Posts

Sand Miners Plan TACA Days in Austin for February 4th, 5th

Sand miners plan to gather in Austin on February 4th and 5th to meet with legislators for their annual TACA Days. TACA stands for the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association. It represents sand miners. They hope  to beat back regulation of the industry that could help protect areas like Lake Houston from excessive sedimentation.

They describe the event as a series of meetings with state legislators and their staffs, which will be followed by recognition in both the House and Senate Chambers.

The flood during Hurricane Harvey breached sand mine dikes and roads up and down the West Fork. All of the mines with the exception of one are located inside the floodway – a dangerous business practice that contributes to sedimentation. However, none of the bills introduced in the Texas House so far address this issue.

TACA Plan of Attack

The invitation says that for the meetings, the group will split up into teams. Each team will have a captain who speaks for the group. Captains know the drill from previous attempts to beat back legislation. TACA has spent millions of dollars lobbying the legislature and key state officials. This is part of that effort.

The invitation closes with a plea. “The higher the participation, the greater the impact we will make with our legislators. This legislative session will involve critical issues to our industry and we need your representation.”

Guess they’re expecting a fight. In year’s past, I have been told, they’ve even brought in some of their big equipment to parade up and down streets leading to the Capitol Building.

Sadly, Not Much Legislation to Get Excited About

Four bills have been filed re: sand mining so far.

The most exciting from a Lake Houston Area resident’s perspective is HB509. State Representative Terry Wilson filed it. It:

  • Requires a hydrology assessment of the operation’s impact on surrounding surface and groundwater – including water availability. 
  • Creates criminal penalties for non-compliance.Enables regulators to consider the cumulative impact of multiple APOs in an area when evaluating new applications.
  • Requires the operation to prevent material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.
  • Requires public notice of permit applications
  • Provides for public comment on permit applications
  • Makes permit approval contingent on past performance
  • Requires permitting agencies to publish the public comments
  • Allows the agencies to deny permits based on public comments
  • Grandfathers operations with existing permits

HB 907 filed by State Representative Dan Huberty doubles the penalties if sand mines don’t register with the TCEQ. However, most of the problems with sand mining have to do with companies that ARE registered. They are mining in the floodway which contributes to sedimentation during floods. So double the penalties on unregistered mines will create only the APPEARANCE of getting tough on mines.

HB 908, also filed by Representative Huberty, increases penalties for other violations, but calls for inspections once every two years. A lot can happen during that time. I suggested using Landsat photos to supplement monitoring of operations. Landsat flies over Montgomery County sixteen times a day and could spot breeches of dikes in near real time. Seems like it would be more effective, more efficient, and cheaper. But no mention of Landsat appears in the bill.

HB 909 calls for the TCEQ to develop and publish a set of best practices for sand mining. However, it attaches no penalties for violation of them.

I’ve talked to representative Huberty about these issues. He believes regulation should happen in small steps. I believe it should happen before the next big storm.

With the exception of HB506, TACA may have won this fight before it started. The sand miners should have a lot to be thankful for tomorrow in Austin.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/3/2019

523 Days since Hurricane Harvey