TCEQ: Knowledge of city's plan wouldn't change permit assessment

Lew K. Cohn/The Highlander

Dr. Yasir Cheema questions TCEQ staff about how they can assure his "air compromised" patients at Baylor Scott & White Marble Falls will not have their health impacted by a proposed rock crushing plant 1.6 miles south of the hospital.

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality officials told Marble Falls Mayor John Packer Thursday they did not know of proposed housing developments planned for south of Marble Falls when they reviewed an air quality permit application by Asphalt Inc. for a rock crushing plant, but added they would have made no difference.

“I didn't know about the new (Gregg Ranch) housing development or the (Baylor Scott & White) hospital or any of the infrastructure that was there,” said Don Nelon of the TCEQ Air Permits Division. “However, if there would have been a map which identified every existing house, every future house and all new businesses it wouldn't have mattered. If they are outside 440 yards of the rock crusher, there will not be an impact from this plant.”

Nelon said the closest house appears to be more than 600 yards from the proposed crushing site, which puts it beyond the 440-yard (one half-mile) distance required as a buffer zone in the standard air quality permit the TCEQ allows for rock crushers.

The comments came during a TCEQ public information meeting at Lakeside Pavilion attended by more than 400 people, many of them seeking answers about the proposed plant off US 281 near Texas 71, which would generate raw materials for Asphalt Inc.'s concrete plant in Spicewood.

The informal meeting gave city representatives, Baylor Scott & White officials and other interested parties the opportunity to question Asphalt Inc. operations manager Troy Carter, Westward Environmental Services engineer Melissa Fitz and TCEQ staff about the proposed operation — but those asking questions left Thursday night's meeting with fewer answers than they sought as respondents would only answer questions they believed pertained to the air quality permit application.

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.

Packer told TCEQ officials the city has had a comprehensive plan in place for nearly 20 years — since 1998 — and revisions made in 2009 added the area south of Marble Falls into the comprehensive plan and project future development to include single-family dwellings and supporting businesses.

There are currently 54 homes near the proposed rock crushing site and the nearby Gregg Ranch development would add an extra 800 homes, while Live Oak Village would bring in about 350 homes when completed.

“It may not be important when we are discussing air quality, but it is important to the big picture,” Packer said. “I don't think you fully understand what we have in our plans for the future growth of the city. We are concerned about the long-term operation of a quarry for 20, 30, 40 years and the affect it would have on growth and development for Marble Falls and the surrounding community.”

Packer, who worked as general manager at Coldspring Granite for 10 years, questioned Asphalt Inc. operations manager Troy Carter about how much volume the proposed operation is expected to generate. Carter said expects the plant will generate about 300,000 to 400,000 tons of product per year. Pressed to divulge how many years the plant is expected to operate, Carter did not give an exact amount of time, but did say he believed it would be “multi-year.”

“It could go on,” Carter said. “It is a very deep deposit (of materials) and it would be a lot of years before we needed to buy any additional property. Just going 70 feet would give us years and years before we would ever look at expansion.”

Carter also answered that he had not contacted the city's development services nor had he looked at the city's comprehensive plan prior to Asphalt Inc. purchasing the land for their proposed rock crushing site.

Packer noted there are a number of other quarries in the Marble Falls area, including Collier Materials, Capitol Aggregates Inc., Lhoist North America (Oldcastle), Holland Mineral Patterns, Huber Carbonates, Cold Springs Granite and Michel General. However, he said, the difference between them and Asphalt Inc. is “the rest of these were here before the city was incorporated.”

“They have been up front with us about information about their operations and we have developed a working relationship with them,” Packer said. “This plant is trying to come in after we have already created a comprehensive plan and the city is incorporated. I am a businessman and I am not against property rights, but this plant is being put in the wrong place.”

City Manager Mike Hodge questioned what the plant would do to minimize the impact of dust from trucks entering and exiting the facility.

“We will have water and dust abatement systems in place and we will do what the permit requires us to do and will follow those rules,” Fitz said, eliciting requests for more information which went unanswered.

David Van Soest, Austin regional director for TCEQ, said inspections of rock crushing sites are primarily complaint-driven unless there has been a history of noncompliance.

He said citizens are urged to contact the TCEQ to file complaints through the hotline at 888-777-3186 and can collect their own evidence of violations, though it must meet certain guidelines, must be date and time stamped and cannot be obtained through trespassing.

“Our investigators will go out to make sure they are operating the plant according to what they are supposed to be doing,” Van Soest said. “If they are not, they are subject to a possible enforcement order, penalty and corrective action.”

Dr. Yasir Cheema, a pulmonologist with Baylor Scott & White Marble Falls Clinic, said his clinic treats 1,100 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), 1,200 patients with asthma, 1,200 oncology patients and 800 patients with congestive heart failure — all of whom could be classified as “air compromised.”

“How can we be assured our air compromised patients' health will be safe when it comes to this facility?” Cheema asked. “They are estimating they will generate 18,000 pounds of dust per year from this plant and it is just 1.6 miles down the road from our hospital. What assurity do we have that it won't be a health impact?”

Nelon said the federal Clean Air Act requires rock crushing plants to meet “Ambient Air Quality requirements.”

“If they operate this plant as they represent they will, it will be protected from the property line for children, adults, the elderly, plants and animals,” Nelon said.

Cheema said his medical opinion was the plant would produce “significant dust that can lead to an exacerbation of health conditions” for his patients, especially in crystalline silica particulates, which are considered to be carcinogenic.

Nelon then responded the amount of crystalline silica found in the Edwards Plateau region is close to comprising only about 1 percent of the rock formation, while air modeling performed under the Standard Permit Application estimates a conservative amount of 20 percent crystalline silica.

“The model shows the safeguards are still protective at that level and there would be no adverse effect,” Nelon said. “The majority of dust will be back on the ground quickly after it leaves the crusher. With dust abatement systems, screens and other equipment, the chances of it leaving the property in the air are minimal and what gets airborne meeets EPA requirements for National Ambient Air Quality Standards.”

Baylor Scott & White Hill Country Region President Tim Ols asked why Asphalt Inc. could not just buy aggregate for its Spicewood plant from Vulcan Aggregate, considering it is just down Texas 71, but Carter and Fitz declined to answer his question.

Ols also questioned TCEQ about its method of visually checking dust plumes to determine opacity to see if a violation has occurred rather than using more sensitive scientific equipment.

“It is astounding that in 2017 this is the usual way you go about measuring something like that,” Ols said. “When a patient comes into our hospital and is complaining of a heart attack, we don't just look at them and say, 'You look sick.' We use equipment to determine what is wrong.

“There are so much science and technology available to help us. There is a lot of what we can't see that is more dangerous that what we can see and there is a science to measuring particulates that are in the air that we can't see. We use this at the hospital ourselves.”

Concerned parties have until Oct. 31 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.

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