Tag Archive for: Carriage Hills

Carriage Hills Sand Mine Still Has Equipment in West Fork Floodway

In March, Montgomery County Commissioners voted to sue a new sand mine operating near the Carriage Hills subdivision of Conroe. The county attorney sought to force the mine to remove unspecified materials from the West Fork floodway while they resolved permit issues. Since then, according to residents, the mine has voluntarily suspended operations.

Aerial Photos/Maps Show Mine in Floodway

However, a flyover on 4/21/2020 revealed that mining, processing, and transportation equipment remains in the floodway.

New mine in San Jacinto West Fork floodway near Carriage Hills (background on left) in Conroe.
Reverse angle. Floodway cuts between homes in foreground and mine in background. River concealed by trees in background. See FEMA flood map below.
Cross-hatched area = floodway. Aqua color represents 100-year floodplain. Brown = 500-year floodplain. Source: FEMA.

From 600 Truckloads a Day to Nothing

The once bustling operation with 600 trucks per day coming and going down Carriage Hills Boulevard now seems eerily quiet. It’s not clear whether the suspension of operations relates to the County lawsuit, COVID, a drop in demand due to the economic downturn, or all of the above.

Close up shot of operations.
Residents say that before suspension of operations, the mine was running up to 600 trucks per day up Carriage Hills Blvd. leading to top of photo.
A second, smaller part of the operation.
Another sand mining operation brackets the other side of Carriage Hills.

Residents Fear Resumption of Activity

While residents enjoy the quiet, they see it as temporary. They fear that once the COVID crisis passes and the mine resolves its permit issues, the round-the-clock truck traffic will quickly return.

Indeed, the Montgomery County Engineer’s Office, indicates that the owner of the new mine has re-applied for a permit. That permit is now under review.

Even if you see zoning as a communist conspiracy, as some in Montgomery County do, being surrounded by sand mines kind of makes you a believer in large-scale, master-planned communities.

So much for those idyllic little hideaways in the woods.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/27/2020

972 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.

New Carriage Hills Sand Mine Halts Operations For Now

On March 24, Montgomery County Commissioners approved a resolution that allowed the County Attorney to sue a new Carriage Hills sand mine operating on the West Fork of the San Jacinto. The text of the lawsuit was vague as to actual violations. But on Monday, March 30, B.D. Griffin, the Montgomery County Attorney supplied more details about the complaint. He also discussed the status of the suit, what the mine is doing, and likely long-term outcomes. 

Operator Violated Floodplain Permit

According to Griffin, counties in Texas have few tools to regulate land use. However, floodplain regulations are one of them. Montgomery County alleges that the Carriage Hills sand mine operator, Skilled International, was in violation of the floodplain permit issued to MBM Sand Company, the landowner. 

Griffin says there were two main issues. First, MBM obtained the permit, but it was not transferrable to Skilled. Second, Skilled is operating in the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. The MBM permit allowed floodplain operations, but not floodway. 

Therefore, according to Griffin, they operated where they should not have. Floodway operations are subject to more regulations and more stringent regulations than floodplain operations. “They were operating outside the boundaries of their permit,” said Griffin. “That’s why we sought the authority to file suit against them. They were in violation of their floodplain permit.”

Mine Closes Voluntarily Until It Gets Proper Permit

The County, however, did not actually have to file the suit against the Carriage Hills sand mine. “They have complied voluntarily and shut down the sand pit operations until they get their approvals to operate in the special flood hazard area,” said Griffin.

He further stated that, “If you fail to enforce your regulations, then you jeopardize the county’s participation in the national flood insurance program. That’s major. But we try to enforce the regulations anyway because it’s the right thing to do. We’re not after fines necessarily, but we do have that ability if necessary.”

“The operator also told us in writing that they will cease operations until they get the proper permits,” said Griffin. Three officials from Montgomery County checked and found that the mine has, in fact, ceased operations.

What Mine Must Do to Comply

Basically, they need to show where they are operating. If it’s in the floodway, there are more regulation than if they are just in the flood plain. They need to show that they’re not increasing the base flood elevation and that there are no adverse impacts to adjoining properties. AND they have to have it all certified by engineers in order to get their permit.”

