Tag Archive for: Spring Wet Sand and Gravel

River Mining Without Permit Goes Without Investigation

On April 21st, 2020, I reported on a sand mine that was river mining in the San Jacinto West Fork without a permit. It’s unlikely that any penalties will result. In fact, three weeks later, neither the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), nor Texas Parks and Wildlife Division (TPWD), have even investigated the incident. State Representative Dan Huberty is calling on the heads of both agencies to understand why.

No Investigation by TCEQ or TPWD

The operation is called the Spring Wet Sand and Gravel Plant. Multisource Sand and Gravel Co., LTD, based in San Antonio, operates the plant.

I filed a complaint with the TCEQ on April 21. TCEQ referred it to the TPWD for investigation because TPWD regulates sand mining in rivers. Yet Parks and Wildlife did not even investigate the incident.

A TPWD game warden in Montgomery County said, “We need to catch them in the act. And even if we do, the fine is like getting a speeding ticket – inconsequential. It’s only about $500 per dump truck. At this point there’s no way to prove how much sand they removed. A better solution would be to have TCEQ pull their permit. We see these kinds of things right before a mine goes out of business. They just go out there and get the last sand they can get before they leave.”

Spring Wet Sand and Gravel may not have reached the end of operations yet, but pickings are getting slimmer as some of the photos below will show.

Scope of Mining More Apparent in May Photos

Compared to April 21 (when the SJRA was still releasing water from Lake Conroe), a recent flyover on May 11th revealed the full scope of the river mining.

Measurements in Google Earth show the point bar occupied about 7.5 acres. Assuming an average height of three feet, that area held more than 36,000 cubic yards of sand. That would equate to about 3,600 regular dump trucks (10 yards per average load).

At $500 per truckload, that totals $1.8 million. And that doesn’t even include the 8% tax that TPWD gave up on sales. But it’s not worth their time?

You have to catch a lot of hunters and fishermen without licenses to make up that kind of money. You would think it might be worthwhile for TPWD to investigate … even if it’s just half that much. That could probably pay the salaries of at least a dozen full-time employees.

This is just one more in a series of egregious incidents involving Montgomery County and sand mines. They include consistent under-appraisals, intentional breaches, and allegedly polluting the drinking water of 2 million people.

Photo taken on May 11. Looking downstream outside the Spring Wet Sand and Gravel Plant, just south of SH 99.
Closer shot reveals scrape marks from excavator are still visible. See lower right. Also note little pile of orange sand left behind.

The presence of the orange pile in the right foreground may provide a clue as to why the miners did not excavate lower in this location. Sometimes color continuity of sand from batch to batch is important. For instance, when making concrete blocks for a building, owners usually want the color of all the blocks to be uniform.

Looking upstream from the opposite end of the point bar.
The platform used by mining equipment may provide a clue as to the depth of the excavation.
Spring Wet Sand and Gravel plant in the background and road leading to river excavation.
Looking a little more to the south shows the full extent of Spring Wet Sand and Gravel’s operations in the background.
On May 11, the only activity visible inside the entire mine was the dry mining shown above. This may not be the end for this mine, but pickings appear to be getting slimmer.
Spring Wet Sand and Gravel’s main processing facility

State Representative Huberty’s Response

Upon learning that TPWD chose not to investigate the river mining, State Representative Dan Huberty immediately contacted the directors of TPWD and the TCEQ to request explanations. Huberty has fought for a decade to regulate the industry in a way that protects both the public and law-abiding miners.

Dangers of River Mining

The type of river mining shown here is called “bar scalping” by scientists who study the impact of river mining. Some see bar scalping as the least destructive form of river mining. In general, though, most scientists still warn about dangers of river mining.

Immediate and long-term risks include:

  • Increases in river bed and bank erosion both up- and downstream
  • Loss of agriculture land, houses and infrastructure
  • Failure of roads, dikes and bridges
  • Lowering of groundwater reserves
  • Reduction in water quality
  • Reduction in diversity and abundance of fish
  • Changes to riverside vegetation

For those reasons and more, river mining is prohibited in most countries of Europe. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “Europe has shown that developed economies can continue to prosper without resorting to river sand. Its supplies now come from crushed quarry rocks, recycled concrete and marine sand.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/13/2020

987 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.

