Proposed bills aim for concrete batch plant oversight

More administrative and regulatory oversight on concrete batch plants and quarries in Hays and Blanco counties might be on the horizon with the filing of four new bills.

The legislation, filed by State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), is in direct response to concerns about the lack of oversight for concrete batch plants, gravel pits, quarries and stone crushers in the area.

“We’ve seen a proliferation of these facilities, often in someone’s backyard,” Zwiener said. “We have long-time operators that are good neighbors, but we also have new operators that have, quite frankly, been horrible neighbors.”

Part of Zwiener’s strategy was to file four separate bills narrow in scope, each with its own set of goals on regulating the industry. The bills look to address common complaints from residents, such as water quality, noise and light pollution, transportation infrastructure, air quality and safety.

House Bill (HB) 2939 would require aggregate production operations (APO) facilities to operate between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. if they are within one mile of a single-family housing subdivision or hospital. Additionally, HB 3033 would allow county commissioners to regulate the construction of new APO facilities by creating one-mile setbacks from hospitals, places of worship, schools and residences.

“Hays County has unique challenges because we are growing outside of our city limits and our commissioners court does not have a lot of authority,” Zwiener said. “It’s the wild, wild west for these companies.”

Zwiener said the purpose of the bills is to create an adequate oversight process so these companies cannot blow through towns and disrupt local communities.

“We don’t want to turn these companies away, but we want to make sure those developments are constructed with our existing communities in mind,” she said.

In September 2018, a proposed batch plant located in the Dripping Springs area drew concern from nearby residents. Some residents criticized state agencies for a lack of administrative oversight.

In December 2018, Barton Publications reported the Hays Quarry Rock Crushing Plant had failed to meet environmental standards in the past. Some local residents worried Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reprimands were not enough to protect the environment in the future.

HB 3035 could potentially change the way TCEQ handles violators. The bill would require TCEQ to ensure that the amount of an administrative penalty is at least equal to the value of any economic benefit gained by the alleged violator through the violation.

“Regardless of these bills, we need to give TCEQ the adequate funding needed to do their job,” Zwiener said. “The agency received massive budget cuts during the 2011 session. The agency has less personnel and more permits.”

Zwiener said it’s critical that all rules and regulations passed have teeth, which could include improving the agency’s ability to reprimand a company with monetary penalties.

In addition, Zwiener said she was in support of HB 509 by Rep. Terry Wilson (R-Marble Falls). The bill would create a Texas Railroad Commission umbrella permit for all gravel mining operations in addition to the currently required TCEQ air quality permits.

Zwiener said her constituents who live near these batch plants have expressed concern about the safety of roads, as trucks carrying tens of thousands of pounds of minerals enter and exit the facilities.

“I don’t want to pass judgment on certain companies, but I do want to make sure that the State of Texas has a regulatory framework to ensure that all facilities operate and behave as good neighbors,” Zwiener said. “We don’t want to negatively impact the quality of life of neighboring communities.”

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