Tag Archive for: sand mining legislation

Environmental Regulation Committee Taking Public Comments on Three APO Bills

The Environmental Regulation Committee of the Texas House of Representatives will hear public testimony on three bills concerning sand mines/aggregate production operations on Monday, April 19, 2021. You don’t need to go all the way to Austin to testify. You can leave your comments on the Committee’s website. Just remember, there’s a 5000 character limit. See more about the bills below.

HB 767: Best Practices for Sand Mines

HB767 by Dan Huberty would require the TCEQ to establish best practices for sand mines and publish them on its website. Right now, Texas is one of the few states that doesn’t have a codified set of best practices. Granted, though, some are embodied in the terms of permits and federal laws. But the public never sees these. And many best practices common in other states are notably absent in Texas. For instance, there are no setbacks specified for sand mines from rivers in Texas. Companies can mine right up to the edge of rivers…in the floodway. Then when floods happen, dikes collapse and sediment gets washed downstream.

The Bayou Land Conservancy submitted this letter in support of HB 767. Two key points:

  • Best management practices (BMPs) would provide guidance for the industry and expectations for the community about how these facilities will be managed and the legacy they will leave.
  • BMPs would aid stakeholders in identifying which companies are interested in working with and protecting nearby communities.

HB 767 is scheduled for public hearings in Environmental Regulation on 4/19/2021. To learn more about the bill, click here. To support the bill, go to this web page and leave your comments. It’s quick and easy.

HB 291: Reclamation Plans and Performance Bonds for Sand Mines

HB 291 by Representatives Murr and Wilson calls for sand mines to file a reclamation plan before they get a permit to start mining, estimate the cost of the reclamation, and post a performance bond in that amount. Every time the mine expands, the owners would have to update the plan. The purpose of this bill is to ensure that miners simply don’t walk away from mines after the last ounce of profit is milked from them. That’s what many do now. The East and West Forks of the San Jacinto are littered with abandoned mines and rusting equipment. This bill also specifies the types of things that would have to go into the reclamation plan. It is scheduled for a hearing in the Environmental Regulation committee on 4/19/2021. To learn more about the bill, click here.
To support the bill, go to this web page and leave your comments.

HB 1912: Limiting Sand Mine Pollution

HB 1912 by Wilson would limit air-, light-, noise-, and water pollution; and soil erosion. It also sets limits, mandates monitoring equipment, and requires financial assurance for handling violations. Aggregate production operations throughout the state have had these problems. To learn more about the bill, click here. To support the bill, go to this web page and leave your comments.

Video Broadcast of Meeting

A live video broadcast of this hearing will be available here: https://house.texas.gov/video-audio/. The meeting starts at 2 p.m. or after adjournment of the House for the day.

Texas residents who wish to electronically submit comments related to this and other bills without testifying in person can do so until the hearing is adjourned by visiting: https://comments.house.texas.gov/home?c=c260.

One Sneaky, Bad Bill to Fight

Representative Harris of Hillsboro, TX has introduced HB 2144. Keep this on your radar. It takes away a private citizen’s right to sue for nuisance. For instance, if a sand mine were spewing silicon dust on your property, polluting your water, or flooding your home, you would have to convince the state to sue them. Good luck with that.

“Only the state or a political subdivision of this state may bring a public nuisance action…”


This bill has already passed out of committee. So the only way to fight it now is with amendments or on the house floor when it comes up for a vote. I suggest you contact your representatives and try to get them to fight this bill. To learn more about the bill, click here. It does not have a companion bill in the senate but, if approved in the House, would go there for consideration.

Today, nuisance is the most frequently pled theory of liability under common law tort for environmental litigation. Under public nuisance, a plaintiff, either a government entity or a private individual, may bring suit if there are damages, interference, or inconvenience to the health or safety of the public at large. 

HB 2144 would restrict public nuisance law only to cases where a person causes an unlawful condition, namely “an ongoing circumstance or effect … that is expressly prohibited by the laws of [Texas].” Further, the bill specifically provides that persons or entities engaged in “lawful manufacturing, distributing, selling, advertising, or promoting a lawful product” cannot be a public nuisance.  This ignores the fact that people and property can be seriously harmed even though no statute or regulation is violated – that’s one of the reasons we have common law causes like nuisance to begin with!  HB 2144 would remove the ability for the government or individuals to stop such harms from occurring or to seek redress.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/15/2021

1326 Days after 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.

Eight Bills Introduced in Texas Legislature This Year Affect Sand Mines

Yesterday was the last day for lawmakers to file bills for the 87th Texas legislative session. Eight bills have been introduced to curb abuses of aggregate production operations, which include sand mines. Five address reclamation of mines in various ways.

