TCEQ Proposes BMPs for Post-Mining Phase, But Is There Any Incentive to Comply at That Point?

This is the seventh in a series about Best Management Practices (BMPs) proposed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed. This post will focus on post-mining activities – what should happen after the mine ceases operations.

The six previous posts have talked about:

  1. Scope and Need for Proposed BMPs
  2. Setbacks from Rivers
  3. Vegetative Controls
  4. Structural Controls
  5. Pre-Mining Planning
  6. Mining Phase

As with previous posts, I will summarize the proposed BMPs and provide my comments at the end. Here is a link to the exact text of the BMPs proposed by the TCEQ.

Proposed Post-Mining BMPs

5  Post-Mining Phase

Post-Mining stabilization may depend on an agreement with a landowner; sometimes mines lease land, but often they own it.

Activities may involve stabilization of inactive pits or borrow areas with herbaceous perennial plants.

Stabilizing the soil helps prevent wind and water erosion from causing damage. It also improves the site’s aesthetic appeal and its ability to support wildlife.

This practice applies to sand borrow areas where soil has been replaced to approximate original conditions as well as where the soil profile has been removed.

5.1  Site Stabilization

Evaluate soil characteristics to help stabilize soil and prevent erosion. The following guidelines will help meet site-stabilization objectives.

Slope stability: Cut-and-fill slopes must not exceed 2:1 to provide stability. Gentler slopes (3:1) support seeding efforts better. Avoid long slopes to help prevent erosion, and allow access for seeding, mulching, and maintenance.

Diversions: Construct diversions at tops of slopes to divert runoff away from the slope banks to a stable outlet.

Chutes: Construct aggregate lined chutes or equivalent to conduct concentrated flow of water to stable outlets.

Soil Conservation: Reclaim abandoned roads by reshaping, recontouring, and resurfacing with topsoil. Seed them to grow vegetation. Remove structures such as bridges, culverts, cattle guards, and signs. Remove remaining sand stockpiles to eliminate potential for offsite discharge during stormwater flows.

Operators must practice good soil conservation and seed bare ground during the post- mining phase to aid in minimizing and/or reducing the potential for stormwater to wash sediment loads from unvegetated areas into nearby waterways. Natural regeneration takes time and during that process much sediment could be washed away as sheet, rill or gully erosion over that period.

If active revegetation is selected, seeds that are conducive to the season and type of soil present must be used to vegetate any bare areas. Mulching (using hay or erosion control blankets, for example) also aids in seed germination and helps prevent or minimize sheet, rill and gully erosion. The NRCS office can help in the proper selection of the types of seeds and nutrients required for proper vegetative growth.

5.2  Debris and Vegetative Waste Removal

Typical debris from sand mining usually involves trees and shrubs generated from the land clearing stage of the mining process. These trees and shrubs may be placed back into the mined portion of the property and covered with overburden material.

This debris can also be stockpiled and burned if the operator complies with the outdoor burning rule in 30 TAC §§111.201 – 111.202. For more information about complying with the outdoor burning rule, operators must refer to the TCEQ guidance document Outdoor Burning in Texas (RG-049),

All waste disposal for the site must be done in accordance with TCEQ Municipal Solid Waste Rules found in 30 TAC Chapters 330, 328, and 332.

5.3  Property Grading

After completion of mining activities, operators grade the property. This minimizes non-point source stormwater pollution (i.e., sediment fines) from impacting potential pathways such as streams, creeks, tributaries, lakes, etc.

Abandoned sand mine in Plum Grove left in shambles. Not replanted. Stockpiles not removed. Equipment abandoned onsite.
Same mine after heavy rains in early May. East Fork captured pit, swept through mine, and carried sediment downstream.
More breaches in same mine and more sediment being swept downstream.

Rehak’s Concerns about Post-Mining BMPs

Again, these post-mining BMPs are good as far as they go. However, there are gaping omissions.

One has to do with enforcement. Another has to do with abandoned equipment. While I’ve seen one sand mine on the West Fork that took great care to convert the site to suitable and aesthetic post-mining use, typically miners just walk away from the property and leave it in shambles.

One of the biggest concerns not addressed here: abandoned equipment that leaks oil, creates eyesores, and poses safety hazards.

Abandoned mine on North Houston Avenue in Humble, just blocks from downtown.
More equipment at same mine.
Submerged excavator at abandoned West Fork Mine
Abandoned equipment at abandoned East Fork mine. Has since been removed after complaint to TCEQ.
Abandoned dredge at same mine. Still there last time I looked in May.
Near vertical slopes at this abandoned mine will probably never revegetate until erosion grinds them down. They also pose safety hazards for children playing nearby. This particular mine is between a paint-ball facility and a driving range.

Another post-mining issue is that reclamation depends on the good will of the miner. When all the profit has left the site, what incentive does he have to spend money to reclaim the land.

Without performance bonds to ensure post-mining reclamation, I fear that most miners will leave their property like they have in these pictures. Performance bonds are a common practice in the construction industry; they ensure satisfactory completion of a project.

Without such bonds, there can be virtually no enforcement of these post-mining BMPs. What leverage does the TCEQ have at that point? An operator could just declare bankruptcy, walk away from his obligations, and re-incorporate under a different name. The owner of one of the abandoned mines shown above has his name associated with dozens of defunct organizations.

Public Comments Due by August 19

Please submit your thoughts on Post-Mining and other BMPs to the TCEQ. Email with the subject line “BMPs Guidance Document” before August 19, 2021.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/16/2021

1448 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.