Tag Archive for: reclamation

Sand Miner Takes Over Troubled Porter Mine While Still Violating TCEQ Regs at Plum Grove Mine

A year after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) filed a notice of enforcement against a Plum Grove sand miner named Somaiah Kurre, it appears that Kurre still has not complied with TCEQ regulations to restore his abandoned mine. However, he has found time to take over operations at the troubled Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter. The Texas Attorney General is already suing the Porter mine. This raises two serious public policy issues.

Should miners who leave behind environmental issues at one site be allowed to operate another before fixing problems at the first?

Permits Without Performance

It also calls into question state regulations that allow sand mines to obtain operating permits without forcing them to restore mines to nature or alternative uses when done.

Other states force mines to post performance bonds for reclamation before issuing the initial permit to construct a mine. If they restore the land when done mining, they get their money back. If they don’t, the state can use it to cover the cost of cleanup without forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.

Performance bonds are common in the construction industry.

Texas should adopt a performance-bond policy. This case shows why.

Texas regulations state only that a mine needs a reclamation plan to get a permit. However, there are no regulations stating they must execute the plan.

When unscrupulous operators are done mining a site, there’s no reason for them to invest another penny in it.

Texas needs performance bonds and/or a “toxic legacy” law. Companies that abandon unsafe mines should be forbidden to operate anywhere else in the state. They just can’t be trusted.

Troubled History In Plum Grove

Texas Concrete Sand and Gravel, Inc., one of Mr. Kurre’s 16 companies, has a troubled history at its Plum Grove location. Before October 2019, TCEQ investigated it nine times for 17 alleged violations in four years. Twelve involved unauthorized discharges of industrial waste.

Previous alleged violations included failure to:

  • Prevent unauthorized discharge of industrial waste (7 investigations plus 5 complaints)
  • Renew registration
  • Document steps taken to address benchmark exceedances
  • Comply with record keeping and reporting requirements
  • Maintain compliance with permitted numeric effluent limitations
  • Sample water quality at designated outfalls.

Abandoned Without Compliance After Imelda

During Tropical Storm Imelda in September 2019, the mine’s dikes breached in four places. The mine discharged industrial wastewater and sediment into the San Jacinto East Fork. The East Fork empties into Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million Houstonians.

The company eventually fixed the breaches, but cancelled its Multisector General Permit (MSGP) and Aggregate Production Operation (APO) registration.

A company spokesperson told TCEQ investigators that the company had ceased all operations at the site.

However, the TCEQ report notes that terms of Texas-Concrete-Sand-and-Gravel’s permit still obligated the company to stabilize soil on the site or return it to an alternative post-mining use. A year later, that still hasn’t happened. Large portions of the site remain barren and disturbed.

No visible attempt has yet been made to stabilize soil, restore the land that needed it, or convert the site to an alternative use. So the company is still violating terms of its permit.

An excavator, dredge, shed, other abandoned equipment, plus bacteria- and scum-laden ponds remain. See photos below.

Photos Taken 10/25/2020

Abandoned stockpile shows signs of recent activity.
After a year with supposedly no activity, you would think some of this water would have clarified. Can you spot the five different colors of water in different ponds?
Dredge has not moved in months.
Working parts of dredge are crusted with rust.
Large part of site not stabilized. Tracks show trucks entering and leaving the mine, taking sand from the mine’s stockpile. But no signs or permits are posted at the site.

Provisions of Regulations and Permit

The requirements of the Texas Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) run more than 166 pages. But a TCEQ spokesperson summarized the relevant portions this way.

“The MSGP contains requirements … to terminate permit coverage after mining activity has ceased. The operator must demonstrate they have accomplished the final stabilization requirements: 1) completion of soil disturbing activities, 2) stabilization to minimize soil erosion, 3) ensuring stormwater runoff does not contribute to a violation of water quality standards, and 4) the site has been revegetated or left in the condition consistent with post-mining land use such as a nature park or lakes.”

“When operators have achieved final stabilization, they must submit a Notice of Termination which has been signed and certified by the responsible signatory authority as described in 30 TAC §305.44,” said the spokesperson.