Huberty’s HB4478: Reclamation and Performance Bonds

Dan Huberty from the Lake Houston Area introduced HB4478 which addresses abandonment of sand mines. Many miners simply walk away from mines leaving abandoned, rusting equipment in place and dangerous conditions. Huberty’s bill would require mines to file a reclamation plan before they start mining and also post a bond ensuring they actually execute the plan. Currently, mines are required to file a plan, but there is no requirement in Texas to execute it. Miners can simply walk away from mines after they extract the last ounce of sand. That can leave scars on the landscape, degrade water quality, and threaten public safety.

Huberty’s HB767: Best Practices

Huberty also introduced HB767, a bill that would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish and publish best management practices for sand mining. However, it does not require sand mines to follow the practices. While that’s disappointing, it could bring heat to operations that don’t follow the guidelines.

Biederman’s HB4341: Changes Responsibility for Oversight

Representative Kyle Biederman from Fredericksburg introduced HB4341, a bill that would transfer regulation of aggregate production operations from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC). The bill gives the Railroad Commission the right to conduct unannounced inspections to ensure compliance with water and air quality regulations. Biederman’s bill also mandates reclamation of mines, but includes more specifics than Huberty’s. Finally, it provides criminal penalties for people who knowingly and willfully violate conditions of their permits. The big news: transfer of oversight responsibility from the TCEQ to TRRC. If it passes, it will be a resounding vote of “no confidence” in the job that the TCEQ has been doing in regulating sand mines.

Zwiener’s HB2422: Limiting Location of Mines

Representative Erin Zwiener from Kyle introduced HB2422. Her bill applies to counties with a population of 500,000 or more. It would allow county commissioners to prohibit the construction or expansion of an aggregate production operation at a location less than one mile from a residence, school, place of worship, hospital, or land platted for residential development. The bill would also allow commissioners to establish conditions for the construction or expansion of mines elsewhere in the county.

Murr’s HB291: Reclamation and Performance Bonds

Representative Andrew Murr from Kerrville introduced HB291. It also focuses on reclamation of mines. It would require the grading of banks, revegetation, and removal of equipment upon completion of mining. The bill would also require operators to reclaim mines in stages as extraction activities on different parts cease. It would give miners a deadline for reclamation, too: six months. Finally, it would require a performance bond equal to $2,500 for each acre affected by extraction activities. Upon completion of reclamation activities, the TCEQ would release the performance bond. Cities and counties would have the right to waive the reclamation requirement if reclamation conflicts with proposed future uses of the land.

Abandoned dredge left at abandoned Texas Concrete Sand & Gravel Mine in Plum Grove on San Jacinto East Fork. Photographed 3/3/2021

Guillen’s HB1544: APO Taxation

Representative Ryan Guillen from Rio Grande City introduced HB1544. It addresses the tax classification of land used for sand mining. The language is confusing and an analysis of the bill has not yet been submitted. However, it appears to state that sand mine, once it meets requirements for reclamation, may revert to a property tax rate associated with open space, such as agriculture. The bill lays out some unique requirements for reclamation not discussed in the other bills here. While this seems to give sand miners a positive incentive to restore land, I’m not sure how much. In Montgomery County, the tax appraiser routinely grants ag exemptions to land used for sand mining.

Wilson/Schwertner’s HB1912/SB1209: Permit Requirements

HB1912 filed by Representative Terry Wilson of Georgetown establishes additional permit requirements for aggregate production operations. They affect air quality, light pollution, noise, blasting, dust, and other operational issues identified by the House Interim Committee on APOs back in January.

State Senator Charles Schwertner from Bryan introduced SB1209. It is an identical companion bill to HB1912. Companion bills increase the chance of passage by broadening the base of support in both houses.

During the 86th Legislature in 2019, TACA beat back all reasonable attempts to regulate sand mining. Let’s hope for the sake of everyone’s health and property values that this session has more success. I will keep you posted.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/13/2021

1292 Days since Hurricane Harvey

How TACA is Winning the Battle to Continue Pillaging Your Environment and Polluting Your Water

In March, as the pandemic spread across America, the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association gave a presentation to a convention of industry producers in Las Vegas. The title: “Be Prepared: Protect your Operation from New Tactics in Community Opposition.”

Use of Internet Seen as New Tactic

As far as I can tell from the presentation, the new tactic is the use of the Internet. Wowsers! That’s quite an insight!

In the presentation, they specifically mentioned ReduceFlooding.com. I’m sure I anger these people as much as they anger me. I have met with them five times now. None of the meetings resulted in any change of industry practices. Or even a genuine willingness to explore them.

