Tag Archive for: Triple PG Mine

Triple P.G. Owner Transferred Ownership of Sand Mine Days After AG Filed Suit

Mere days after the Texas Attorney General (AG) filed a lawsuit against Triple P.G. Sand Development, the mine’s owner transferred ownership of the mine. Even though the transfer was recorded in October, the attorney general says the papers were dated for the prior January — before the unauthorized discharges from the mine that triggered the AG’s lawsuit.

Hundreds of Millions of Gallons of Wastewater Discharged

Two unauthorized discharges from the mine in Porter during May and September last year let hundreds of millions of gallons of sediment-laden wastewater escape into the headwaters of Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.

The putative ownership transfer was recorded in October, days after the lawsuit was filed. But it was dated for the prior January—before the May and September discharges that triggered the law suit!

Triple P.G. Mine in Porter. Photographed on 6/16/2020. Bright colors likely due to high chloride content or Cyanobacteria which may contain cyanotoxins.

Suspicious Ownership Transfer

The AG didn’t allege any motives. But the suspicious ownership transfer may have been an attempt to shield assets from prosecutors. People often set up multiple companies, trusts and partnerships to shield assets in one from lawsuits in another.

As a result of the transfer, the Texas Attorney General (AG) amended the State’s original petition and application for injunctive relief against Triple P.G. on 6/17/2020. The new petition added five additional defendants. They include:

  • Guniganti Family Property Holdings, L.L.C.
  • Prabhakar R. Guniganti, individually
  • Prabhakar R. Guniganti, as Director of Triple P.G. Sand Development, L.L.C.
  • Prabhakar R. Guniganti, as sole manager of Guniganti Family Property Holdings, L.L.C.
  • Guniganti Children’s 1999 Trust.

TCEQ Surprised by “Different Operator” at Facility

The Attorney General’s amended petition states, “In or around May 2020, prior to expiration of the Temporary Injunction, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) investigators conducted a site visit and were informed that a different operator had taken over operations at the Facility.”

Ironically, instead of shielding assets (if that’s what he was trying to do), Guniganti exposed more of his family’s holdings. Now they’re all part of the lawsuit.

Guniganti Family Property Holdings, L.L.C. was the recorded property owner at the time of the May and September 2019 breaches. However, new ownership records now show that in October 2019, Guniganti Children’s 1999 Trust owned the property.

Prabhakar R. Guniganti is the sole director of Triple P.G. Sand Development and sole manager of the Guniganti Family Property Holdings. The AG’s amended petition alleges Guniganti orchestrated the ownership transfer as the sole manager of Defendant Guniganti Family Property Holdings.

Officially, the State filed the amended petition to name additional entities that are responsible for the 2019 discharges. They also share a continuing responsibility to prevent discharges in the future by performing corrective actions to improve the site.

Basis for Lawsuit

The TCEQ cited Triple P.G. in both months during 2019 for the unauthorized discharge of millions of gallons of sediment-laden process wastewater. In May, the entire contents of the Triple P.G. dredge pond (about 180 acres in area) were released into Caney Creek. TCEQ estimates 325 million gallons of sediment-laden water exited into Caney Creek, which leads directly to the East Fork of the San Jacinto River and onward to Lake Houston. Then, more breaches occurred in September, 2019.

Triple P.G. agreed to injunctive relief last fall. The injunction required Triple P.G. to cease dredging operations, to repair breaches, and to retain an engineer who would propose a plan to ensure the berms could hydraulically isolate the process waste water from waters of the State. The Court entered the Agreed Temporary Injunction on November 25, 2019.

Ever since, Guniganti has been trying to dry-mine sand. Miraculously, water inside the mine has disappeared while water outside the mine has gotten higher.

The AG contends that regardless of which entity owned the mine, they all lead back to the same man and they all had an obligation to ensure that process wastewater was not discharged into waters of the State.

The AG believes all entities are liable for unauthorized discharges pursuant to Texas Water Code 26.121(c), which makes it unlawful to “cause, suffer, allow, or permit the discharge of any waste” in violation of the Texas Water Code.

Dr. Guniganti At Center Allegations

“As the individual with complete management control of sand mining company Triple P.G. and with complete management control of the property on which the Facility is located, Defendant Guniganti had authority to direct activities at the site, including the authority to prohibit or modify sand mining operations on the property, to ensure Triple P.G. maintained adequate berms, and/or to maintain the berms at the Facility to ensure that process wastewater was not discharged into waters of the state,” the AG alleges.