The TCEQ spokesperson also said that Kurre, who fancies himself a startup impresario, is trying to negotiate payment terms for a $19,036 fine that TCEQ levied against him on April 14, 2020.

Encore Performance?

Meanwhile, another of Kurre’s companies, Texas Frac Sand Materials Inc., has taken over operations at the troubled Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter. It appears from a 9/8/2020 TCEQ investigation of that location that Kurre will operate, not own the mine.

The First Amended Petition in the Triple PG lawsuit by the Attorney General shows that Kurre took over operations at the Triple PG mine in April. However, the amended petition did not specify who the new operator was at the time.

The Texas Attorney General is suing the owners of the Triple PG Mine for more than a million dollars, plus up to $25,000 per day for the period that the mine discharged industrial wastewater into the headwaters of Lake Houston. Yep. Does this sound familiar? The Triple PG case (Cause No. D-1-GN-19-007086 in Travis County) has not yet gone to trial.

Ironically some of the alleged violations that the TCEQ charged Mr. Kurre with in Plum Grove are identical to the charges that the Attorney General lodged against the Triple PG mine in Porter.

The Many Faces of Somaiah Kurre

A search for corporate listings associated with Kurre’s name in the Texas Secretary of State database shows that he controls – wholly or partially – 16 businesses.

  1. Manjari Enterprises LLC
  2. Texas Concrete Enterprise, L.L.C.
  3. Asam LLC
  4. Texas Concrete Enterprise – II, LLC
  5. Shree Radha, LLC
  6. Texas Concrete Enterprise – IV, L.L.C.
  7. Texas Concrete Sand and Gravel, Inc.
  8. Plum Grove Material, Inc.
  9. Rohini Enterprises Inc.
  10. JSR Materials, Inc.
  11. Bright Star Stores, Inc.
  12. US Readymix Inc.
  13. US Fracsand, LLC
  14. Rama Krishna 2, LLC
  15. Texas Frac Sand Materials, Inc.
  16. Texas Concrete Sand and Gravel Enterprise, Inc.

Along the East Fork, Kurre owns or operates mines in San Jacinto, Liberty, Montgomery and Harris Counties. That possibly qualifies him as the largest operator on the East Fork.

Toxic Legacy?

Note unusual blue-green color in pond – a likely indicator of potentially dangerous bacteria.

According to the TCEQ, the color of that blue-green pool on the right in the photo above indicates that it is likely filled with cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria can produce cyanotoxins. And the CDC says that cyanotoxins are “among the most powerful natural poisons known. They can make people, their pets, and other animals sick. Unfortunately, there are no remedies to counteract the effects.”

Pond near entry road.
Not quite a nature park! Texas Concrete’s legacy in Plum Grove. No identifying signs or permits are posted at the entrance to the site, despite the truck traffic.

Sites like this can unnaturally accelerate the buildup of sediment dams in rivers. Not only do they expose sand, they expose it in the floodways of rivers and streams. After Imelda, a huge sand bar set up at the mouth of the San Jacinto East Fork . It contributed to flooding of nearby residents. The public will have to pay to remove it.

East Fork Mouth Bar after Imelda. Before Imelda, this area was 18 feet deep. Boaters say the deepest part of the channel is now three feet.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/29/2020

1157 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 405 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.

TCEQ Complaints Against Texas Concrete Plum Grove Plant Still Unresolved

On July 14, 2020, the TCEQ completed another investigation into the Texas Concrete Plum Grove Plant. The investigator confirmed that it remains in violation of stabilization requirements before abandonment.

Small part of an estimated 15 acres still without vegetative cover. Photo taken 7/19/2020.

Moreover the company still has not removed rusting equipment.

Excavator and fork lift parked near entrance on 7/19/2020

13 Previous Investigations

TCEQ investigated the plant 13 previous times in the last five years.

The Texas Concrete Plum Grove Plant was already part of an active enforcement case (#57254) due to an unauthorized discharge and for failing to meet final stabilization requirements before terminating coverage under the Texas Discharge Pollutant Elimination System (TPDES).