The Boy Scout Connection

In Austin during the last legislative session, a House committee member (evaluating a bill to establish best management practices for the industry) asked whether TACA had engaged with communities they affected. Mr. Rob Van Til (a mine owner and TACA spokesperson) looked at me waiting to testify, and said, “We’d prefer to talk to the Boy Scouts.” And just like that, the bill died in committee.

TACA sees people trying to protect their communities as the enemy. Instead of engaging with “the opposition” and trying to reform damaging mining practices, they rally support among neutral third parties.

TACA’s presentation in Las Vegas talked about:

  • How concrete supports Texas’ growth by providing essential infrastructure materials
  • Why “WeRTexas”
  • Teacher and school workshops they sponsored
  • Legislative and staff tours they promoted
  • Chamber of Commerce mixers
  • Quarry Days

They also patted themselves on the back for bicycle donations to a children’s charity in San Antonio.

Millions in Back-Door Political Contributions

TACA has also donated millions of dollars to legislators and state officials through a back-door political-action committee called TACPAC. Meanwhile, TACA has refused to acknowledge damaging practices and resisted all attempts to develop meaningful best management practices that address them.

Delivering Air Cover for Members

It’s tough for trade associations to tell members what to do. Loss of members means loss of funding for the association. For the most part, members want air cover from associations. And that’s what TACA delivers.

Communication experts on controversial issues divide the world into three camps: pro, undecided, and anti.

Conventional wisdom says you target messaging to pro and undecided groups. And that’s exactly what TACA is doing. Because you rarely swing anti’s.

For the record, I like concrete. I DON’T LIKE the irresponsible production of it. And what TACA never shows people and avoids talking about. So I will redouble my efforts. And continue advocating for responsible aggregate and concrete production.

Explain These to The Boy Scouts and Kids Clubs

Below is a tiny sampling of more than 10,000 aerial photos I have taken in the last eight months along the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto in southern Montgomery County.

Let’s turn these into murals at the State Capitol for TACA Day next year. Just so legislators get the full picture.

20 square miles of sand mines to the left up the West Fork.
One of eight breaches at Triple PG in October 2019. This one on Caney Creek.
Second of eight breaches at Triple PG in October 2019. This one on White Oak Creek.
Pumping wastewater into the West Fork
Confluence of West Fork (right) and Spring Creek on 11/4/2019.
The Day the West Fork Ran White. TCEQ traced this back to the LMI Mine upstream.
More pumping into the West Fork.
One part of a double breach at the Hallett Mine that blew out the sand bar on the opposite side of the West Fork.
Five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids undermined at the LMI River Road mine.
Massive breach barely patched and ready to let loose again.
Equipment abandoned in floodway
LMI Moorehead mine. TCEQ traced white-water incident to here.
River Aggregate Mine on West Fork
LMI River Road Mine pouring into surrounding wetlands.
Pipe that automatically sends wastewater from mine into surrounding forest when level gets high enough.
Wastewater from LMI River Road mine leaking across neighbor’s property…
…where it enters sewer system under road and then empties into West Fork.
LMI Moorehead Mine pumping wastewater into surrounding forest where it can’t be seen by road or river. Eventually this drains back into West Fork
…which can be seen here (top) where it joins Spring Creek at 59.
Ditches or small streams go along the sides of every mine on the East and West Forks. Breaches and pumps are common along these. They make a secluded way to send water to the river.
River mining without a permit at Spring West Sand and Gravel on West Fork
That blue water is either high in chlorides or cyanobacteria.
Another wastewater leak from LMI River Road mine where it enters West Fork.

Unsolicited Advice to TACA

Dear TACA. If you want to protect your organization from community opposition, start cleaning up your act. That would be a new and truly effective tactic.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/3/2020

1039 Days after 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.

The Biggest Stories of 2019

With 2019 almost behind us, we should look back to see what we accomplished on flood mitigation. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the stories that will likely define 2020.

Limited Dredging

In 2018, FEMA and the Army Corps announced that they would dredge 2.1 miles of the San Jacinto West Fork when they were given authority to dredge 8 miles. Questions immediately started to swirl about why they were not dredging all the way to Lake Houston. The answer was “part of the mouth bar was there before Harvey and we can only spend disaster relief funds on what Harvey deposited.”

The mouth bar as it existed shortly after Hurricane Harvey. Photo taken 9/14/2017.

After arguing for more than a year with the City about how much sediment FEMA deposited, the Corps finally decided to dredge 500,000 cubic yards from a 600 acre acre in front of the mouth bar. They finished on or about Labor Day. Then the dredging contractors waited several more weeks to see if there would be an additional assignment. There was not. They then departed in October.

