Tag Archive for: HB509

Act Now to Reduce Sediment Due to Sand Mining

Sand mines aren’t the only source of sediment on the West Fork, but humans can and must control them. Upstream from Kingwood, on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, we have approximately 20 square miles of mines.

Contributing to Erosion and Sedimentation

Several key facts about them:

  • Virtually all are at least partially in the floodway (meaning they’re in the main current of the river during floods).
A small portion of the sand mines upstream from Kingwood on the east and west forks of the San Jacinto. Red Cross-hatched areas represent the floodway. Sand mines are the bright areas in the bottom layer. Aqua represents 100-year flood plain, brown the 500-year.
  • Texas has no laws requiring a minimum setback from the river. As a consequence the river runs right through them during floods, often breaching dikes.
Memorial Day Flood in 2015 ruptured the dikes on these sand mines on both sides of the West Fork. Floods don’t have to be this major to rupture dikes. I’m aware of four ruptures last year during the July 4 and December 7 floods.
  • The process of “river” or “pit capture” creates erosion both upstream and down, as this video demonstrates.

HB 509 and HB 2871 Can Help

Two bills being heard tomorrow by the Texas House Energy Affairs committee could help address all of these issues.

HB509 allows Texas Railroad Commission to regulate aggregate production operations (APOs) with the TCEQ. Before mining can start, it requires: a hydrologic impact study, public notice, public hearings, and provides fines up to $10,000 and 1-year in jail for false statements.

The hydrologic impact study must take into account the cumulative impact of all mines in an area. This is critical for an area such as the West Fork, which is heavily over-mined.

HB 2871 requires sand mines and other aggregate production operations to acquire a reclamation permit and to file a performance bond ensuring reclamation. Significantly, they would have to do both of these things before they could acquire a production permit. It also attaches civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance.

Both Bills Deserve Our Support

They can help make a difference and could help reduce sedimentation due to human sources.

Consider them together with other bills in the House Environmental Regulation Committee (House Bills 907, 908, 909 and 1671) that would create a series of best practices for sand mines, stiffen penalties for violations, and create a water quality control district between Lake Conroe and Lake Houston.

Your First Chance As an Individual to Make A Difference

HB 509 and HB 2871 will be the first bills actually considered since Harvey that could reduce the amount of sediment clogging the San Jacinto and Lake Houston.

Dredging that sediment could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Obviously, that’s not something the City, County, State and FEMA can fund regularly. So we must takes steps to stop dangerous sand mining practices now.

Ultimately we must require sand mines to move out of the floodway. And we must attach penalties if their dikes breach during floods. That will force miners to establish greater setbacks that reduce the likelihood of pit capture.

Please Help NOW! Here’s How

So please take fifteen minutes and email the members of the House Energy Affairs Committee before they convene tomorrow. Make your voice heard. Reduce the sediment coming downstream that backs up the river and ditches, contributing to flooding. Email address and a sample letter are below.

Chris Paddie, Chairman (Marshall/Northeast Texas)
(512) 463-0556

Abel Herrero, Vice Chairman (Corpus Christi area)
(512) 463-0462

Rafael Anchia (NW Dallas)
(512) 463-0746

Ernest Bailes (Huntsville, Liberty)
(512) 463-0570

Tom Craddick (Midland area)
(512) 463-0500

Drew Darby (San Angelo area)
(512) 463-0331

Charlie Geren (NW Fort Worth)
(512) 463-0610

Roland Gutierrez (SE San Antonio, Live Oak, Universal City, Converse)
(512) 463-0452

Cody Harris (Hillsboro, Corsicana, Palestine)
(512) 463-0730

Mary Ann Perez (Pasadena, Baytown)
(512) 463-0460

Jon Rosenthal (Far NW Houston)
(512) 463-0722

Here is a sample letter of support for HB 509 and HB 2871. Don’t forget to update it with your own contact information.

Spread the Word

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.

Hill Country representatives authored both bills, and considerable support exists for them outside this area. Hill Country concerns differ slightly from ours because different types of APOs operate there – rock quarries. But the rules that help Hill Country people will help us.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 7, 2019

586 Days since Hurricane Harvey

First Proposal to Improve Sand-Mine Regulation in House

On December 11, 2018, Texas State Representative Terry Wilson introduced HB509. HB509 is a bill to regulate aggregate production operations (APOs). APOs include sand mines.

