging wastewater into the East Fork. During Imelda, the mine’s dikes breached in at least four separate places. The TCEQ also issued another NOE for failure to stabilize soil in the mine before letting its permit lapse.
No Activity at Plant for Months
TCEQ investigator Christian Eubanks says they saw no activity at the plant for two months before the investigation after Imelda. No one at Texas Concrete answered phone calls to discuss their intentions for the mine.
Citizen Complaint Leads to Investigation
When floodwaters swept through the mine, sediment and industrial wastewater washed into the East Fork. Shortly thereafter, Josh Alberson, a Kingwood resident, noticed a distinct difference in the color of water coming off Caney Creek and the East Fork while boating. His personal investigation led to the mine at 7530 FM 1010 Road, Cleveland in Liberty County. After seeing the breaches, he then filed a complaint with the TCEQ which conducted a formal investigation.
12 Allegations of Unauthorized Discharges in 4 Years, Then This One
Texas Concrete Sand and Gravel, Inc. has a troubled history at its Plum Grove location. TCEQ investigated the operation nine times in the last four years for 17 alleged violations. Twelve involved unauthorized discharge of industrial waste. Then came this investigation, adding to their home run count.
Previous alleged violations included failure to:
- Prevent unauthorized discharge of industrial waste (7 investigations plus 5 complaints)
- Renew registration
- Document steps taken to address benchmark exceedances
- Comply with record keeping and reporting requirements
- Maintain compliance with permitted numeric effluent limitations
- Sample at designated outfalls.
Four Breaches Photographed At Texas Concrete Plant
Failure to Meet Final Stabilization Requirements
On October 1, 2019, the mine allowed its permit to lapse. A TCEQ overflight on that same day found that large portions of the plant consisted of exposed soil. However, before the mine can legally terminate its permit, it must stabilize soil on the property.
TCEQ defines final stabilization as: “All soil disturbing activities at the site have been completed and a uniform (e.g. evenly distributed, without large bare areas) perennial vegetative cover with a density of 70 percent (%) of the native background vegetative cover for the area has been established on all unpaved areas and areas not covered by permanent structures, or equivalent permanent stabilization measures (such as the use of riprap, gabions, or geotextiles) have been employed.”
Stabilizing soil helps prevent erosion and water pollution. Pollution that could escape through breaches in the mine’s dikes and affect water quality all the way down to Lake Houston.
Need for Greater Setbacks of Mines from Rivers
Since Harvey, I have campaigned to increase the setback distance of mines from rivers to prevent this type of tragedy. Texas has no minimum setbacks. Most other states require at least 100 feet and Alaska requires 1000 feet.
Texas Concrete underscores the need to establish minimum setbacks that would keep dikes from breaching. Once the owners of this mine are gone, who will be there to repair the dikes after the next flood?
Kudos to Josh Alberson for having the curiosity to investigate a problem he saw and the tenacity to follow through. People like Josh make this community great.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/18/2019, with appreciation for Josh Alberson and the TCEQ
811 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 60 since Imelda
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.