Tag Archive for: TPWD

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.

Video From Boat of 7.5-Acre Area in San Jacinto West Fork Mined for Sand

Yesterday, I posted pictures taken from a helicopter of a 7.5-acre sand bar in the San Jacinto West Fork that had been mined without a permit. Then last night, Josh Alberson sent me some video from a boat of the same area. Gabe Gosney, a passenger in Alberson’s jet boat, shot the video on GoPro and wants to share it with the community.

Giant Sand Bar Now Looks Like Example of Pit Capture

The area in question lies on the west side of the river, just south of SH99. When Alberson first saw it, he excitedly texted me, saying he found an example of “pit capture” on the West Fork. The only problem: there was no pit to capture. And no recent flood.

As Alberson sped down the West Fork, he spotted the area and slowed. Gosney shot hand held from the boat. Here’s what the carnage looked like from the river.

3 minute 15 second video by Gabe Gosney of 7.5 acre area in San Jacinto West Fork being mined for sand.

Changes to Riverine Environment

Several things become apparent immediately upon viewing the video.

  • Humans caused extensive damage to the river ecosystem (property of the state).
  • What looked like the edge of a sand bar from 300 feet up in a helicopter is actually small piles of sand left by the miners.
  • River current now flows through the mined area, but at a slower rate than the river itself.
  • Trees that used to form a small part of the edge of the bar in one area have toppled.
The sand bar outlined above in this Google Earth satellite image from 12/1/2019 no longer exists.
It has been mined out of existence.

Alberson says the river was up about a foot to a foot and a half compared to normal because of the SJRA’s seasonal release of 529 cubic feet per second from Lake Conroe. He said the current was quite fast – difficult to stand in. He did not get out of the boat to see how deep the water was in the mined area, but his impression was that it was shallow.

Mining Not Permitted According to Authorities

The TCEQ regulates mining in the floodplain. Texas Parks and Wildlife Division regulates mining in the river. And the SJRA has commissioned a study on the possibility of building “sand traps” in the river.

All three groups say they have no record of issuing any permits for river mining in the San Jacinto.

Potential Dangers

During floods, the dying trees you see in the video will dislodge and float downstream where they will cause property damage or get lodged in bridge supports, form dams, and cause flooding.

When floodwaters spread out in this area, they will slow and deposit their sediment load. However, where the river channel becomes narrower downstream, the river will speed up again and likely accelerate erosion of river banks and other people’s property.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is investigating. More news to follow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/24/2020 with thanks to Josh Alberson and Gabe Gosney

969 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.

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.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Sand and Gravel Permitting Program: History, Scope and Protections

As I’ve been posting a lot about sand mining legislation, a friend sent me this doc today about the reasons for Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) permitting program. TPWD regulates mining in rivers; TCEQ regulates mining in flood plains.

Photo by Jim & Melissa Balcom of their son playing on the West Fork of the San Jacinto after Harvey.

Difference in Tax Rates Between Rivers and Flood Plains

Flood plain mining has a 2% tax rate; in-river mining 8%. This doc explains what the department does with that 8%. TPWD’s authority to regulate mining in rivers goes back more than 100 years.

TPWD says that:

Dredging of sand, gravel, and shell from rivers and bays can negatively impact fish and wildlife habitats. Habitat alteration is the primary cause of population declines, loss, and extinction of freshwater fishes, mussels, and other aquatic organisms. Habitat alteration is also one of the primary contributors to listing of fish and wildlife as threatened or endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. 

Evolution of Mining Influenced

Because of the 4X difference in tax rates, and the fact that sand is a highly competitive undifferentiated commodity, sand from flood plains enjoys a huge cost advantage: 6%. As a result, comparatively little sand is taken from rivers today. In an average year, TPWD department says it brings in only $200,000 to $400,000 statewide. It comes mostly from small scale mining (less than 1000 cubic yards) by people who want to build roads or pipelines across streams.

