Some say that mining sand from our rivers and flood plains is the price of progress.
Pros and Cons
Sand has its benefits. We need it to make concrete. And we need concrete to accommodate a growing population. And a growing population creates income for builders, tradesmen and other businesses.
But mining sand also has several downsides. It alters the environment on a large scale. Wildlife lose habitat. Erosion increases. The sediment can contribute to flooding by forming dams and reducing conveyance downstream. Water quality also suffers. These are global problems.
Out of Sight. Out of Time. Out of Mind.
Sand mining mostly takes place in floodplains along rivers. Because our terrain offers no elevated viewpoints, the only way to see the mines is from the air. So for the vast majority of people, they’re out of sight, out of mind and, as a consequence, we’re out of time. More than 20 square miles of sand mines already border the San Jacinto West Fork between I-45 and I-69.
The Hallett mine complex in Porter and an adjacent abandoned mine now stretch 3 miles north to south and 2 miles east to west. And Hallett is just one of several such complexes on the West Fork.
New Best Management Practices recently adopted by the TCEQ for sand mining will help in the future. But much damage has already been done.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It’s time to start a conversation about the price of progress. How do we restore this land to another useful purpose in the long run? And who should pay for that?
The Long-Term Question
What do you do with an area this large when miners finish?
- Do the ponds turn into recreational amenities and parks? (Not when left like those in the third photo!)
- Who will plant grass and trees?
- What do you do with the old equipment?
- How do you turn these areas into detention ponds?
- Who maintains them? (Montgomery County doesn’t even have a flood control district.)
- What happens to bordering neighborhoods if rivers decide to reroute themselves through the pits?
Lots of questions. Little consensus.
When you start out to create a detention pond, it’s easy to plan recreation around it. But when the primary goal is mining, the end result can be dangerous, i.e., banks that cave in after miners walk away or kids playing on abandoned equipment.
The new Best Management Practices do not require miners to post a performance bond that would ensure cleanup and conversion to a suitable post-mining use.
In some areas, city and county governments make arrangements with miners to take over abandoned mines. That seems like a decent idea to me. That may be the price of progress.
We need dialog on this issue – unless we’re willing to let private industry turn our rivers into eyesores.
Posted by Bob Rehak
1591 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.