HB509 Stipulates Consideration of Hydrologic Impact During Permitting

Currently, sand mines in Texas are permitted and inspected by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

New legislation proposed by Representative Terry Wilson of Marble Falls would require regulators to consider hydrologic impacts of sand mining during the permitting process.

HB509 enables the Texas Railroad Commission to work with the TCEQ; adopt, amend and enforce rules pertaining to aggregate production operations; issue and revoke permits; and inspect APOs without notice. It also:

  • Creates criminal penalties for non-compliance.
  • Requires a hydrology assessment of the operation’s impact on surrounding surface and groundwater – including water availability.
  • 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

New Fines and Creation of a Criminal Offense

A person commits an offense if the person “knowingly makes a false statement, representation, or certification, or knowingly fails to make a statement, representation, or certification, in an application, record, report, or other document filed or required to be maintained under this chapter or under an order of decision issued by the commission under this chapter.”

Violators may be punished by fines of up to $10,000 and a year in prison.

Positives of HB509 from Residents’ Perspective

While this bill will not immediately and directly address sand-mine issues on the San Jacinto, I think it could eventually help this area. Things residents will like include:

  • Significant penalties for false statements!
  • Having more eyes on the problem; TCEQ complains that it doesn’t have enough staff to enforce regulations.
  • River-impact assessments, especially the idea of looking at the cumulative impact of all providers in the area! Twenty square miles of sand mines between US59 and I-45 on the West Fork have decimated the environment immediately upstream from the drinking water source for 2 million people.
  • Public hearings for permits. Right now, regulators hear one side of the story.
  • Making the permit application approval contingent on past performance. This gives sand miners the ultimate incentive to comply with regulations: “Don’t comply and you’re out of business in this state.”

Shortcomings From Residents’ Perspective

Things residents probably won’t like include:

  • Grandfathering existing operations; the cumulative impact of sand mining is already a huge problem on the San Jacinto. However, I’m not sure a fair alternative exists, short of buyouts.
  • Lack of definitions for what they’re trying to prevent under “hydrologic impact.” That creates flexibility to cover unforeseen consequences, but also leaves a huge “out.” HB571 in the 2011 session, the first bill to regulate sand mining in Texas, also lacked specificity. It said for instance that the mines had to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, but did not specify what they were. It left lots of wiggle room. This could, too.
  • No prescription for minimum setbacks from rivers or prevention of mining in floodways.
  • Use of the words “designed to” in front of hydrological impacts. That creates a big “out.” Anybody who places a bale of hay in drainage ditch on the mine could say he designed the drainage to prevent erosion, However, the real issue is what happens when the river reroutes itself through mines during a flood.

Lack of Specificity Concerning Hydrologic Impact

My biggest concern is the lack of specificity re: adverse hydrologic impacts. No references exist in the bill to:

  • Dangers of river migration
  • River capture of sand pits
  • Draw down of the water table
  • Effects of such drawdowns on surrounding vegetation and farms
  • Repeated breaches of dikes
  • Increases in rates of sedimentation
  • Loss of downstream lake capacity at increasing rate
  • Poor water quality
  • Loss of river conveyance
  • Increases in erosion
  • Escape of chlorides from wash pits during floods
  • Contamination of groundwater and wells by chlorides
  • Pipeline corrosion
  • Loss of riparian vegetation
  • Downstream flooding
  • Eventual need for dredging and other costly remediation.

All in all, though, it’s a good start and can only help curb the excesses of sand mining in the long run.

Read the bill in its entirety. Here is the current text of proposed House Bill  509 for 2019.

About Congressman Terry Wilson

Congressman Wilson represents the area west of Austin. His district includes Burnet, Milam and Williamson Counties and the cities of Round Rock and Marble Falls. His web page in the House of Representatives states that he was born in Odessa, Texas, and that “He is a lifelong conservative Republican, committed husband and father, and a decorated combat veteran. He holds a BS in Business Administration from Texas A&M University and an MS in Strategic Logistics Plans and Management from the Air War University.”

Wilson retired from the Army after serving more than 30 years. Since retiring from the Army, he has leveraged his military experience as an advocate for small businesses.

No Other Bills Filed in House or Senate So Far

Neither Representative Dan Huberty, nor Senator Brandon Creighton, have so far introduced any new legislation affecting sand mining. Wilson’s HB509 appears to be the only bill regulating sand mining filed so far in either the House or Senate as of Christmas Eve, 2018.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are 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 12/24/2018

482 Days after Hurricane Harvey