Guniganti, a cardiologist from Nacogdoches who moonlights as a miner, could be fined up to a million dollars for the discharges.

These discharges are the latest in a long series of problems for the troubled mine. For the complete list, read the Attorney General’s entire 51-page amended petition.

The defendant(s) have until July 20, 2020, to respond to the amended petition.

In other developments in the case, Dr. Guniganti has requested to replace his Austin-based attorney with one from Lufkin.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 1, 2020

1037 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.

Triple PG Mine Scurries to Fill Breaches Day After Attorney General Files Lawsuit

Twenty-three days after Imelda and one day after the Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief, the owners of the Triple PG Mine in Porter finally took some action to seal at least one of the eight breaches in their dikes.

Photos Taken Saturday Show Start of Repairs

Josh Alberson took the photos below from Caney Creek around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 12, 2019.

While there is now dirt in the breach, it’s not certain what kind. According to Alberson, it appears to be a mix of clay and sand.
If this is the same material used in the same way to plug the May breach, it will probably fail the same way in the next flood.

No Serious Attempt to Compact Materials

Alberson says he observed mine employees dumping fill in the breach, but that he saw no attempt to compact the material with rollers. They did tamp it down with the bucket of the track hoe, however. Here’s what it looked like at about 2PM Saturday from Caney Creek. Not very tamped.

Water in the foreground is part of the original May breach. Repairs from May and so far from September, focused on building a road over the breach that acts as a dam. Two hundred feet of woods once separated the mine from the pit. This “dam” or “dike” is now about 15 feet wide and barely above the water at the low point.

Compare Width of Road to Length of Total Breach

The photo below shows the breach in question before repairs. I shot it from a helicopter on 10.2.2019.

Photo of breach looking west into pit before repairs. Note the location of the island and the width of the road relative to the length of the breach between the pit and Caney Creek (bottom left). Then review the satellite image below from Google Earth taken in February.
Google Earth satellite image before breach in May. Yellow line represents approximate location of breach and measures 218 feet from pit to Caney Creek. Approximate width of repair is 15 feet, 1/14th the width of the original barrier.
Here you can see the width of the road at the end of work today (10/12/2019). Enough to accommodate one way traffic. A reader sent it to me.

Civil Engineer’s Impression of Repairs

Alberson’s brother is a civil engineer. He and another engineer I talked to both felt the repairs were inadequate. When asked what the repairs should consist of, Alberson’s brother suggested:

  • Temporary dam cut at river and in pit.
  • Pump out water.
  • Bring in 100% clay and fill entire dike and previous bank with clay in 1 ft. increments. 
  • Measure clay at its mining point for water content.
  • After each foot, add spray water, then allow to dry to achieve optimum clay cohesion.
  • Roll pack with smooth drum roller.
  • Repeat to needed height.
  • Add geotextile, large stone, and smaller gravel followed by grass on river and pit side.
  • Width and height of damn should be determined by vertical drop of pit and horizontal width (i.e., water pressure on dike). 

He said if they don’t “roll-pack” it, regardless of whether it is made of clay or not, it will fail.

Request for Required Engineering Docs

I requested the TCEQ to provide the engineering documents for the repairs that they demand, consistent with section 301 of their regulations for dikes and levees. Because of the weekend, they could not supply them immediately, but agreed to look and see if they existed.

Impact of “Dike” Failures on Families South of Mine

In the meantime, I interviewed three families below the mine today. They and physical evidence all indicated that water swept through the mine from north to south during Imelda. They said the MINE then flooded them before White Oak or Caney Creek rose. The water from the mine rose so quickly that:

  • One family narrowly escaped with their horses (unlike Harvey when one died).
  • Water covered a second family’s SUV in less than one hour. Their house – on 10-foot silts – took on two feet of water.
  • A third family fled early with their disabled daughter, only to find their home destroyed again when they returned. They also found their foundation undermined by the force of the water from the mine.

There really are no dikes between the mine and these families and dozens of others in their neighborhood. The road surrounding the mine is flush with ground level. It provides no protection when stormwaters capture the pit.

More on their stories in future posts. In the meantime, here are some photos of the heartbreaking devastation they suffered.

