Tag Archive for: HB 907

Governor Signs Flood Mitigation and Sand Mining Legislation. Now, what happens when?

Governor Greg Abbott has signed final versions of Senate Bill (SB) #7, SB 500, House Bill (HB) #907 and HB 1824. So, what will happen when? Let’s look at the implementation of each.

Flood Mitigation: SB 7 Implementation

SB 7 establishes special funds dedicated to flood mitigation. The bill creates dedicated Texas Infrastructure and Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Funds for flood control planning and the funding of flood planning, mitigation, and infrastructure projects.

Money from SB 7 could help fund additional flood gates for the Lake Houston spillway. They could help release water faster before and during floods such as Hurricane Harvey.

Within 90 days, a Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund Advisory Committee will submit recommendations to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) on rules it should adopt in administering the fund. TWDB has another 90 days to adopt rules governing the fund. After that, on or before the end of this year, the TWDB may begin financing projects in the state flood plan.

The bill itself takes effect immediately because it passed both the House and the Senate by more than a two-thirds majority. The Senate passed it 31-0. The House passed it 143-1 with two present but not voting. However, Article Two of SB 7 – the part dealing with the infrastructure fund – takes effect on January 1 of 2020 ONLY IF VOTERS APPROVE a constitutional amendment in November. If voters do NOT approve the constitutional amendment, Article Two has no effect.

Flood Mitigation Funding: SB 500 Implementation

SB 500 is an all-purpose special appropriations bill. It appropriates money for SB 7 and other Hurricane Harvey relief projects. For instance, it include $30 million to help dredge where the San Jacinto meets Lake Houston. SB 500 passed with greater than two-thirds majorities in both House and Senate. Therefore, it takes effect immediately.

That means $30 million should be available today to help dredge the mouth bar of the west fork.

$30 million can now used to help dredge the mouth bar.

Sand Mining Inspections and Fines: HB 907 Implementation

On its way to becoming law, the Senate strengthened HB 907. In its final form, it increased inspection frequency for all aggregate production operations (APOs) from every three years to every two.

Breach in Triple-P mine in Porter allowed process water to flow directly into Caney Creek, East Fork and Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for millions of people.

HB 907 also allows the TCEQ to conduct unannounced inspections if the TCEQ investigated a complaint about an APO operation in the previous three years.

It sets registration fees for APOs at a level that will allow the TCEQ to establish an active APO registry.

Finally, it increases penalties for failure to register an APO. It set the minimum at $5000 and the maximum at $20,000 per year with the total not to exceed more than $40,000 for any three year period.

This act takes effect on September 1, 2019. It passed in the House by 135-8 with one present and not voting. It passed in the Senate 28-3.

“Sand Trap” Bill: HB 1824 Implementation

Environmental groups and citizens, including me, fought to clarify the open-ended language in HB 1824. It allows the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and Harris County Flood Control District take sand and gravel from the San Jacinto without a permit in order to restore the conveyance of the river. They can also deposit the sand and gravel on private land.

Opponents feared that it would open the door to river mining because the SJRA is essentially an economic development entity that is sensitive developers. The SJRA has also shown no desire in the past to control sand mining along the banks of the river.

When I asked legislators, miners, TACA and the SJRA how it would work, I received four different answers!

Proponents of the bill sold it as “the sand-trap bill.” The idea: to get sand mining operations to dredge the river, allow them to sell the sand, and avoid taxpayer expense. By dredging at certain locations under government supervision, proponents hoped to reduce the amount of sand coming downriver. That sand reduces the conveyance of the river and contributes to flooding.

If the bill actually works that way, great. But there’s nothing in its language that indicates how it will work or whether miners will be supervised. River mining is outlawed in many countries, including most of Europe. It has been linked to the destruction of private property in many of other countries that allow it.

Watch private sand mining activity on the river closely! This bill takes effect in three months, on September 1, 2019.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/3/2019

642 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest 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

In Support of HB 907: Doubling Fines for Unregistered Sand Mining

After Hurricane Harvey, I saw mountains of sand everywhere I looked near the San Jacinto River. Since then, I have been studying the origins of the sand and am convinced that part of it comes from bootleg sand mining operations upstream that have destabilized river banks.

Forest Cove Townhomes destroyed by Harvey and swallowed by sand. In places, sand reaches into the treetops.

Bootleg Operators Destabilize River Banks

You don’t have to look long or hard to find examples of bootleg operators; they’re clearly visible in satellite images. As you examine an area in Google Earth and scroll back through time, look for operations that pop up suddenly and disappear just as fast. Concentrate on point bars and areas hidden in woods near rivers.