That means the engineer will need to conduct an H&H (Hydrologic and Hydraulic) study for the floodway portion of the mine’s permit. “They need that to show that they won’t raise the base flood elevation and that they won’t adversely impact adjoining properties.”

Truck Traffic Will Likely Return When Permits Obtained

While the threat of a County suit has eliminated all the truck traffic through Carriage Hills for now, in the long run, things may not change much. Griffin says, “You have to understand. Land use regulation by a county is fairly limited in Texas. We don’t have the powers of a municipality and we don’t have the powers of the State.”

Griffin continued, “So, we can only regulate land use with very limited means. One of those is floodplain regulations. The other is subdivision regulations. So, what we look to and require, is often not the same as what an adjoining landowner may want.”

We want compliance with our permitting process and with the actual regulations themselves. The Carriage Hills sand mine can’t increase water on adjoining property and they can’t raise the base flood elevation. Those are the two big ones,” said Griffin.

Regarding the heavy truck traffic on residential roads, Griffin says, “It’s a public road. Unfortunately, we can’t do much. The state can issue overload permits and they have the right to run on our roads. We can’t do anything about it. There’s a limit as to what the county can do. And, you know, we are in a fast-growing county. As population density increases, we can get more of these problems. There’s not always a win-win solution. But if we take some actions like this, it makes people think about being good corporate neighbors.”

Up to 600 trucks per day were disturbing these quiet residential streets in Carriage Hills, a Conroe subdivision near the West Fork San Jacinto.

Threat of County Lawsuit Remains

Skilled International, the mine’s operator has not given a timetable for compliance yet. But Griffin says they have hired a consultant who is working directly with the County Engineers office. In the meantime, they have agreed to suspend operations until they get their proper permits.

Says Griffin, “We have the lawsuit prepared to be filed. As long as they cease operations, we won’t file a lawsuit. If we see them starting up the operations again and there’s no permit, we will file the suit.”

The complaint approved by Commissioners required remediation for any dirt Skilled International may have brought into the Carriage Hills sand mine. Griffin says, “If they ultimately do NOT get a permit, we will require them to remove anything they may have brought into the floodway.”

This could prove substantial. New draft FEMA floodplain maps show the floodway has expanded. The new floodway now takes in the vast majority of the area being mined.

Approximate location of Carriage Hills sand mine
Black oval shows approximate location of new Carriage Hills sand mine relative to the new draft FEMA flood plain maps. The vast majority of the mine is within the floodway represented by the red crosshatched area.

It is unclear whether the County Engineer and Attorney will apply the new floodplain map when considering the mine’s permit or use the old map.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/31/2020

945 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Montgomery County Commissioners Vote to Sue New Sand Mine Near Carriage Hills

In a rare move, Montgomery County Commissioner’s Court voted today to let the County Attorney sue a new sand mine. The mine property is owned by MBM Sand Company, LLC and operated by Skilled International near a Conroe subdivision named Carriage Hills.

General location of new sand mine, south of Conroe, west of I-45 and West Fork, and east of Carriage Hills subdivision.

40 Minute Session with One Spectator

Likely due to the corona virus scare, only one spectator showed up to the Commissioners Court meeting, Paul Crowson. Crowson reported that the motion carried. He also said the entire meeting lasted only 40 minutes.

Minutes and video of the meeting still have not been posted. Crowson says he queried Montgomery County Attorney BD Griffin for details about the suit and Giffin replied only with “No comment.”

The Montgomery County District Clerk has not yet listed any documents relating to the suit. So we still don’t know exactly what the County’s complaints are, only that they related to the Section I of Chapter 16 of the Texas Water Code and the Montgomery County Flood Plain Regulations.

I wonder if the decision by Commissioners to allow the County Attorney to sue will actually result in a lawsuit. With permission to sue now in hand, the District Attorney may use that as a tool to get the defendant(s) to remediate whatever damage he/they have done. Either way, that’s good news.

