Tag Archive for: Triple-P

Triple-P Sand Mine Breached Again; East End Park Destroyed for Second Time in Two Years

Correction: The head of Enforcement for the TCEQ notified me that there was a “proposed” fine of $16,875 issued to the Triple-P Mine for the May breach, but that they have not “settled” yet.

The East Fork of the San Jacinto River and the Triple-P sand mine took a terrible toll on Kingwood’s East End Park for the second time in two years during Imelda. Sand several feet thick blanketed about 30 acres of this beautiful ecological gem and the peaceful trails that wind through it. The devastation matched and in some cases surpassed Harvey’s. These pictures tell the story. After Harvey, it took hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the trails and boardwalks in the park. It will cost at least that much again.

Carried Away

This bench on the Pelican Overlook Trail used to have about 50 feet of trail, trees and river bank in front of it. Imelda eroded the bank and the river cut away the land under the trail. The trail will now have to be moved inland. It no longer exists.

Blanketed by Sand

This boardwalk to Eagle Point used to go over pristine wetlands. It will now require excavation. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Scoured by Flood Waters

Trail scouring occurred in many places. Large parts of the North Loop trail will require replacement. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Taking Destruction to New Levels

This sign used to be chest high. Now it’s knee high. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Giant Trees Uprooted

Trees are down in multiple places and block the main boardwalk. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Covered Up

The main boardwalk is covered with a layer of ultra-slippery silt 1-2 inches thick. Photo courtesy of John Knoezer.

Under Water

In many places, trails have gone underwater. At this location, we found quicksand. See below.

Quick Sand

Rika, the safety pup, says, “Hmmmm. Lucky I don’t have to buy shoes.”

For your own safety and the safety of your shoes, do not venture into the park near the river. It’s dangerous as you can see. Quicksand even exists in some places.

Now for The Bad News

Much of this sand may have come from the Triple-P sand mine on Caney Creek, just upstream from East End Park.

Image courtesy of Charlie Fahrmeier, an expert in turbidity control. Photo taken on 9/22/2019.
Image of same breach on May 17th.
Location of Breach

Once again the mine breached its dike, underscoring the danger of locating mines in floodways. This particular mine sits at the confluence of two floodways: Caney Creek and White Oak Creek. During Harvey, it lost a major portion of its stockpile to floodwaters. Then it happened again.

In May 2019, Tony Buzbee, candidate for Mayor of Houston, witnessed another breach while on a tour on the San Jacinto to investigate sedimentation issues. I notified the TCEQ and they issued a Notice of Enforcement in August. But they did not fine the company. This makes the third documented breach in two years.

Wrong Type of Repair

It appears that Triple P dumped some sand in the breach in a feeble attempt to stop the hemorrhage. But it obviously did not hold for long. Fahrmeier, who discovered this latest breach on his Waverunner, is an expert in turbidity and environmental pollution control. He said that sand is the wrong type of material for repairing dikes and that the repeat blowout was predictable.

Fahrmeier said that as he was coming up Caney Creek, the stream of sediment coming from the mine made it look as though there were two different streams. “There’s still quite a bit of sediment flowing into the river as evidenced by the discoloration.  The pit is pretty large and no doubt contributed a significant volume of water and sediment flowing into Lake Houston since last week.”

KSA Repairs

KSA will begin initiating repairs on East End Park quickly. But many parts of the park are still not accessible. It may be months before all this damage can be repaired. In the meantime, please limit use of the park to the higher parts unaffected by Imelda and Triple P. No doubt some of this sand comes from river bed and bank erosion. But I believe a lot came from the mine, too. I hope KSA decides to sue the mine this time. It’s clear that they do not fear the TCEQ.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/23/2019 with images from John Knoezer and Charlier Fahrmeier

756 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 5 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy 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 Observes Triple-PG Sand Mine Discharging Wastewater Directly into Tributary of Lake Houston

On May 18, Josh Alberson and I gave Tony Buzbee a tour of sediment and sand mining issues on the San Jacinto River. Buzbee is a candidate for Mayor of Houston and got to witness first hand some of the problems I have been talking about for almost two years now. On Caney Creek, we stumbled across a giant breach in the dike of the Triple-PG mine in Porter. We reported it immediately to the TCEQ.