High Cost of Dredging

It’s costing taxpayers $70 million to restore the conveyance of the San Jacinto River; that’s the cost of the US Army Corps of Engineer’s dredging program. And that’s only for a PORTION of the area that needs dredging.

HB 907 DOUBLES the penalties (both daily and total) for failure to register an APO. It’s simple and straightforward. It targets bootleg operators who take a dump truck and a back hoe to the river and start scooping sand out of point bars. BTW, that’s stealing public property.

In the process, they kill trees and riparian vegetation that stabilize river banks. Results: erosion, excess sedimentation and scars that can last for decades. 

I’m not aware of any responsible parties opposing this legislation. And it doesn’t impose any hardships on honest people.

It does, however, put APOs on the radar of oversight agencies, so the agencies can better enforce environmental laws and regulations.

HB 907 Won’t Solve Sedimentation Problems but Will Help

PLEASE SUPPORT HB 907. It won’t solve all the sedimentation problems on the San Jacinto, but it will definitely help.

The House Environmental Regulation committee is hearing testimony on the bill today. Let’s hope this one makes it out of committee.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/17/2019

596 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Three Baby Steps on Sand Mining Legislation

After Harvey, it became clear that the simplest and most effective way to avoid sedimentation due to sand mining, was to prevent any new sand mining in the floodway. State Representative Dan Huberty introduced three new bills to toughen legislation on sand mines yesterday. But these bills never mention words like river, setback, buffer zone, erosion, sediment, or floodway.

What the Bills Do

HB 907 – Doubles the penalties for not registering a sand mining operation. New penalties can range from $10,000 to $20,000 per year with the total not to exceed $50,000.

HB 908 – Provides for penalties up to $50,000 for water code violations by sand miners and every-other-year inspections by the TCEQ.

HB909 – Calls for the TCEQ to adopt and publish best management practices for sand mines (aggregate production operations) that comply with applicable environmental laws and regulations.

Good…As Far as They Go

HB 907

…is actually an amendment to the portion of the water code that HB 571 established in 2011. HB 571 targeted unregistered and, therefore, unregulated sand mining operations. If you search back through historical satellite photos of the West Fork between I-45 and I-69 in Google Earth, you can see several such bandit mining operations. Miners would take a backhoe and a dump truck down to a point bar. Then they would start mining sand right out of the river banks. The scars can still be seen today in many places.

I haven’t seen many instances, though, of these kinds of operations in the satellite images since the passage of HB 571 in 2011. That’s good news. But it makes me wonder whether the emphasis on un-permitted operations is misplaced. Most problems come from permitted mines, not un-permitted. So this makes it appear as though we’re putting teeth into mining regulation without really solving the big problems, such as mining in the floodway, breached dikes that remain open for years, and abandoning mines without any reclamation.

HB 908

…specifies that all mines will be inspected at least once every two years to ensure that they comply with “all applicable environmental laws and regulations.” The problem: nowhere does the law (or the TCEQ) specify what those are. So a canoeist, for instance, who spots something suspicious, like a backhoe intentionally letting sediment-laden water out of a mine, has no way to tell if the activity is legal or illegal.

One can spend days searching the TCEQ website looking for the regulations they are supposed to enforce.

Sand mine dike just five weeks after a breach.

Also, every-other-year inspections give grass 730 days to grow and cover up the evidence of breaches in sand mine dikes.

Imagine telling your kid to clean up his or her room; you’ll be back to inspect it in two years.


… is a good first step. It directs the TCEQ to establish a set of best practices for sand mining and to publish them. However, the bill does not stipulate the type of best practices to include. Nor does it stipulate any penalties for non-compliance.

It’s like the State telling Porsche owners that those 20 MPH speed limits in school zones are a “good idea.”

Bill McCabe, a member of the steering committee of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative, had this to say. “If they don’t list the BMP’s in the statute, nor authorize any penalties for violation of these BMP’s, what good does this do us?  The TCEQ will merely adopt something similar to your BMP’s (the ones I proposed last year); TACA will agree; and everyone will go their merry way with no changes in sand-mining operations.  If we later complain, TACA will assert that these are merely suggestions, and not intended to be law. And even if they are law, there are no penalties.

The Appearance of Meaningful

As these bills work their way through committees and the legislative process, residents will have opportunities to testify about their Harvey experiences, provide comments on the bills, and suggest amendments to strengthen them.

But at this point it looks like an uphill struggle. We’ll be lucky to see any truly meaningful legislation in 2019.

TACA Should Be Delighted

TACA, the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association, will be delighted by these bills. If these become law in their present form, they will create the appearance of protecting people. That could undermine momentum toward regulation that reduces sedimentation.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy protected by the first Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great state of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/18/2019

508 Days since Hurricane Harvey