Tag Archive for: fines

TCEQ Fines Quadvest for 48,000 Gallon Sewage Spill in Colony Ridge

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has fined Quadvest $5,625 for a 48,000-gallon sewage spill in Colony Ridge, a large and growing development in Liberty County near the San Jacinto East Fork and Plum Grove. Quadvest supplies water and sewer services for the development.

The violation occurred in Camino Real, a Colony Ridge subdivision with almost 3500 lots. It happened at a lift station approximately 1,000 feet north-northeast of the intersection of Paul Campbell Loop Road and Plum Drive.

Discharge with Bluish Color Kills Fish

The complainant alleged that the discharge had a bluish color and killed fish. The TCEQ complaint says people were exposed to unsafe levels of pollutants, however, no deaths were reported in relation to the incident except for fish.

Photo of discharge in Maple Branch Creek

TCEQ says Quadvest “failed to prevent the unauthorized discharge of wastewater into or adjacent to any water in the state. Specifically, on July 22, 2019, an electrical failure at Camino Real Lift Station-H located at 342 Road 5002 caused the pumps to fail, resulting in approximately 48,000 gallons of wastewater being discharged into Maple Branch Creek, killing approximately 30 fish.”

Cleanup and Fine Cost Quadvest More Than $105,000

In July, 2019, Quadvest cleaned up the mess. TCEQ estimated the cost at more than $100,000. Then in June 2020, Quadvest CEO Simon Sequeira agreed to pay an additional penalty of $5,625.

Previous Related Violations

During the year before the unauthorized discharge, the TCEQ issued four other notices of violations to Quadvest for:

  • Sewage overflowing from a manhole at an estimated rate of 10-25 gallons per minute
  • Failure to maintain an operational alarm system for emergency conditions
  • Twice failing to secure its lift station from intruders (August and November 2018)

None of the violations was self-reported. Click here for the full TCEQ report.

Part of Larger Problem

Since this incident, other sewage problems have occurred in Colony Ridge. Stormwater can wash this fecal contamination into adjoining streams and bayous which empty into the East Fork and Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.

More Colony Ridge fecal contamination bubbling up from underground and flowing toward Tarkenton Bayou. Photo taken in June 2020.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/4/2020

1132 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 381 since Imelda

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.

Outlook Good for Bill That Would Double Fines for Illegal Sand Mining

On April 17th, the Texas House of Representatives Environmental Regulations committee heard testimony on a bill that would double fines for illegal sand mining, HB907. No illegal sand miners spoke against the bill, so this one has a pretty good chance of passing.

Click here to view testimony.

Key Points in Huberty’s Testimony

The bill’s author, State Representative Dan Huberty laid out the case for the bill starting at 9:29 into this recording. His main points: this bill does not penalize miners who have registered with the TCEQ, only those who have not. He reminded committee members how bad the problem of illegal sand mining was when his first sand mining bill was passed in 2011. Huberty said that he believes the problem of unregistered sand mining continues to this day. However, he said, the fines set in 2011, no longer make the same deterrent they did then. He said the increased fines would enable the TCEQ to increase oversight efforts.

Why This is Important

Illegal sand mining contributes disproportionately to the problem of sedimentation in the river. That’s because it often takes place in or on the banks of the river. The illegal miners make no attempt to control erosion or sediment. And the scars can last for decades.

Here is a satellite image from 1989 on the West Fork of a mining operation near a point bar. At this point in time, sand miners were not forced to register with the TCEQ.
The same area almost 30 years later still bears the scars. Both photos courtesy of Google Earth.

Supported by Both TACA and Environmental Groups

At about 18 minutes into the recording, Rob Van Til, owner of River Aggregates, a registered sand mining company, spoke in favor of the bill. Speaking for himself as well as TACA, he said it would help deter “bad actors.”

Grant Dean, representing the Texas Environmental Coalition, from Marble Falls, also rose to speak in favor of the bill.

Not a “Christmas Tree”

Given the lack of opposition, Huberty then wrapped up testimony by moving for passage of he bill. He said that he would not allow the bill to become a “Christmas Tree” when it went to the House floor. A Christmas tree bill is a political term referring to a bill that attracts many, often unrelated, floor amendments that provide special benefits to various groups or interests.

The testimony with questions from the committee members took about 15 minutes. In response to one of the questions, Huberty details all of the other flood mitigation legislation moving through the Legislature at this time. It’s definitely worth watching if you want a preview of how the political landscape could change for sand mining in coming years.