Massive breach in dike between Triple PG Mine and Caney Creek, May, 2019

Two-Week Discharge

Investigators actually observed the unauthorized discharge of process water from the mine into the City’s drinking water supply. It continued for approximately two weeks.

Not One, But Two Massive Breaches

The TCEQ found not one, but two breaches. The first was on the southwest side of the mine. Water entered the mine from a breach of the dike near White Oak Creek. The water then swept through the mine and exited through a second breach on Caney Creek. That meant the two creeks were actually flushing process water out of the mine into the drinking water supply for two million people.

The TCEQ finished its investigation in July and cited the operation for failing to prevent the unauthorized discharge of process water. The TCEQ told them to repair and widen their dikes. They did. Case closed.

Classic Example of Pit Capture

The breeches appear to be the result of heavy rains in early May. This is a prime example of pit capture. High pressure in the floodway causes dike failure. The river or stream then flows through the mine and breaks out the opposite side. The same thing happened during Harvey when floodwaters carried away a large part of the mine’s stockpile.

Repeated Violations

This same mine has been investigated five times in five years by the TCEQ for various problems detailed in this report. The mine is owned by a cardiologist from Nacogdoches named Guniganti. His family operates it.

The basic problem with this mine is its location. It sits at the confluence of two floodways. That’s why the dikes were blown out. That’s why Harvey’s floodwaters swept through it. Continuing to operate this mine is like flying a plane into conditions that you know are unsafe.

No Disincentive for Dangerous Business Practices

Yet there’s no disincentive for dangerous business practices. Investigators told the operators to fix the breaches. They did. Business will go on as usual. Until the next disaster.

As a society, why do we tolerate this?

We even seem to venerate it. How strange that one family’s profit outweighs the health and safety of millions! The legislature had an opportunity to fix this problem this year. However, one bill that would have established best practices for sand mining and another that would have established minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines never made it out of committee. Likewise HB-908 proposed by State Representative Dan Huberty that would have provided meaningful financial penalties for such bad practices never made it out of committee.

Tax Breaks Instead of Penalties

This Guniganti family even gets tax breaks from Montgomery County. The appraisal district gives timber and agricultural exemptions to areas actively being mined. Go figure!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/23/2019

724 Days after Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Nailed: Triple-P Sand Mine Photographed Discharging Wastewater Directly into Lake Houston Tributary

Since Harvey, I’ve been talking about the dangers of sand mining too close to the river. Texas is the only state I can find that has no minimum setback for mines. Tony Buzbee, candidate for Mayor of Houston, asked to see what I was talking about. So a friend, Josh Alberson, took us on out his jet boat this afternoon.

Massive Breach in Mine Dike

As luck would have it, we went up Caney Creek. Just above where it enters the East Fork, we spotted a massive new breach in the dike of the Triple-P mine. Here’s what we saw.

Looking into the Triple-P Mine through a breach in its dike on Caney Creek
Note the exposed shoreline in the background indicating how much water the mine lost to the river.
Looking 180 degrees from the shots above. The tree leaning over at a ten degree angle from the river is on the far bank of Caney Creek.
This shows how wide the breach is in relation to the boat. The boat is 22 feet long.
This shot taken from the boat shows the mine’s cleaning, sorting and transportation equipment in the background. I could not see the dredge operating in the mine’s pit from this angle.
This Google Earth image shows the approximate location of the breach. The blue diagonal line is the Harris/Montgomery County Line. Caney Creek connects up with Lake Houston to the south (bottom part) of this image. Mmmmmmm. That water looks delicious, doesn’t it. If you get your water from Lake Houston, you’re drinking it!
Tony Buzbee, examining the sand bar at the bottom of the shot above (below the mine). The bar has grown in size, according to Alberson, a regular East Fork boater. This illustrates the danger of sand mining so close to the river. Buzbee also visited the mouth bar on the West Fork during his river tour today.

