On Tuesday, January 26 Travis County approved a floodplain permit for TXI to locate a gravel mine atop natural beauty and amidst thriving agricultural and residential neighborhoods at Hunter’s Bend along the Colorado River. Under the law and the facts available to us, Travis County could not prevent the TXI mine from happening. But, Travis County can influence how the TXI mine functions.
In urbanized counties like Travis, our State Legislature’s allegiance to the most extreme notions of property rights and its refusal to provide counties with the tools to balance competing property interests creates social problems we will be living with for generations. TXI may be one of those problems.
The only permit that the State requires TXI to obtain from the County is a development permit tied to our floodplain ordinance. TXI’s proposed use meets all the requirements allowed us by the State. Therefore, denying its application would be difficult to defend.
Here is how our influence may be brought to bear. Back in 2005-2006 about a third of what is now the proposed mining site was identified by the Travis County Greenprint as a high priority purchase for parkland. This unique parcel rests at the confluence of Gilleland Creek and the Colorado River. Separate and apart from the TXI permit process, we are seeking to purchase that parcel.
Next, as is our practice, the County has fully utilized its authority to extract and enforce agreements from TXI to make road improvements addressing its impacts on the local transportation system. The floodplain permit is conditioned on satisfactory performance under the roadway agreement.
And finally, the County is pursuing a new strategy of monitoring the effects of TXI’s mining operation on the water quality, water levels, air quality and noise levels experienced by the neighbors with an eye toward legal action should the monitoring effort reveal serious issues.
TXI has stated its intention to responsibly mine, reclaim and support the eventual redevelopment of the land as residential properties, parks and greenbelts. However, TXI confirmed the following in response to questions in Commissioners Court on December 15, 2009:
1) TXI’s Water Plan to reduce dust is optional;
2) Monitoring the mine’s effects on air quality is not required;
3) Monitoring the mine’s effects on groundwater quality or availability is not required;
4) Monitoring the mine’s noise levels is not required except with regard to the safety of its workers;
5) Buffering the neighbors more than the 50 feet required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is optional;
6) Phasing of the mining operation for the benefit of the neighbors is optional;
7) Operating hours are at TXI’s discretion;
8) The duration of the mining activity is dictated by the market; and
9) The State’s standard for reclamation is lax.
Given the latitude afforded TXI in our “property rights” state, I do not believe the mining operation will rise to a higher standard unless our community demands it. In this case, I believe we are in the strongest position to demand that higher standard by working within the admittedly limited authority provided to us under state law and by developing the evidence to fully exercise our prosecutorial authority should it become necessary. Where that authority is lacking, we will prove the inadequacy to the Legislature with hard facts developed through monitoring and continued political engagement on land use policy in our community and in our state.