Legislative Goals Re: Sand Mining

  1. Establish a water quality district on the San Jacinto like the John Graves District on the Brazos.
    • Key Provision #1: Moves mining outside the 100-year flood plain as permits come up for renewal.
    • Why? Mining in floodway can accelerate sedimentation far above the natural rate. Sediment accumulations form dams that block river and contribute to flooding.
    • Key Provision #2: Establishes performance bonds to ensure reclamation.
    • Why? Some miners walk away from mines before reclamation, creating eyesores and safety hazards that discourage development in surrounding communities.
  2. Put teeth in TCEQ fines.
    • Key Provision: Increases fines to the point where they actually discourage negative practices.
    • Why? Current fines are slap on wrist. Average fine for last 7 years was about $800. Has not cleaned up industry.
  3. Bring best management practices for sand mining in Texas up to the standards in the rest of the country and the world.
    • Key Provisions:
      1. Locate mines outside of floodways. (Most important)
      2. Establish performance bonds to cover the cost of cleanup.
      3. Increase the width of dikes.
      4. Decrease the slope of dikes.
      5. Control erosion with vegetation.
      6. Replant areas not actively being mined.
      7. Avoid clearing areas that will not soon be mined.
      8. Protect stockpiles from flooding.
      9. Mine only above the thalweg (deepest part of the river).
      10. Establish performance bonds to guarantee remediation of breaches and/or repurposing of mined areas once mining is complete
    • Why? The practices where we lag the rest of the world caused the most damage during Harvey.

Fact Sheets/Background

Legislation Introduced in 2021

HB4478: Reclamation and Performance Bonds

Dan Huberty from the Lake Houston Area introduced HB4478 which addresses abandonment of sand mines. Many miners simply walk away from mines leaving abandoned, rusting equipment in place and dangerous conditions. Huberty’s bill would require mines to file a reclamation plan before they start mining and also post a bond ensuring they actually execute the plan. Currently, mines are required to file a plan, but there is no requirement in Texas to execute it. Miners can simply walk away from mines after they extract the last ounce of sand. That can leave scars on the landscape, degrade water quality, and threaten public safety.

HB767: Best Practices

Huberty also introduced HB767, a bill that would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish and publish best management practices for sand mining. However, it does not require sand mines to follow the practices. While that’s disappointing, it could bring heat to operations that don’t follow the guidelines. This bill has already been referred to the Environmental Regulation  Committee where it died in the 2019 session.

HB4341: Changes Responsibility for Oversight

Representative Kyle Biederman from Fredericksburg introduced HB4341, a bill that would transfer regulation of aggregate production operations from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC). The bill gives the Railroad Commission the right to conduct unannounced inspections to ensure compliance with water and air quality regulations. Biederman’s bill also mandates reclamation of mines, but includes more specifics than Huberty’s. Finally, it provides criminal penalties for people who knowingly and willfully violate conditions of their permits. The big news: transfer of oversight responsibility from the TCEQ to TRRC. If it passes, it will be a resounding vote of “no confidence” in the job that the TCEQ has been doing in regulating sand mines.

HB2422: Limiting Location of Mines

Representative Erin Zwiener from Kyle introduced HB2422. Her bill applies to counties with a population of 500,000 or more. It would allow county commissioners to prohibit the construction or expansion of an aggregate production operation at a location less than one mile from a residence, school, place of worship, hospital, or land platted for residential development. The bill would also allow commissioners to establish conditions for the construction or expansion of mines elsewhere in the county.

HB291: Reclamation and Performance Bonds

Representative Andrew Murr from Kerrville introduced HB291. It also focuses on reclamation of mines. It would require the grading of banks, revegetation, and removal of equipment upon completion of mining. The bill would also require operators to reclaim mines in stages as extraction activities on different parts cease. It would give miners a deadline for reclamation, too: six months. Finally, it would require a performance bond equal to $2,500 for each acre affected by extraction activities. Upon completion of reclamation activities, the TCEQ would release the performance bond. Cities and counties would have the right to waive the reclamation requirement if reclamation conflicts with proposed future uses of the land.