“Due to the severity of the unauthorized discharge and the facility’s history of past noncompliance, this case will be referred to the Enforcement Division,” said the TCEQ in its report of a September 24, 2019, investigation.

Meaning of “Final Stabilization Requirements”

Final stabilization requirements include the planting of “vegetative cover” to retard erosion before abandoning the site. Texas Concrete ceased operations at the site and pulled down its signs. However, approximately 15 acres of the site remain unplanted; they have no vegetation.

According to the TCEQ report, the company claims it planted grass, but the grass failed to establish. A company spokesperson was not available for comment.

The definition of final stabilization is as follows: “All soil disturbing activities at the site have been completed and a uniform (e.g. evenly distributed, without large bare areas) perennial vegetative cover with a density of 70% of the native background vegetative cover for the area has been established on all unpaved areas and areas not covered by permanent structures, or equivalent permanent stabilization measures (such as the use of riprap, gabions, or geotextiles) have been employed.”

TCEQ did not respond to a request for an explanation of how it measured 70% of the native background vegetative cover. Background vegetation is this case is a dense pine forest, not grass.

Rusting Equipment Allegedly Sold, But Still on Site

The company also seemingly abandoned rusting equipment on the site. The equipment includes a dredge, excavators, front loaders, dump trucks and trailers. Since the TCEQ’s followup investigations in June 2020, the company removed several dump trucks, but the vast majority of the other equipment remains – despite assurances from the company that it had all been sold. Neither the TCEQ, nor Texas Concrete has volunteered when the company will remove the equipment.

Weeds growing around tanker testify to how long it has remained there. 7/19/2020
Dredge still on site as of 7/19/2020
Cyanobacteria have taken over some of the ponds at the abandoned Texas Concrete Mine. 7/20/2020. The pond was not tested for cyanotoxins.

No Additional Leaks Found

There is some good news from the latest investigation. Texas Concrete plugged previous breaches in its dikes. The investigator did not find any new unauthorized discharges, or discharges that failed to meet water quality specs.

Approaching Peak of Hurricane Season and Year Wasted

Still, three tropical disturbances making their way across the Atlantic at this moment make a stark reminder of why abandonment requirements exist. This site has sat unused for approximately a year. That should have been plenty of time to establish grass at a minimum and to restore this site.

Texas Concrete brags that it is a member of TACA and that TxDoT is one of its customers.

If the State of Texas is serious about enforcing environmental regulations, now would be a good time to start. And this would be a good place.

The only thing that separates neighborhood kids from playing in the sand, climbing on the equipment, and swimming in the colorful water. The security guard sign is a bluff.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/20/2020

1056 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 305 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.

Abandoned Texas Concrete Mine in Plum Grove Still Hasn’t Stabilized Soil or Removed Equipment

Portion of Texas Concrete Mine in Plum Grove on 4/21/2020.

Last September 24, less than a week after Imelda, the TCEQ issued a notice of enforcement to the Texas Concrete Sand Mine in Plum Grove on the East Fork of the San Jacinto. The report noted that the mine was abandoned; no activity had been observed there in the two months before Imelda. And no personnel were onsite when investigators visited the operation.

Imelda dumped 30.4 inches of rain on this exact location on 9/17/2019 and days later, investigators found four breaches leaking pit water into the East Fork.

Purpose of Soil Stabilization

Sediment and other pollution can escape through breaches in the mine’s dikes and affect water quality all the way down to Lake Houston. Stabilizing soil helps prevent erosion and water pollution, and thus reduces sediment buildups that can contribute to flooding. I discuss TCEQ standards for final soil stabilization in this post. As you can see in the photo above, this site does not have “perennial vegetative cover with a density of 70 percent (%) of the native background vegetative cover … on all unpaved areas and areas not covered by permanent structures.”

Thus it represents a high risk of pollution.

No Activity Observed for Months, Signs Removed

Josh Alberson, a Kingwood resident, traced excessive turbidity in the East Fork to the mine during the same period and visited it on several occasions. He also observed no activity then or today. Alberson took the three photos below this evening.

