Discovery will soon begin in the Texas Attorney General’s case against the Triple PG sand mine in Porter. The AG is suing the mine on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). TCEQ investigations documented repeated breaches of the mine’s dikes over a period of several years prior to filing the lawsuit. The breaches allegedly resulted in the release of hundreds of millions of gallons of industrial waste into the headwaters of Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.
Brief History of Case
Over the years, I’ve written more than 50 posts featuring the Triple PG sand mine in Porter. The mine first came to my attention on May 18, 2019. I was giving Tony Buzbee, then a candidate for Mayor of Houston, a tour of sediment buildups in the San Jacinto watershed. As we turned a corner on Caney Creek, we came to a giant breach in the dike of the Triple PG mine.
I immediately reported the breach to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). TCEQ manages water quality in the State. And Triple PG was directly discharging industrial wastewater into the creek.
TCEQ investigated and found not one, but TWO breaches. The second was on White Oak Creek (far side of the mine in photo above). The TCEQ investigation resulted in a notice of enforcement on July 12, 2019.
Later, close examination on my own part revealed even more breaches in hard to reach places that could only be seen from a helicopter.
In September 2019, I photographed the breaches still open. And on October 1, I noted a mouth bar rapidly developing on the East Fork.
On October 11, 2019, the Attorney General of Texas sued the Triple PG mine on behalf of the TCEQ. The charges alleged violations of Chapter 26 of the Texas Water Code and related TCEQ rules pertaining to the discharge of industrial waste and process wastewater.
The mine continued to operate under an injunction. One stipulation: that the mine build “engineered” dikes that prevented future discharges. But in early November 2019, boater Josh Alberson, photographed a flimsy dike built out of sand across the Caney Creek breach.
On November 1, 2019, Triple PG denied all claims by the Texas Attorney General in the State’s lawsuit.
In March 2020, TCEQ reported another unauthorized discharge of process wastewater. Suspended solids in the discharge were up to 676% higher than levels in unpolluted water measured upstream.
The mine continued to operate under a temporary injunction until the case was supposed to have gone to trial on June 22 that year. But the case did NOT go to trial then. Covid and legal maneurvering delayed it.
Mere days after the Texas Attorney General (AG) filed a lawsuit against Triple P.G. Sand Development, the mine’s owner transferred ownership of the mine. Even though the transfer was recorded in October 2019, the attorney general says the papers were dated in the prior January — before the unauthorized discharges that triggered the lawsuit.
This appeared to be an attempt to shield assets from liability. Subsequently, the AG filed an amended petition on June 17, 2020, adding five defendants:
- Guniganti Family Property Holdings, L.L.C.
- Prabhakar R. Guniganti, individually
- Prabhakar R. Guniganti, as Director of Triple P.G. Sand Development, L.L.C.
- Prabhakar R. Guniganti, as sole manager of Guniganti Family Property Holdings, L.L.C.
- Guniganti Children’s 1999 Trust.
The next week, on June 24, 2020, the defendant’s counsel withdrew from the case.
On July 8, 2020, the judge granted a motion to substitute counsel. Then, everything ground to a halt. During Covid, judges reportedly granted any request for a delay. And nothing happened for almost 2 years!
The next entry in the Travis County Court records was in April 2022. It was a conference among the lawyers and judge designed to jumpstart the case.
Next Up: Subpoenas and Depositions
Susan Jablonski, head of TCEQ’s Enforcement Division, says she’s looking forward to deposing defendants. TCEQ has met with the AG on a monthly basis. Right now, they are preparing subpoenas for four depositions.
But with Guniganti listed in the case as an individual, it could be harder for him to shield assets.
The Attorney General seeks $1.1 million in damages plus $25,000 per day for every day that the dikes remained open. By my estimates the dikes remained open approximately 5 months. That could add up to millions more.
It’s good to see movement on this case.
Class Action Suit Also Pending
Triple PG is also a defendant in a class action lawsuit against dozens of sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed by approximately 1000 plaintiffs. In that case, the trial court refused the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The defendants then appealed. But the appellate court found no reversible error, affirmed the trial court’s order and ordered the sand mines involved to pay all costs of the appeal. That happened on May 10, 2022. The trial is already moving forward.
That case also involves sedimentation. Plaintiffs allege that defendants’ business practices caused sediment to be released from mines during Harvey. Further, they allege that that sediment reduced the conveyance of the San Jacinto and the storage capacity of Lake Houston, contributing to the flooding of their homes.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/27/22
1732 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.