Regardless, they left the biggest blockage in the river. Imelda washed a tremendous amount of sediment downriver. In mid-October, RD Kissling sent me a photo from his kayak. He as standing in water less than knee deep 700 yards south of the mouth bar. It’s important to understand that sand bars are like ice bergs. You only see the tip above water. Most of the bar exists below water. And much of this mouth bar remains to be removed.

We need to cut a channel through this area to the lake to restore conveyance of the river. If Harvey couldn’t blow this dune out of there, nothing will.

To learn more about this controversy, search this site using the key words “mouth bar.”

Flood Mitigation Legislation: A Big Win

No one budgets for disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey. So after the disaster, cities and counties had to scramble for grant money to even qualify for matching funds from the Federal government. More than two and a half years after the event, money is finally starting to trickle down to the areas that need it to implement flood mitigation projects. That’s thanks in large part to Senator Brandon Creighton who authored Senate Bill 7.

SB7 creates dedicated Texas Infrastructure and Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Funds for flood control planning and the funding of flood planning, mitigation, and infrastructure projects. The Texas Water Development Board is finalizing rules for the distribution of those funds right now. SB500, a supplemental appropriations bill, includes funding for SB7 and an amendment that would dedicate $30 million for dredging at the confluence of the San Jacinto and Lake Houston. State Representative Dan Huberty authored the amendment to SB500 that provides the $30 million.

For more information about legislation affecting this area, see the Legislation page of this web site or search using the key words “SB7” or “SB500.”

Sand Mining Legislation: One Small Gain, Some Big Losses

Activists statewide pushed for legislation to reign in the excesses of an out-of-control aggregate industry. Here in the Houston area, State Representative Dan Huberty introduced HB 907. It passed and doubles the penalties for not registering a sand mining operation. It also increases the frequency of inspection from every three years to two years and established a registry of active sand mines.

Picture of the West Fork of the San Jacinto the day it turned white (11/4/2019). The TCEQ later issued a notice of enforcement to the Liberty Materials mine upstream for dumping 56 million gallons of white goopy pollution into the West Fork. Water samples indicated 25 times the normal amount of suspended solids.

That was the only bill that the high powered lobbyists of TACA (the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association) would allow to pass. That’s mostly because their members are already registered.

However, other important bills died in committee due to the lobbying power of TACA.

  • HB 908 would have provided for penalties up to $50,000 for water code violations and every-other-year inspections.
  • HB 909 would have created best management practices for sand mines.
  • HB 1671 would have extended water quality protections to the West Fork of the San Jacinto currently enjoyed by the John Graves District on the Brazos and attached penalties for non-compliance with best practices defined under HB909.
  • HB 2871. Would require sand mines and other aggregate production operations to acquire a reclamation permit and to file a performance bond ensuring reclamation.

For more information about sand mining in the Lake Houston area, see the Sand Mining page of this web site. You can also search on the key words “sand mining, TACA, Triple PG, TCEQ, breach, Liberty, and white water.”

High Rises Near the Floodway of the West Fork

Early in the year, two investors from Mexico announced plans to build a series of high rises surrounded by more than 5000 condos in the floodplains and wetlands near River Grove Park. Their company, Romerica, proposed to build the high rises on land that was deed restricted to single family residential development. They even proposed underground parking!

Artist’s conceptual drawing of a high-rise development called The Herons: Kingwood.

The tallest buildings would have been 500 feet and located on the edge of the current floodway. That floodway will almost certainly expand in light of new Atlas-14 rainfall data. The developers also announced a marina that would have held 640 40-foot boats and 200 jet skis. There were no evacuation routes that would have remained above water in the event of a flood.

A massive public outcry arose. More than 700 people and organizations filed letters of protest with the Army Corps, TCEQ and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In the end, regulators showed good judgment and common sense. The Corps withdrew Romerica’s permit application.

The developer’s web site now says the project is on hold, pending improvements to the West Fork and Lake Houston.

For more information on this development, see the High Rises page of this web site or search for the key words “Romerica, high rises, eagle, or The Herons.”

The $2.5 Billion Flood Bond Equity Flap

When the wording for Harris County’s historic $2.5 billion flood bond offering was worked out in early 2018, leaders from the Humble/Kingwood area in Precinct 4 argued to include the notion of an equitable distribution of funds. Why? Historically the Flood Control District had focused more on projects in other parts of the county, especially Precinct 1, that Precinct 4.

Humble/Kingwood voters turned out in record numbers to support the bond. It passed. But when it came time to implement the projects, Commissioner Rodney Ellis from Precinct 1 tried to redefine equity to mean reparations for historical discrimination, i.e., slavery.