This post used to hold the operation’s identifying sign, according to Alberson.
These posts used to hold the safety sign for Texas Concrete. It certainly appears as though someone no longer wants to be identified with the problems remaining on this site.
Past the gate, nothing remained but broken pipe and equipment left to rust. Alberson could see no recent tire tracks in or out. The unguarded, barely fenced operation likely represents a safety hazard to area kids.

Aerial photos taken last week showed no activity at the plant and no processing equipment. However, several dump trucks, a bulldozer and a dredge remained on the property.

Comparing the images below with the Landsat photo in Google Earth dated 12/1/2019 shows that none of the equipment has moved for at least five months and most likely longer.

Pipes, an excavator and fallen light pole have blocked the entry to the plant since 12/1/2019. None of the other equipment has moved since then either.
Mine’s dredge is on dry ground and no longer operational. Comparison with 12/1/2019 Google Earth image shows that the dredge has not moved since then.

Alberson also says that the breaches he reported to the TCEQ last year still remain.

Texas Concrete Says “No Mine in Plum Grove”

The phone number for the plant’s manager (listed in the TCEQ report) has been disconnected and is no longer in service. A receptionist at Texas Concrete’s headquarters was unaware of the man listed as president of the mine in the TCEQ report. She also said “we have no mine in Plum Grove.”

TCEQ Says No Active Permits For Mine

Christian Eubanks, an investigator for the TCEQ says the plant has no active permits. He investigated the plant last year and has opened a new investigation.

Texas Concrete is a member of TACA (Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association) and lists highway materials as a major line of business. (I’ll come back to that later.)

Public Policy Implications

Google Earth shows the mine covers approximately 147 acres and borders the East Fork for more than a mile. In its current state, even more breaches could open up in the next big storm and no one would be there to fix them.

This site represents a preventable disaster in the making. But what to do?

Former Texas Concrete Plant in Plum Grove as seen in Google Earth.

Currently, Texas regulations state that a mine needs a reclamation plan to get a permit. However, there are no regulations stating they must execute the plan before abandoning the property.

The time to think about a major expense, such as reclamation, is NOT what all the profit has left a mine. That, of course, should be done upfront – before mining starts and profits roll in. Duh!

Some states force mines to post performance bonds for reclamation before issuing the initial permit to construct a mine. That makes sense. Texas should adopt that policy. This case shows why.

The Eminent Domain Option

Texas should also exercise eminent domain when miners ignore their reclamation responsibilities. These abandoned pits can represent dangers to neighborhood kids.

Pits can have steep slopes and sharp drop offs. Some, reputedly are 90 feet deep. Roads around them collapse. The sides often cave in. They can even harbor dangerous bacteria.

With money from forfeited performance bonds (if miners fail in their reclamation responsibilities), Texas could turn abandoned mines into parks for people and wildlife to enjoy. And it wouldn’t be at taxpayer expense.

Walking away from reclamation responsibilities is just another way to externalize clean up costs that some mines reportedly build into their business plans.

It’s shameful. State Rep. Dan Huberty has campaigned for more than a decade for sensible sand mine legislation. He had this to say about the Texas Concrete case. “We are working with TCEQ and will be requiring the land owner to remediate.” He added, “We will also be drafting legislation to require bonds that ensure clean up after they are done mining and hold the owners liable for non-performance.” 

When aggregate companies have outstanding issues such as the Plum Grove mine, I personally would like to see their ability to do business with TxDoT suspended. That would get compliance quickly.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 28, 2020 with thanks to Dan Huberty, Josh Alberson and the TCEQ

753 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 222 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.

For Earth Week: Sand Mine Reclamation Regulations Needed

Texas requires a reclamation plan to get a permit for sand mining. However, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas has no requirement to execute the plan when mining is done – except for a small pilot project on the Brazos River. Unscrupulous miners can and do walk away from mines without reclaiming the land when they are finished mining.

Abandoned sand mine in Humble, TX. No fencing. No grading. No vegetation on slopes. Note proximity to buildings on adjoining property and road.

