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.
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.
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
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.
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.
- Manjari Enterprises LLC
- Texas Concrete Enterprise, L.L.C.
- Asam LLC
- Texas Concrete Enterprise – II, LLC
- Shree Radha, LLC
- Texas Concrete Enterprise – IV, L.L.C.
- Texas Concrete Sand and Gravel, Inc.
- Plum Grove Material, Inc.
- Rohini Enterprises Inc.
- JSR Materials, Inc.
- Bright Star Stores, Inc.
- US Readymix Inc.
- US Fracsand, LLC
- Rama Krishna 2, LLC
- Texas Frac Sand Materials, Inc.
- 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.
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.”
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.
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.