In one meeting after another, Ellis’ ringers showed up in commissioners court to complain about discrimination in the distribution of funds for buyouts, construction spending, and more. Yet in every category, Ellis’ precinct already had the lion’s share of funding.

This is an on-going controversy that affects everyone in the Lake Houston area. Ellis is looting transportation dollars from Precinct 4. You have to hand it to Ellis. Even if he doesn’t know what equity means, he knows how to work the system.

For more information on this topic, search this site using the key words “equity or Ellis.”

Proposition A

In 2010, voters managed to get a referendum on the ballot that would create a dedicated fund for drainage improvements. It passed by a narrow margin. Almost immediately, city officials started using the money it raised for other purposes.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that the language in the summary of the referendum on the ballot was misleading. It failed to disclose that the money would be raised through a new tax. So the Court ordered a revote.

In 2018, the Mayor “resold” the fee by saying, “If you want a lockbox around the money, vote FOR Proposition A. If you don’t want a lockbox around the money, vote AGAINST it.”

It was another artful dodge. There was nothing in the language of the bill to create a lockbox. The language in Prop A was almost identical to the original bill. But the funding formula was even looser!

Unaware voters once again approved the fee. And the Mayor continued to divert money from the fund. These diversions became a central element in the Mayoral campaign this year after thousands of people flooded in May and again during Imelda.

Nevertheless, the Mayor won re-election.

To learn more about this topic, search this site using the key word “Proposition A.”

10 New Gates for Lake Houston

The flood gates on Lake Conroe can release water 15 times faster than the gates on Lake Houston. During Harvey, that bottleneck contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes. A study showed that additional gates would have lowered the water level by almost two feet in the event of another Harvey. During smaller storms, the gates would also help pre-release water faster to create a buffer against possible flooding.

Lake Houston can shed water at 10,000 cubic feet per second. Lake Conroe can shed it at 150,000 cubic feet per second.

The City of Houston applied for a grant from FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to add ten new gates. FEMA approved the project. It’s happening in two phases. The first includes design and an environmental survey. The second includes construction. Each will take 18 months. We’re now six months into Phase One.

Details of dam improvement project.

For more information on this topic, search this site using the key word “gates.”

Temporary Seasonal Lowering of Lake Conroe

After Harvey, people in the Lake Houston area started pleading for more upstream detention, dredging and gates. Dredging started immediately. The project to add more gates to the Lake Houston spillway has also started. Upstream detention is still years way. The San Jacinto Watershed Study is only now beginning to identify possible locations.

To help provide Lake Houston area residents with an additional buffer against flooding while officials worked on these mitigation measures, the SJRA Board voted to lower the level of Lake Conroe seasonally and temporarily. One foot during the rainiest months in Spring and two feet during the peak of hurricane season.

Many lakefront property owners on Lake Conroe, however, claim the lowering hurts their property values and damages their bulkheads. Buses full of protesters showed up at the December SJRA Board meeting wearing red shirts that say, “Stop the Drop.” So many came that two busloads full of people had to be turned away.

Angry Lake Conroe residents showed up at the last SJRA board meeting in busloads.

Net: the policy to lower Lake Conroe temporarily is under assault. The SJRA will likely vote on whether to continue the policy in February. The SJRA will hold two additional meetings at the Lonestar Convention and Conference Center in January and February to give everyone who wants to provide input a chance to do so.

For more information on this topic, search this site using the key words “lake lowering.”

Flooding from Upstream Development

By far, the biggest and saddest story of the year had to be the flooding of Elm Grove Village, North Kingwood Forest, and even many homes in Porter. Not once, but twice this year. In each instance, runoff from Perry Homes’ newly clearcut 268-acre Woodridge Village development spilled over into surrounding streets and homes. Perry Homes filled in natural streams and wetlands without an Army Corps permit. And they still have not even installed 25% of the detention capacity required for an area that large.

The evacuation of Elm Grove after Perry Homes clearcut 268 adjoining acres.

They haven’t even finished the detention ponds they started, in direct violation of a promise to the City of Houston. In fact, Perry Homes has shown no interest in resolving the problems it created. They have scarcely done any work on this site since August. Meanwhile hundreds of residents live under the heightened threat of flooding.

This is another issue that will carry over into 2020.

For more information on this topic, search this site using the keywords “Perry Homes, Woodridge Village, Figure Four Development, PSWA, Elm Grove, Spurlock, cease and desist, detention, what went wrong, North Kingwood Forest, or drainage criteria.”

There’s your digest of the biggest stories of 2019. 2020 to follow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 19, 2019

842 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 92 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.