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Flood Notes: Quick Updates on Multiple Flood Related Topics

Below are updates on seven flood-related topics from around the Lake Houston Area and Texas.

Plugging of Noxxe Wells in Forest Cove Delayed

Peter Fisher of the Texas Railroad Commission reports that its Oil & Gas Division is about eight to 10 weeks away from plugging the NOXXE wells in Forest Cove. Noxxe abandoned the lease when Harvey cleanup costs forced the company into bankruptcy. The Commission’s General Counsel notified Fisher on March 4th that another operator is attempting to take over the NOXXE leases.  “At this time we do not know for sure which wells they are interested in.  Therefore, we are currently in a holding pattern on plugging the NOXXE wells,” said Fisher. TRRC has already finished cleanup of the rusting tanks in Forest Cove, but several wells still appear to be leaking based on aerial photos that show oil on ponds and in the public water supply.

Black substance in West Fork/Lake Houston stretched for about a half mile on December 7, 2020, next to one of many abandoned Noxxe wells.

Texas GLO and Houston Declare Truce for Time Being

Last year, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) tried to claw back funds allocated to the City of Houston for several Harvey-related disaster assistance programs. Why? The City fell seriously behind deadlines, even as the reimbursement program was expiring. Then the two sides reached a settlement and the City took back some programs. Houston will continue to administer $835 million in programs – Homeowner Assistance (reimbursement program), Single Family Development, Multifamily Rental, Small Rental, Homebuyer Assistance, Buyout, Public Services and Economic Revitalization Programs.

However, the GLO included strict program benchmarks with language that includes: “Program Benchmarks: Subrecipient’s failure to achieve a Program Benchmark in the Subrecipient Agreement may result in the termination of the Program and/or funds being removed from the Contract, at the GLO’s sole discretion.” HUD’s rules include that funds be expended – not allocated – by August 2024, plus one more year for close out, or else HUD will retain the funds.

City’s Homeowner Assistance Applications

In the meantime, the GLO is keeping the City’s Homeowner Assistance Program. Many who first applied through the City have been caught in limbo due to missing, incomplete and poorly formatted documents.

On December 30, 2020, the GLO received 48,000 documents that had no discernable naming conventions, were not grouped by applicant, and were mostly unsearchable. The GLO had to open each document to determine which applicant it belongs to and file accordingly. On January 27, 2021, the GLO received a transfer of additional files that appear to be mostly environmental assessments, but once again, were not organized. The GLO has sorted the files from the City of Houston and the GLO team is contacting applicants to request missing or outdated documentation to move them towards construction.

We received data for 7,176 files, but nearly half had none or only one of the documents needed for a complete application to achieve HUD eligibility. “We are in the process of contacting all applicants to determine which ones still wish to participate and request the documents we need to complete their files,” said a GLO spokesperson.

Court Reverses Air Quality Permit for APO

Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining announced that on March 5, a district court in Austin struck down an air-quality permit for a quarry. Alabama-based Vulcan Construction Materials needed the permit to proceed with a controversial project.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had initially granted the permit in 2019 after two years of heated legal wrangling between Vulcan, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates, and an alliance of Comal County citizens, community groups and Comal ISD.

459th Civil District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled that:

  • TCEQ’s assertion that the quarry would not harm human health or welfare was not supported by evidence.
  • Vulcan’s emissions calculations were not representative and not supported by substantial evidence.
  • Vulcan’s air quality analysis did not account for cumulative impacts or emissions from the quarry and roads.
  • Vulcan’s choice of background concentration was arbitrary or capricious.
  • In the contested case hearing, the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) judge erred in allowing Vulcan to hide behind “trade secret” claims.
  • Plaintiffs were denied due process when the SOAH judge allowed Vulcan to conceal data using the “trade secret” excuse and did not allow plaintiffs to cross-examine Vulcan.

Vulcan’s proposed mining operation in the Texas Hill Country would stretch across nearly three miles of the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, the primary water supply for over two million people in New Braunfels and San Antonio.

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Punts on Subsidence Again

After several filibusters, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Board again deferred publicly adopting a position on subsidence or approving the second half of its subsidence study in a mercifully brief March 9th meeting. The District’s general manager and counsel are reportedly querying stakeholders on the subject. But time is running out before GMA-14 meeting. The LSGCD may have to call a special meeting before the next GMA-14 meeting on April 9th to resolve those issues. It will be interesting to see what they come back with. Simon Sequeira, of Quadvest, one of the largest independent water pumpers in the county is a stakeholder.

