Protestors make their voices heard

Lew K. Cohn/The Highlander

Protestors voice opposition to a proposed rock crushing facility off Burnet County Road 304 near new subdivisions and Baylor Scott & White Hospital on Texas 71 in Marble Falls.

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

Chanting slogans and waiving signs, more than 100 people picketed on Saturday and Sunday across the highway from the site of a proposed rock crushing plant south of Marble Falls off US 281 at County Road 403.

Meanwhile, on Friday, opponents of the Asphalt Inc. rock crushing plant met to discuss strategy to stop the company — which is owned by Jack Wheeler, who also owns Lone Star Paving in Austin — from receiving its necessary permits to operate.

Asphalt Inc. applied for an air permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to operate a new rock and concrete crushing plant and quarrying operation with an entrance 90 feet west of US 281 and approximately 2.6 miles south of the intersection of Texas 71 near Flat Rock Road, which is Burnet County Road 403.

Concerned parties have until Oct. 9 to submit comments, questions and concerns to TCEQ in hopes of convincing the agency to hold a contested case hearing on the permit request. Written public comments about the application may be submitted to: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Office of the Chief Clerk, MC-1-5, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, TX 78711-3087, or electronically at tceq.texas.gov/about/comments.html.

The rock crusher air quality permit ID number is 148112, while the registry number is RN109902312. As of Monday, Oct. 2, there had been 41 requests for a public meeting and 228 written comments against the facility.

Residents who picketed Saturday and Sunday said they are fighting for more than just their own property, but also for the health and welfare of their neighbors, especially with Baylor Scott & White Hospital, which is a regional healthcare hub, situated less than two miles from the proposed facility site.

“I am here because I have a passion for the future and I am here for our older residents,” said Judy Frazier, who lives in the Overlook subdivision adjacent to the proposed plant site. “They can't stand out here and don't have a voice, so I am here to speak for them. The dust and wind that will blow from this plant is going to blow into what is the future of Marble Falls and is this what we want to establish for our future?

“Air quality matters to me and to all of us. I want to live in Marble Falls, but I have the option to move if things get bad, but there are so many people here who don't have the luxury and can't move, so I am here to fight for them.”

Though she doesn't live immediately in the vicinity of the proposed site, Amy Higley of Burnet came to the protest with her young children, Leah, 4, and Daniel, 2. The kids held up signs which read, “Kick Rocks” and “No Silica Dust.”

“I don't want pollution in our air or our water,” Higley said. “We need restaurants and attractions and things to do in this area more than a dirty plant. I hope that this area can grow and bring in more people to the area and hopefully it will deter things like this plant from moving into the area.”

Marble Falls Mayor John Packer said the city could lose $250 million to $300 million in new housing development in the proposed Gregg Ranch subdivision alone if the rock crushing plant is approved and the plans for Gregg Ranch are canceled.

“We are working with our EDC to get data about the impact that we would suffer if none of these developments were to happen,” Packer said. “Also, we are reviewing the full application and digging to see what is not sufficient in the permit.

“We are glad that we have the public meeting and it is an opportunity for us to talk about this permit and maybe we can overwhelm (TCEQ) by showing them how many people are affected by this plant and are opposed to it.”

Llano County Commissioner Peter Jones said he had spoken to state Sen. Dawn Buckingham and she expressed support to make sure the permitting process was followed to the letter, but added she was concerned about keeping Texas property rights safe.

State Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls, disagreed with the notion that property rights in this particular case should supercede the right of the city to plan for future growth and development.

“I understand everything is political, but let's cut the horse crap,” Wilson said. “Either this plant is in the right place or it is not. We all want jobs here in our community, but they have to be responsible about where they locate and I see putting in this plant in an area where a city has already got development planned as being extremely irresponsible.

“I understand why so many people want to harvest the natural resources we have here in Burnet County, but why on earth would you put this type of facility next to a hospital or homes that are being put in place when a township has already been planning to expand into that area? I don't want to see Marble Falls or any other communities bookended by large mining so they are unable to grow. There are other tracts of land out there these people can go to do business and it doesn't need to be right next to a hospital.”

Wilson said he believes quarrying and rock crushing should have to go through a multi-agency permitting process instead of solely being subject to an air quality permit from TCEQ. He suggested the need for revising the permitting process and studying what needs to be done during the interim now that the Texas Legislature is not in session.

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