TPWD Investigates River Mining Without Permit on San Jacinto West Fork

A 7.5-acre point bar outside a San Jacinto West Fork sand mine has disappeared, the apparent victim of river mining. River mining is prohibited in many countries because of its dangers. Texas does not prohibit it, but taxes it at a higher rate than floodplain mining to discourage the practice. The dangers include:

  • Upstream and downstream erosion
  • Destruction of riverbanks and river properties
  • Undermining infrastructure (such as bridges and pipelines)
  • Increases in turbidity
  • Lowering of the water table
  • Loss of riparian vegetation.
Location of River Mining on West Fork Just South of Highway 99

No Permits on File With Key Regulatory Bodies

A check with the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and Texas Parks and Wildlife Division (TPWD) showed the following:

A TCEQ investigator has spoken to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) Wetlands Conservation Program. “If the facility is digging in or very near the water’s edge,” said the TCEQ’s Jonathan Walling, “the facility would most likely need a permit from TPWD.”

Tom Heger of TPWD said Montgomery County Parks & Wildlife officials are investigating.

Compare the satellite image above to the shots below. Google Earth measurements show the sand bar that no longer exists was bigger than most of the pits in the mine itself.

Looking downriver, you can still see outlines of point bar and marks from excavator.
Close up of marks left by teeth of excavator.
Looking toward West Fork where point bar used be. Vehicle tracks lead back to mine behind camera position.
Pits created in the river.
Relationship of river mining to flood plain mine in background.
Well-used road between excavation and mine.
The disappearance of sand is not because of the seasonal release of water from Lake Conroe. Hundreds of bars both up and downstream appeared normal.
Google Earth shows the river to be approximately 350 feet wide at this point.

Texas Rules on River Mining

The State of Texas governs the taking of sand from rivers. See the regulations and laws on this FAQ page at: https://tpwd.texas.gov/faq/landwater/sand_gravel/. Key points include:

  •  If the stream is perennial (flows most of the time), or is more than 30 feet wide between the banks (even if it is dry most of the time), the State claims the bed and the sand and gravel in it as State-owned. 
  • A permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is required to “disturb or take” streambed materials from a streambed claimed by the State.

According to TPWD, the operator did not have a permit. In fact, no one on the entire San Jacinto river has a permit, according to TPWD.

How River Mining Degrades River Beds/Channels: Academic Insights

San Diego State University summarizes some of the issues associated with river mining. The paragraph below, taken from their excellent website, explains why most governments discourage river mining.

…bed degradation occurs when mineral extraction increases the flow capacity of the channel. A pit excavation locally increases flow depth and a barskimming operation increases flow width. Both conditions produce slower streamflow velocities and lower flow energies, causing sediments arriving from upstream to deposit at the mining site. As streamflow moves beyond the site and flow energies increase in response to the “normal” channel form downstream, the amount of transported sediment leaving the site is now less than the sediment carrying capacity of the flow. This sediment-deficient flow or “hungry” water picks up more sediment from the stream reach below the mining site, furthering the bed degradation process.

G. Mathias Kondolf of the University of California/Berkeley published this illustrated paper on the hungry water effect.

Professor Kondolf also published “Geomorphic and environmental effects of instream gravel
mining.” It contains an excellent, well documented discussion of the impacts of river mining.

SEDIMENT MINING IN ALLUVIAL CHANNELS: PHYSICAL EFFECTS AND MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVES by M. RINALDI, B. WYZGA and N. SURIAN contains an thorough discussion of the dangers of river mining and public policy. (Warning: Copyrighted paper; costs $49.)

Mine Ownership

According to the TCEQ, the sand mine in the photos is called the Spring Wet Sand and Gravel Plant. Their registration database shows Multisource Sand And Gravel Co., Ltd. owns and operates it, under APO registration number AP0002459. Multisource Sand and Gravel Co. Ltd. is based in San Antonio at 126 East Turbo Drive. It is a subsidiary of Sage LLC. Lee C. McCarty and Benjamin Davis manage it from the Turbo Drive offices.  Daniel E. McCarty and Lee C. McCarty manage Sage.

The mine owners could not be reached for comment. Their phones went unanswered, perhaps because of the COVID crisis.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/23/2020

968 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.