Kerr County Commissioners Support Best Management Practices for Local APOs

The adoption of best management practices by sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed has been a legislative goal of area groups since Harvey. It was during Harvey that floodwaters swept through mines and flushed sand downstream where it contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses. Now the Hill-Country group, Texans for Responsible Aggregate Management reports they have achieved a victory of sorts.

On March 1st, 2021 the Kerr County Commissioners’ Court unanimously passed a resolution supporting TRAM’s legislative goals, as well as a resolution encouraging Kerr County APOs to adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) in order to minimize adverse health effects and nuisance issues. The resolution was sparked by concerns over West Texas Aggregate LLC’s desire for a permanent rock and concrete crusher facility near the airport east of Kerrville.

LCRA Adopts Commercial Dredging Moratorium on Highland Lakes

On February 24, 2021, The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors adopted a one-year moratorium prohibiting commercial dredging on the Highland Lakes until new rules are established. This action states that LCRA will not review pending permit applications such as the Collier Materials Inc. permit application for commercial dredging on the Llano River and cancelled the public meeting scheduled for March 10, 2021.

The Board determined that new rules are necessary to address commercial dredging projects and their potential impact on water quality, aquatic life and public safety on the lakes. Over the next year, LCRA will review potential water quality impacts of commercial dredging, coordinate with other entities, and conduct a robust public and stakeholder input process.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/18/2021

1297 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.

Energy Resources Committee Hearing Testimony Monday on Bill To Regulate Quarry Reclamation

People in the Hill Country are up in arms about aggregate production operations (APOs). The Lake Houston Area is not alone. State Representative Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg has introduced yet another bill to regulate APOs. Biedermann’s bill, HB2871 focuses on mine reclamation. His bill targets APOs that quarry and crush rock, but the bill, if passed, would affect sand mines in our area, too.

Focus on Reclamation

HB2871 requires miners to acquire a reclamation permit BEFORE they can acquire a production permit. It would also require them to file a performance bond ensuring reclamation BEFORE acquiring that production permit.

Abandoned sand pit in Humble remains unfenced despite being next to areas where children play.

Gives Primary Enforcement Responsibility to Railroad Commission

HB2871 places the burden of enforcement on the Texas Railroad Commission. However, it allows the Railroad Commission to use the resources of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

I first learned about HB2871 from a Hill County group protesting the permitting of a quarry. They approached me asking for support. It certainly appears that our interests align. And the author wrote the bill in such a way that it would apply to this area, too. I have previously blogged about the problem of abandoned and unsafe sand pits. We have many in the Lake Houston area. Once the last truckload of profit goes out of a mine, owners have little incentive to reclaim it.

Currently, owners are required to file a reclamation plan before getting a reclamation permit, but there is no requirement to actually execute the plan when they are done mining.

This page on the Hill Country group’s web site explains their loss of faith in the TCEQ, and hence, their desire to have the Railroad Commission oversee regulation.

How to Act NOW

On Monday, the House Energy Resources Committee will consider HB 509 and HB 2871. Representatives Biedermann, Wilson, and their staff have worked hard to draft these bills. Now we need to back them and help get them passed into law! HB 509, you may remember, requires a permitting agency to consider the aggregate impact of multiple mining operations in a small area before permitting any more.

Below are the names, phone numbers and email addresses of all the members of the House Energy Resources Committee who are soliciting comments. If you have friends or relatives living in any districts below, reach out to them: their voices as constituents may be even more powerful. Please call or write and encourage friends and relatives to do the same.

Chris Paddie, Chairman (Marshall/Northeast Texas)
chris.paddie@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0556

Abel Herrero, Vice Chairman (Corpus Christi area)
abel.herrero@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0462

Rafael Anchia (NW Dallas)
rafael.anchia@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0746

Ernest Bailes (Huntsville, Liberty)
ernest.bailes@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0570

Tom Craddick (Midland area)
tom.craddick@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0500

Drew Darby (San Angelo area)
drew.darby@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0331

Charlie Geren (NW Fort Worth)
charlie.geren@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0610

Roland Gutierrez (SE San Antonio, Live Oak, Universal City, Converse)
roland.gutierrez@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0452

Cody Harris (Hillsboro, Corsicana, Palestine)
cody.harris@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0730

Mary Ann Perez (Pasadena, Baytown)
maryann.perez@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0460

Jon Rosenthal (Far NW Houston)
jon.rosenthal@house.texas.gov
(512) 463-0722

Here is a SAMPLE EMAIL developed by the Hill Country group. Remember to tweak the copy so that it applies to this area, not just the Hill Country.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/5/2019

584 Days since Hurricane Harvey