The contested case hearing on the proposed Comal Vulcan quarry kicked off Monday morning in Austin with opening statements and arguments.
In what many anti-quarry protestors deemed a small victory, administrative law judge Rebecca Smith from the State Office of Administrative Hearings allowed last minute evidence by anti-quarry Harrison Ranch Group to be submitted for review in the hearing.
The hearing, set to run through Wednesday, will determine what action the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should take on the air quality permit application submitted by Vulcan Materials to build a 1,500-acre limestone-mining quarry and rock crushing plant between Bulverde and New Braunfels.
Vulcan was issued a draft permit to build the quarry at the end of 2018. The finality of the permit and construction of the quarry depends on the results of the hearing.
Jeff Ray, a member of the Harrison Ranch Group, said he and other advocates against the quarry felt encouraged by the judge’s allowance to admit the evidence.
“In a draft application permit, what they represented is that the amount of carcinogen type of content like crystalline silicon was only 0.2% in their sample,” Ray said. “The way that the regulations are written is they can drill 100 holes if they want to, yielding thousands of feet of recoverable core sample material — have it all analyzed, and they can pick the lowest percentage on any one sample on any spot on one core sample.”
The evidence, a core sample to determine the amount of crystalline silicon in limestone just 50 feet from the quarry, calls to question the legitimacy of Vulcan’s submitted core sample which had 0.2% of crystalline silicon present, Ray said.
“Vulcan should not be allowed to cherry pick the data and testimony they present to TCEQ,” said a statement from anti-quarry group Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry and Friends of Dry Comal Creek. “The facility could cause irreparable harm to the health and property of over 12,000 residents living nearby.”
The reason for the last-minute nature of the evidence was the group had to wait on professional analysis on the core sample.
“Our attorney presented to the judge (Thursday), said, ‘We’ve got evidence,’ — we literally got this back (Wednesday),” Ray said.
Ray said he and other advocates against the quarry felt encouraged by the judge’s allowance to admit the evidence.
“We’re excited about it, we are encouraged the judge and officials were encouraged, they allowed us to admit evidence,” Ray said.
In opening arguments, David Frederick, the attorney representing anti-quarry groups, said much of Vulcan’s defense would be that they’ve followed TCEQ practices.
“With the lack of information … increased monitoring is a fair and reasonable demand,” Frederick said.
Representing Vulcan, Derek Seal of the Winstead Law Firm, said Vulcan has gone above and beyond TCEQ requirements and looks forward to working with Comal County.
“Vulcan appreciates your consideration of this permit application,” Seal said.
Other arguments throughout the day touched on how air quality modeling had been calculated, how it will be monitored and what factors are considered when modeling and monitoring it.
A final decision on the permit does not have to be issued until Sept. 3. Both sides will have written closing arguments and will have a chance to respond to the other side’s written closing arguments.