No Attempts at Reclamation for 15 Mines in a Mile Radius

Abandoned sand mines like the one above on North Houston Avenue and Townsend blight the Humble area.  Across the street sits another abandoned mine and a concrete recycling facility. 

Abandoned concrete crushing facility once part of sand mine in Humble, TX.

A quick check of Google Earth shows that fifteen other abandoned sand pits lay in about a one mile radius near these. TACA, the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association brags about how mines can be reclaimed, but are they?

Theory Vs. Reclamation Practice

We have the appearance of sand mine regulation. In practice, since the TCEQ began monitoring sand mines in 2011, the commission has levied only a few hundred fines statewide averaging about $800 per fine. That’s a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, blights like these keep promising areas from re-developing. In the name of helping some businesses, bad actors in the industry harm others…and entire communities. Yet TACA fights legislative fixes.

Potential Legislative Fixes Falter

Two bills introduced in the legislature this year could help address this problem. Both have stalled in committee.

  • HB 1671 extends protections to the West Fork of the San Jacinto currently enjoyed by the John Graves District on the Brazos. It would require local mines to file a bond that guarantees reclamation before they begin mining. HB1671 was referred to the Natural Resources committee on March 4. Nothing has happened with it since then.
  • HB 2871 would require 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. The House Energy Resources committee heard public testimony on HB2871 on April 8, but the bill was left pending in committee. Again, nothing has happened with it since then.

With 38 days left in the legislative session, hopes for both bills are fading fast.

If this makes you angry, register your opinion.

First in a New Series

In coming days, I’ll illustrate other best practices where Texas falls short (and sometimes flat) compared to other states. The series will culminate with a peek inside the multi-million lobbying efforts of TACA.

I’m all for being business friendly, but when that starts to hurt other businesses and residents, I draw the line. That’s not being business friendly; that’s playing favorites.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/22/19

601 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 38 days left in the legislative session

Energy Resources Committee Hearing Testimony Monday on Bill To Regulate Quarry Reclamation

People in the Hill Country are up in arms about aggregate production operations (APOs). The Lake Houston Area is not alone. State Representative Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg has introduced yet another bill to regulate APOs. Biedermann’s bill, HB2871 focuses on mine reclamation. His bill targets APOs that quarry and crush rock, but the bill, if passed, would affect sand mines in our area, too.

Focus on Reclamation

HB2871 requires miners to acquire a reclamation permit BEFORE they can acquire a production permit. It would also require them to file a performance bond ensuring reclamation BEFORE acquiring that production permit.

Abandoned sand pit in Humble remains unfenced despite being next to areas where children play.

Gives Primary Enforcement Responsibility to Railroad Commission

HB2871 places the burden of enforcement on the Texas Railroad Commission. However, it allows the Railroad Commission to use the resources of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

I first learned about HB2871 from a Hill County group protesting the permitting of a quarry. They approached me asking for support. It certainly appears that our interests align. And the author wrote the bill in such a way that it would apply to this area, too. I have previously blogged about the problem of abandoned and unsafe sand pits. We have many in the Lake Houston area. Once the last truckload of profit goes out of a mine, owners have little incentive to reclaim it.

Currently, owners are required to file a reclamation plan before getting a reclamation permit, but there is no requirement to actually execute the plan when they are done mining.

This page on the Hill Country group’s web site explains their loss of faith in the TCEQ, and hence, their desire to have the Railroad Commission oversee regulation.

How to Act NOW

On Monday, the House Energy Resources Committee will consider HB 509 and HB 2871. Representatives Biedermann, Wilson, and their staff have worked hard to draft these bills. Now we need to back them and help get them passed into law! HB 509, you may remember, requires a permitting agency to consider the aggregate impact of multiple mining operations in a small area before permitting any more.

Below are the names, phone numbers and email addresses of all the members of the House Energy Resources Committee who are soliciting comments. 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.

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 EMAIL developed by the Hill Country group. Remember to tweak the copy so that it applies to this area, not just the Hill Country.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/5/2019

584 Days since Hurricane Harvey