Last September 24, less than a week after Imelda, the TCEQ issued a notice of enforcement to the Texas Concrete Sand Mine in Plum Grove on the East Fork of the San Jacinto. The report noted that the mine was abandoned; no activity had been observed there in the two months before Imelda. And no personnel were onsite when investigators visited the operation.
Imelda dumped 30.4 inches of rain on this exact location on 9/17/2019 and days later, investigators found four breaches leaking pit water into the East Fork.
Purpose of Soil Stabilization
Sediment and other pollution can escape through breaches in the mine’s dikes and affect water quality all the way down to Lake Houston. Stabilizing soil helps prevent erosion and water pollution, and thus reduces sediment buildups that can contribute to flooding. I discuss TCEQ standards for final soil stabilization in this post. As you can see in the photo above, this site does not have “perennial vegetative cover with a density of 70 percent (%) of the native background vegetative cover … on all unpaved areas and areas not covered by permanent structures.”
Thus it represents a high risk of pollution.
No Activity Observed for Months, Signs Removed
Josh Alberson, a Kingwood resident, traced excessive turbidity in the East Fork to the mine during the same period and visited it on several occasions. He also observed no activity then or today. Alberson took the three photos below this evening.
Aerial photos taken last week showed no activity at the plant and no processing equipment. However, several dump trucks, a bulldozer and a dredge remained on the property.
Comparing the images below with the Landsat photo in Google Earth dated 12/1/2019 shows that none of the equipment has moved for at least five months and most likely longer.
Alberson also says that the breaches he reported to the TCEQ last year still remain.
Texas Concrete Says “No Mine in Plum Grove”
The phone number for the plant’s manager (listed in the TCEQ report) has been disconnected and is no longer in service. A receptionist at Texas Concrete’s headquarters was unaware of the man listed as president of the mine in the TCEQ report. She also said “we have no mine in Plum Grove.”
TCEQ Says No Active Permits For Mine
Christian Eubanks, an investigator for the TCEQ says the plant has no active permits. He investigated the plant last year and has opened a new investigation.
Public Policy Implications
Google Earth shows the mine covers approximately 147 acres and borders the East Fork for more than a mile. In its current state, even more breaches could open up in the next big storm and no one would be there to fix them.
This site represents a preventable disaster in the making. But what to do?
Currently, Texas regulations state that a mine needs a reclamation plan to get a permit. However, there are no regulations stating they must execute the plan before abandoning the property.
The time to think about a major expense, such as reclamation, is NOT what all the profit has left a mine. That, of course, should be done upfront – before mining starts and profits roll in. Duh!
Some states force mines to post performance bonds for reclamation before issuing the initial permit to construct a mine. That makes sense. Texas should adopt that policy. This case shows why.
The Eminent Domain Option
Texas should also exercise eminent domain when miners ignore their reclamation responsibilities. These abandoned pits can represent dangers to neighborhood kids.
Pits can have steep slopes and sharp drop offs. Some, reputedly are 90 feet deep. Roads around them collapse. The sides often cave in. They can even harbor dangerous bacteria.
With money from forfeited performance bonds (if miners fail in their reclamation responsibilities), Texas could turn abandoned mines into parks for people and wildlife to enjoy. And it wouldn’t be at taxpayer expense.
Walking away from reclamation responsibilities is just another way to externalize clean up costs that some mines reportedly build into their business plans.
It’s shameful. State Rep. Dan Huberty has campaigned for more than a decade for sensible sand mine legislation. He had this to say about the Texas Concrete case. “We are working with TCEQ and will be requiring the land owner to remediate.” He added, “We will also be drafting legislation to require bonds that ensure clean up after they are done mining and hold the owners liable for non-performance.”
When aggregate companies have outstanding issues such as the Plum Grove mine, I personally would like to see their ability to do business with TxDoT suspended. That would get compliance quickly.
Posted by Bob Rehak on April 28, 2020 with thanks to Dan Huberty, Josh Alberson and the TCEQ
753 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 222 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.