Goals of Regulations

As the number of applications for permits has increased, TPWD has established project guidelines such as seasonal restrictions that avoid or minimize impacts to recreational users; site-specific provisions to ensure channel stability; and best management practices to control bank erosion, avoid land loss, and reduce downstream impacts. 

Read Over Your Morning Cup

The entire document is 2-pages, well-written, and well-illustrated. It will give you a good understanding of why the state started regulating sand mining in rivers long ago…all during your morning cup of coffee or tea. Highly recommended easy reading!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/19/2019

598 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Clarification and $2.8 Billion Worth of Good News Regarding Senate Bill 500 and Harvey Funding

I previously reported that Senate Bill 500, an omnibus appropriations bill passed unanimously by the House this week, deleted all funding for the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund (TIRF). However, I should also have clarified that it did NOT delete ALL funding related to Harvey and flooding.

The House deleted the portion of funding related to flood-mitigation while it considers House Bill 13 with its own infrastructure fund. The House DID leave IN approximately $2.8 billion for items not related to flood-mitigation infrastructure improvements, but related to Harvey repairs, reimbursement for extraordinary Harvey expenses, flood health care, and more itemized below. Unless noted otherwise, all expenditures are for fiscal year 2019. These Harvey-related appropriations include the following:

TDEM Matching Funds for FEMA

  • $273,000,000 to the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) for matching funds for projects sponsored by political subdivisions and approved for the Hazard Mitigation Grant program administered by FEMA 
  • $400 million to TDEM for matching funds for projects sponsored by political subdivisions and approved for the Public Assistance grant program administered by FEMA. 

Health & Human Services and Education

  • $110,000,000 to Health and Human Services for children’s Medicaid expenses
  • $271,300,000 to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for increased student costs, reduction in school district property values and the reduction of the amount owed by school districts to achieve an equalized wealth level due to disaster remediation costs
  • $634,200,000 to the TEA for adjustment of school district property values and reimbursement to school districts for disaster remediation costs
  • $636,000,000 to TEA for the 2020 state fiscal year
  • $20,288,883 to the University of Houston
  • $4,000,000 to the University of Houston Downtown; 
  • $1,703,828 to the University of Houston – Victoria
  • $83,668 to the University of Houston – Clear Lake
  • $13,100,000 to the Lone Star College System
  • $2,458,239.76 to the Texas A&M Forest Service
  • $1,418,585 to Lamar University;
  • $1,312,657 to Lamar Institute of Technology
  • $6,319,458 to Lamar State College – Port Arthur
  • $406,112 to Lamar State College – Orange
  • $10,200,000 to UT Austin for storm damage

Criminal Justice and DPS

  • $38,6000,000 to the Department of Criminal Justice
  • $34,954,409 to Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) for Strategy A.1.1., Organized Crime; 
  • $60,000,000 to DPS for Strategy C.1.1., Traffic Enforcement
  • $2,000,000 to DPS for Strategy G.1.3., Information Technology

General Land Office

  • $696,921 to the General Land Office (GLO). for Strategy A.2.1., Asset Management
  • $20,459,797 to GLO for Strategy B.1.1., Coastal Management
  • $430,000 to GLO for Strategy B.1.2., Coastal Erosion Control Grant
  • $2,047,454 for Strategy B.2.1., Oil Spill Response
  • $4,217,510 to the GLO for full-time equivalent employees contingent on non-renewal of FEMA funding
  • $2,000,000 from the coastal protection account to the GLO for removal of abandoned vessels

Teas Parks & Wildlife and Workforce Commission

  • $17,000,000 to Parks and Wildlife to repair structures and equipment
  • $8,931,385 to Texas Workforce Commission for vocational rehabilitation services expenses

For More Information

Most of these expenditures will come from the Economic Stabilization (Rainy Day) Fund. For those who wish to learn more and review the exact wording of the House Committee Substitute version of SB500:

Here is the House version of CSSB500.

Here is the House Research Organization’s analysis of the bill.

Here is the House Appropriation Committee’s report on the bill.