Revenue Neutral

While this is certainly not the most important piece of sand mining legislation, it will help in a limited way by plugging a legislative and enforcement gap. And because the extra revenue generated will pay for the enforcement, it is revenue neutral.

Status: Pending in Committee

To read the text of HB907, click here. Senator Brandon Creighton has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, SB2123. Both are still pending in committee.

Creighton’s SB2123 was referred to the Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee on March 21. The committee has not yet held hearings on it.

Reasoning Behind Companion Bills

A companion bill is a bill filed in one chamber that is identical or very similar to a bill filed in the opposite chamber. Companion bills are used to expedite passage as they provide a means for committee consideration of a measure to occur in both houses simultaneously. A companion bill that has passed one house can then be substituted for the companion bill in the second house.

How You Can Help

Both of these bills deserve the support of Lake Houston Area residents. To urge action, call or email the committee members. Here is contact info for:

Said Huberty at the end of the day, “It was quick, but we feel good about this!”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/20/2019

599 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Sand-Mine Fines vs. Lake-Houston-Area Damage During Harvey

Numerous posts on this blog have documented how sand mines made flooding worse during Harvey. Yet the total amount of fines levied against mines in the second half of last year state-wide was less than the average repair cost for one home flooded during Harvey.

Let me state some caveats upfront in this post.

However, NO sediment should have come from any mine. It could have been easily avoided. Most mines choose to operate in the floodway…downstream from a major dam…in a flood prone region. They have other choices.

But they continue to mine in floodways. Partially as a result, millions of cubic yards of sand now clog the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, creating higher floods on smaller rains. Meanwhile, the public, businesses, FEMA, and insurance companies are stuck with the cleanup bill and increased flood risk.

Having said that, let’s look at the scorecard.

Fines Levied Statewide by TCEQ on Sand Mines in Last 5 Years

TCEQ fines levied since passage of HB571 through end of 2017. Image scanned from TCEQ report to Texas legislature.

That’s about $800 per fine or a half-million dollars total during five years. If you look just at the last half of 2017 (after Harvey), the TCEQ levied about $140,000 in fines STATEWIDE – far less than it cost to repair ONE average home in Kingwood as a result of Harvey.

Damage to Lake Houston Area During Harvey Related to Excessive Sedimentation

  • $60 million in repairs to Kingwood High School
  • $60 million in repairs to Lone Star College/Kingwood
  • $1.4 billion for 7000+ homes flooded at estimated repair cost of $200,000 each
  • $1.5 billion in lost productivity ([100,000 people x 200 hours each] + [10,000 people times x 1000 hours each] = 30 million hours x Ave. $50 each)
  • $70 million for Phase 1 dredging of 2.1 miles out of 13 miles
  • $50 million for Phase 2 dredging allocated in County Flood Bond
  • “Billions” lost in home values and tax revenue according to City of Houston
  • 44% of Lake Houston area businesses flooded and closed for months, many closed permanently
  • Total: Estimated $5+ billion

So Much for Fiscal Conservatism

Even if you think the mines contributed only 10% of the sand in the river and are responsible for only 10% of the damage, they still came out ahead by a pretty lopsided margin, especially considering that we’re comparing statewide to local statistics and extended periods to one event. AND they are not being asked to contribute one penny to clean-up costs beyond their normal taxes. If you or I backed up into a light pole, we would probably get a bill for damaging City property. But not these lucky guys.

You would think the City, County, State, businesses and residents must be flush with cash to absorb these kinds of losses without raising a peep. So much for fiscal conservatism! Since when did Texas  replace “You Break It; You Buy It” with corporate welfare and subsidies?

But hey, we need cheap concrete to attract new residents who will make up for these losses. Right?

It’s Time to Change the Conversation

Call me unrealistic, but maybe it’s time to:

  • Prioritize taxpayers over newcomers.
  • Compare the tax revenue from mining to losses from other sources.
  • Balance public safety and private profit.
  • Put some teeth in TCEQ regulations.

Make all miners move out of the floodway and you could level the playing field for them while protecting them from liability. You could also avoid a lot of that damage, protect lives and property from unnecessary risk, avoid unnecessary losses, make the banking and insurance industries happy, reduce mitigation costs, increase savings and investment, hold down taxes, and attract newcomers. But wait. Win-win? That’s too radical a notion to succeed in politics these days.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on August 31, 2018

367 Days since Hurricane Harvey