Mine Has History of Problems

I previously posted about breaches in this mine’s dikes and the loss of a major portion of its stockpile during Harvey. The stockpile is located in the confluence of two floodways (Caney Creek and White Oak Creek). Partially as a result of this mine, Kingwood’s East End Park just downstream was inundated with sand and gravel up to 15 feet deep after Harvey. Repairing damage to the trails in the park cost Kingwood residents almost $200,000. The wetlands have been lost forever.

Wetlands no more. Eagle Point in East End Park is drowned in sand from the Triple-P mine. It washed downstream during Harvey. Massive sediment deposits in the San Jacinto have also been linked to flooding by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Triple-P mine also receives very favorable treatment from the Montgomery County appraisal district. They tax most of it as though it were timberland.

Buzbee as Witness

If you are a sand miner, having Tony Buzbee witness this breach and the massive sedimentation it caused downstream is a nightmare scenario. Not only is Buzbee running for Mayor of Houston, he’s self-funding his campaign. That means he does not depend on TACA contributions. And worse (or better if you are a resident), he’s one of the top litigators in the world. In 2015, he was named Texas lawyer of the year. Kingwood residents can only hope he takes up this cause.

TCEQ Already Investigating

Upon returning home from the boat trip, I immediately notified Ramiro Garcia, head of Compliance and Enforcement for the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) about the breach in the dike. Garcia says they have people already on the case. I hope they choose to yank this mine’s license and make it an example. At a minimum, I believe they should give the mine the maximum fine. My understanding is that the fine can run up to $25,000 per day. This kind of flagrant violation endangers the health of millions of people and deserves no less.

A water quality expert I talked to about breaches like this told me they spike chloride levels in Lake Houston. Chlorides, you may remember, caused the pipe corrosion in Flint, Michigan, that contributed to pipe corrosion, lead poisoning, a public health crisis and an erosion of trust in local government.

Revive Best Practices Legislation for Sand Mines

As a result of the problems created by sand mining in the San Jacinto River watershed, State Representative Dan Huberty sponsored a bill this year to establish best practices for the mines. HB 909 was referred to the Environmental Regulation Committee on 2/25. The committee heard testimony on 5/1. TACA testified AGAINST establishing and publishing best practices. HB909 has been bottled up in committee ever since.

Please use this breach to try to get the legislation out of committee. This is major. It affects the drinking water supply for 2 million people. I talked about the dangers of mining too close to rivers when I testified for HB909. These miners just don’t care. They think that their ability to make a profit is more important that your health. Please send a message to Austin. Refer the members of the Environmental Regulation Committee to this post and tell them this is what Rehak testified about on 5/1. Have them vote it out of committee. Let’s establish best practices for sand mining in Texas. While we still can.

Here are the members of the Environmental Regulation Committee.

  • J.M. Lozano (Chairman) (512) 463-0463
  • Ed Thompson (Vice Chair) (512) 463-0707
  • Cesar Blanco (512) 463-0622
  • Kyle Kacal (512) 463-0412
  • John Kuempel (512) 463-0602
  • Geanie Morrison (512) 463-0456
  • Ron Reynolds (512) 463-0494
  • John Turner (512) 463-0576
  • Erin Zwiener (512) 463-0647

Please call their office and ask them to vote HB 909 out of committee. Tell them this breach is the great example of why we need this bill. Breaches like this happen far too often. There are only ten days left in this session.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/18/19, with a big thank you to Josh Alberson and Tony Buzbee

627 Days since Hurricane Harvey

All thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy and are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.