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 30, 2019

578 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Proposed New High-Rise Development Seems to Violate TPWD Guidelines for Bald Eagle Habitat Protection

A review of Texas Parks and Wildlife Departments’ guidelines for eagle habitat protection reveals that the proposed Kingwood Marina and high-rise development appears to have some permit issues circling overhead.

No Environmental Impact Statement Prepared by Developer

Developers of the proposed massive high-rise complex claim they found no bald eagle nests on their property. Therefore, they claimed, there was no need to conduct and environmental impact survey. However, I photographed this bald eagle nest approximately 500 feet from their property. GPS data is encoded in the image.

Bald eagle nest approximately 500 feet from developers’ property. Photographed by Bob Rehak with GPS data embedded in image.

Texas Parks and Wildlife considers bald eagles, a threatened species. Bald eagles were taken off the endangered list in 2007, but still enjoy many protections as a threatened species.

Bald Eagles Still Threatened, Habitat Protected

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668-668d) prohibits activities that interfere with eagles’ shelter, breeding and feeding. It provides criminal penalties ranging from fines up to $5,000 and up to one year in prison.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Habitat Management Guidelines for Bald Eagles in Texas elaborate on what that interference means.

Activities Discouraged within Management Zones

The guidelines state the following under: “Primary Management Zone For Nest Sites.” “This zone includes an area extending 750 to 1,500 feet outward in all directions from the nest site. It is recommended that the following activities not occur within this zone: 

  • “Habitat alteration or change in land use, such as would result from residential, commercial, or industrial development; construction projects; or mining operations.” 
  • “Tree cutting, logging, or removal of trees, either living or dead.” 
  • “Human presence within this zone should be minimized during the nesting season…” 

The same TPWD guidelines also stipulate a “Secondary Management Zone For Nest Sites.

  • “This zone encompasses an area extending outward from the primary zone an additional 750 feet to 1 mile. Recommended restrictions in this zone are intended to protect the integrity of the primary zone and to protect important feeding areas, including the eagle’s access to these areas. The following activities are likely to be detrimental to Bald Eagles at any time, and in most cases should be avoided within the secondary zone:” 
  • Development of new commercial or industrial sites.” 
  • “Construction of multi-story buildings or high-density housing developments between the nest and the eagle’s feeding area.” 
  • “Use of chemicals labeled as toxic to wildlife.” 

How Management Zones Overlay Development Plans

Here’s how the radii of the management zones overlay the outline of the proposed high-rise development and marina areas. The nest is at the center of the red lines.

The vast majority of the proposed high rise development falls within eagle habitate management zones defined by Texas Parks and Wildlife.

To see the proposed development within the white outlines follow this link to the architect’s web site. It features a 3D fly-though video of a computer-rendered animation.

Impact on Eagle Nesting and Feeding

My first impression: Massive. From my point of view, the proposed development clearly does not meet TPWD guidelines.

  • Virtually the entire development would fall within management and secondary management zones.
  • High-rises and high-density housing would be built between the nest and Lake Kingwood where residents often report eagles fishing.
  • Marina operations for 700 boats and 200 jet skis would almost certainly leak chemicals during refueling and maintenance. That could poison both eagles and fish.
  • Trees would be removed from most of the area.

Emily Murphy has also photographed eagles flying over the developers’ property and adjacent river.

Eagle flying from River Grove Park to proposed site for high-rises. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy.
Eagle photographed by Kingwood Lakes resident near Lake Kingwood. Eagles fish in lake. Photo courtesy of Clark McCollough.

One of Many Factors Being Considered

The Corps will review the developers’ application in accordance with 33 CFR 320-322, from which the Corps derives its regulatory authority. The decision whether to approve the permit will be based on “an evaluation of the probable impacts, including the cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest.”

The permit could be denied based on wildlife impact concerns alone. However, eagles are just one of the problems this proposal has. I hope that when all factors are weighed, pro and con, that the cons will vastly outnumber the pros.

So keep sending those letters to the Corps. Encourage your friends and relatives to send them also, even if they live outside of Kingwood. You might also want to copy TPWD and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/27/2019

516 Days since Hurricane Harvey