The back of Tom and Sherry Gills garage faces the mine. Just feet from the mine’s southern boundary, scouring was so bad that it undermined the foundation.
Shelley Portillo’s porch also faces the mine. Water went in one side of her home and exited the opposite side, leaving sand waves in her home.
Melissa Stowe’s back yard. Direction of flow came from mine and pushed construction debris up against tree line. Elevating her house ten feet after Harvey wasn’t enough. Twelve feet of water inundated her property.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/12/2019 with help from Josh Alberson and Charlie Fahrmeier

774 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 23 since Imelda

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 State of Texas.

East Fork Mouth Bar Rapidly Developing

In the 2+ years since Hurricane Harvey, many East Fork residents complained that the West Fork was getting all the media attention and remediation dollars. Imelda may have just changed that narrative. An East Fork Mouth Bar rapidly increased in size during the storm.

Rapid Increase in Sedimentation Between Royal Shores and Luce Bayou

Between Luce Bayou and Royal Shores, Josh Alberson, an East Fork resident and boater says the channel recently measured as much as 18 feet deep. Last weekend, when checking cross-sections on the depth finder of his jet boat, the deepest part of the channel measured three to four feet in that same area. Here’s what it looks like from a helicopter pointing south toward Lake Houston and the FM1960 Bridge.

East Fork Mouth Bar. Photo taken one week after Imelda on 9/27/19.

It’s clear that portions of these bars preceded Imelda, just as portions of the West Fork Mouth Bar preceded Harvey. You can tell that by the vegetation. However, you can also see the immense recent growth of these bars in the areas without vegetation.

Shots taken from the boat show vast expanses of sand now clogging the East Fork.

Looking south toward the entrance to Lake Houston. Photo taken on 9/29/19. Channel between here and Luce Bayou (out of frame on the left) averaged 3-4 feet deep.
Looking west toward Royal Shores from same location. Photo taken 9/29/19.
Looking east toward Luce Bayou, I captured this shot of a dead tree on 9/29/19. It underscores how shallow the river is at this location. More than half the root ball sits above water.

Hundreds, Possibly Thousands of Trees Down

Upstream, hundreds, if not thousands of trees were uprooted by Imelda. The City and DRC had just completed removing such hazards. They did a thorough and beautiful job. However, Imelda will mean starting over…at least on the East Fork.

Giant Sand Bars Now Filling More than Half of River

The sand bar opposite East End Park migrated downstream. It also expanded outward and may have contributed to significant erosion on the parks northern shore. It now cuts off more than half the river. Not surprisingly The river appears to have migrated south in this area by at least 50 feet.
Opposite the massive sand bar above, entire trails have been washed away in East End Park. Beware of possible bank collapse. Very dangerous conditions exist on trails. Do not use the park until repairs have been completed.
The storm deposited other sand bars father upstream, like this one in the approximate area of Woodstream. It was just below where Taylor Gully enters the river at Dunham Road.

Fourth Breach Discovered at Sand Mine

Still unknown: how much of a role multiple breaches at the Triple PG mine played in sedimentation.

Charlie Fahrmeier discovered yet another breach at the mine on Monday; this one partial.

View of partial breach near north end of Triple PG mine from Caney Creek. Photo by Charlie Fahrmeier. Taken on 9/30/19.
Above the partial breach shown in the photo above. Fahrmeier says he found the grass all laying down in one direction indicating rushing water inundated it recently. Photo taken on 9/30/19.

Role of Sand Mine Under Investigation

Dan Huberty today announced that Ken Paxton, the state attorney general, has agreed to investigate the Triple PG mine. A spokesman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said investigators were headed to the site today. The TCEQ has also launched an investigation.

Clearly, the mine is not responsible for all of the sand in the river. But its location in TWO floodways, four possible breaches, and loss of a major portion of its stockpile indicate it played some role in the massive sedimentation.

Looking south across the Triple PG Mine’s main stockpile. White Oak Creek swept in from the right and Caney Creek from the left. The stockpile measures approximately 20 acres and has risen to an estimated 90-100 feet at times. On this day, 9/27/19, it was much smaller. Whether that was due to erosion or sales is unknown. Notice all the equipment laying on its side to the right of the metal buildings.

Substantial Repairs?

After a breach in May, the mine simply dumped sand in the hole which quickly eroded again. Photo taken 9/29/19.

I doubt this meets the TCEQ requirements for substantial repairs.

Close up of breach repair. It appears to be nothing but sand. Photo 9/29/19.

Whether these repairs were intended to fail or whether the operator didn’t care if they failed, the result was the same. More sand in the river. And more gunk in your drinking water supply.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/2/2019 with thanks to Josh Alberson and Charlie Fahrmeier.

764 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 13 since Imelda

All 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.