A New Day for MoCo Sand Miners?

Regardless, this signals somewhat of a sea change for Montgomery County. The County passes out tax breaks to sand miners like Halloween candy, even though they violate State Controller guidelines.

More news to follow as it becomes available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/25/2020

939 Days since Hurricane Harvey

MoCo Will Vote Tomorrow on Whether to Sue New Sand Mine in Carriage Hills

Montgomery County commissioners will vote Tuesday whether to sue a new sand mine on the west side of the San Jacinto West Fork. The mine is in a Conroe development called Carriage Hills.

Agenda Item and Text of Motion by County Attorney

Agenda Item

This link contains the full text of the motion that commissioners will vote on. Because this item is on the consent agenda, we won’t hear debate on it.

Page 1 of the document above says that, “… it appears that MBM Sand Company, LLC and Carl Hudspeth, individually and doing business as Skilled International, LLC have violated, is violating, or is threatening to violate Subchapter I of Chapter 16 of the Tex. Water Code, or one or more rules adopted by Montgomery County under said subchapter and has failed and refused to cease and desist as demanded by the Montgomery County Engineer and/or the Montgomery County Attorney.”

The county seeks both injunctive relief to remove illegal improvements and restore preexisting conditions. The county also seeks monetary fines totaling $100 for each act of violation and each day of violation.

Potential Permit Issues

The mine operator, named Skilled International, LLC.,  has aggregate and air quality permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The property owner, MBM Sand Company, LLC, has a non-transferrable development permit issued in 2018 to excavate sand pit(s). Skilled International was founded in February 2019 as Cen-Tex Sand, but changed its name to Skilled International two weeks later. The transfer could be one potential issue.

It’s not immediately clear whether the MBM excavation permit allows Skilled to excavate.

No Specific Alleged Violations Listed

However, the motion does not spell out exactly what the violations are.

Subchapter I of Chapter 16 of the Texas Water Code deals with the regulations protecting public health and safety that the County must develop and enforce to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. They include Montgomery County Flood Plain Management Regulations intended to discourage or otherwise restrict land development or occupancy in flood-prone areas.

The complaint, however, does not enumerate specific alleged violations.

Depending on alleged violations, the outcome of this could set a precedent for other sand mines operating on the West Fork.

Homeowners Have Additional Complaints

The mine also faces problems from local homeowners.

The mine is operating adjacent to a once-quiet neighborhood called Carriage Hills in Conroe. It is sending heavy trucks weighed down with sand up and down Carriage Hills Boulevard. Residents say the noise exceeds 85 decibels, the trucks have torn up roads, and they fear for their children’s safety.

OSHA says prolonged exposure to sounds exceeding 85 decibels could cause hearing loss without protection. Such exposures could result in huge fines.

The trucks, as many as 12 at a time, begin idling outside the plant gate at 6:30 a.m. and run up and down Carriage Hills Boulevard hundreds of times a day – by one count 600 times.

Residents are also exploring the Texas Nuisance Law. In 2016, the Supreme Court of Texas defined this more clearly in the case of Crosstex North Texas Pipeline L.P. v. Gardiner.  A nuisance is defined as “condition that substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of land by causing unreasonable discomfort or annoyance to persons of ordinary sensibilities attempting to use and enjoy it.”  

They believe 600 dump trucks a day at intervals of 2 minutes or less, starting at 6:30 a.m. “substantially interferes” with their ability to enjoy their land and that it causes “unreasonable discomfort or annoyance.”

The operation will not end anytime soon without a restraining order. The company is just now removing the overburden, trying to get to frack sand.

Only Restraining Order Will Stop Operation Now

Homeowners believe the operation will likely devalue their properties.

They also worry about the safety risk to children given the high volume of industrial vehicles with tons of payload traveling at speeds that make them unable to stop to stop quickly on residential streets.

Residents Ask You to Sign Petition

To sign a petition supporting the residents of Carriage Hills, visit this link at Change.org.

Some of the residents plan to present the petition to commissioners tomorrow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/23/2020

938 Days after 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.