Abandoned dredge left at abandoned Texas Concrete Sand & Gravel Mine in Plum Grove on San Jacinto East Fork. Photographed 3/3/2021
HB1544: APO Taxation

Representative Ryan Guillen from Rio Grande City introduced HB1544. It addresses the tax classification of land used for sand mining. The language is confusing and an analysis of the bill has not yet been submitted. However, it appears to state that sand mine, once it meets requirements for reclamation, may revert to a property tax rate associated with open space, such as agriculture. The bill lays out some unique requirements for reclamation not discussed in the other bills here. While this seems to give sand miners a positive incentive to restore land, I’m not sure how much. In Montgomery County, the tax appraiser routinely grants ag exemptions to land used for sand mining.

HB1912/SB1209: Permit Requirements

HB1912 filed by Representative Terry Wilson of Georgetown establishes additional permit requirements for aggregate production operations. They affect air quality, light pollution, noise, blasting, dust, and other operational issues identified by the House Interim Committee on APOs back in January.

State Senator Charles Schwertner from Bryan introduced SB1209. It is an identical companion bill to HB1912. Companion bills increase the chance of passage by broadening the base of support in both houses.

Posts About Legislative Needs

Huberty Amendment to Appropriate Money for Dredging Mouth Bar Passes First of Six Hurdles Today

Five days ago, State Representative Dan Huberty offered an amendment to Senate Bill 500 (SB500). SB500 is the omnibus Senate appropriations bill making its way through the House. It contains appropriations for everything from health care to education to criminal justice and highways and more. Huberty filed his amendment last week. Below are the steps […]

Senate Appropriates $1.65 Billion for SB7, But House Omits Funding For It While Considering $3.26 Billion For HB13

Last week, I reviewed Texas Senate Bill 7 (SB7) which creates a Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund. The fund, if approved, will help local governments by providing grants and low- and no-interest loans for flood mitigation projects in four major categories. Categories include Floodplain Management, Hurricane Harvey, Floodplain Implementation and Federal Matching accounts. A competing bills […]

State Capitol Building of Texas

Updates Relating to Proposed Sand Mining and Flood Mitigation Legislation

At the start of this legislative session, I added a new page to this web site called Legislation. Its purpose: to help people track key pieces of proposed legislation affecting the Lake Houston area that have to do with sand mining and flood mitigation. On it, you can see summaries of issues, links to the […]

Huberty Proposes Amendment to Appropriations Bill that Would Allocate $30 Million to Dredge Mouth Bar

Senate Bill 500 is an omnibus appropriations bill passed by the Texas Senate on March 13. The bill passed to the House for committee review and consideration the same day. Last Friday, March 22, State Representative Dan Huberty offered an amendment to SB 500. It would allocate $30 million to dredging the mouth bar where […]

After Town Hall Meeting, Confusion Still Swirls Around Status of Mouth Bar

To hear the City tell it, we’re days away from agreement to dredge 1.5 million cubic yards of the mouth bar. To hear Congressman Dan Crenshaw tell it, the permit application hasn’t even been filed yet. So where do things really stand. A reader asked last weekend, whether the Houston Chronicle story about the meeting […]

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the "wet marks" several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.

Creighton’s SB7 Passed Unanimously by Senate, Bill Goes to House Today

NOTE: This article has been updated to include the paragraph below entitled Floodplain Implementation Account. I also added a mention of a separate appropriations bill, SB500. One of the most important pieces of legislation in Austin this session is SB7, sponsored by Senator Brandon Creighton. It relates to flood control planning and the funding of […]

State Capitol Building of Texas

Senator Creighton Introduces Bill that Could Speed Up Flood Planning, Mitigation

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many officials complained bitterly that money from the State’s “rainy day” fund couldn’t be used for flood mitigation projects. Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett often said, “If Harvey wasn’t a rainy day, I don’t know what is!” Creighton Introduces Bill That Could Speed Flood Mitigation Responding to a […]

State Capitol Building of Texas

Two Dozen Pieces of Legislation Introduced to Help Prevent Another Disaster like Harvey

While I have primarily focused on legislation around sand mining, legislators in both the Texas House and Senate have filed bills that address other aspects of the Harvey disaster. I have arbitrarily grouped them into several categories below to make this rather lengthy list easier to follow. Preparedness Remember how residents received no warning to […]