Opponents to a permit for a proposed limestone quarry in Comal County will have a chance to plead their case in March.
A date has been set for a preliminary hearing to a contested case hearing on Vulcan Construction Materials, LLC’s controversial air quality permit for a proposed limestone quarry.
Set for Wednesday, March 6 at 9 a.m. in the main courtroom at the Comal County Courthouse, the preliminary hearing by the State Office of Administrative Hearings will be a chance for people or groups to request to be named an affected party.
An affected party is a person or “persons who have a justiciable interest that is affected by the application and also are different or not in common with those interests of the general public,” said Jon Niermann, chairman of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, during a December meeting by the TCEQ.
Only persons named as affected parties may participate at the upcoming contested case hearing, states the TCEQ notice of hearing.
“To request to be a party, you must attend the preliminary hearing and show you would be affected by the application in a way not common to the general public,” the document states. “Any person may attend the preliminary hearing and request to be a party.”
The following contested case hearing will be a legal proceeding similar to a civil trial in state district court, the TCEQ notice said.
“The hearing will address the disputed issues of fact identified in the TCEQ order concerning this application issued on December 13, 2018,” it reads. “In addition to these issues, the judge may consider additional issues if certain factors are met.”
From the start of the preliminary hearing, an administrative judge will have 180 days to hear evidence on and rule on almost 20 different issues related to the permit application — such as whether emissions from the quarry would harm wildlife and humans, or on the validity of air modeling studies done by Vulcan.
TCEQ has determined Vulcan meets all regulation requirements and has made a preliminary decision to issue the permit, said Vulcan spokesman Scott Burnham.
“The TCEQ Executive Director has prepared a draft permit, which if approved, would establish the conditions under which the facility must operate,” the hearing notice accordingly states. “The Executive Director has made a preliminary decision to issue the permit because it meets all rules and regulations.”
In other words, the only thing standing in the way of the authorization of construction of a portable crushing plant is the contested case hearing. The proposed plant would be located near an intersection of Highway 46 and Farm-to-Market Road 3009 in Bulverde.
On its website, TCEQ stressed that SOAH is a third party and that the contested case hearing is not conducted by the TCEQ.
“(It is conducted) by the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), which was created expressly for that purpose,” TCEQ’s website states.
Sabrina Houser-Amaya, a member of Friends of Dry Comal Creek — a group that has fought the approval of a TCEQ permit for the Vulcan quarry — said the group is hopeful the contested case hearing will prevent the quarry from being built.
“What we’re hoping is it’ll stop it,” Houser-Amaya said. “That we’ve provided enough scientific evidence to say, ‘The information provided on the application is inaccurate, imprecise, lacks credibility, and is going to be very harmful to the quality of life for people around it. That’s our ultimate goal.”
The group still has hope because they were glad to even get a SOAH hearing, and SOAH will be ruling on 19 issues.
“That’s a lot that are going to have to — each one of them will have to be addressed individually,” Houser-Amaya said.
The Friends of Dry Comal Creek’s main concerns center on how the rock crusher would affect quality of life in Comal County, Houser-Amaya said.
“That’s one of the things that is inferred by TCEQ and Vulcan — ‘Oh this stuff settles out 400 yards from the crusher. It’s not going to go past the fence line,’ — which is just a ludicrous assumption and statement,” Houser-Amaya said.
Dust from the rock crusher will adversely affect the quality of the air, Houser-Amaya said.
“So that’s going to affect people’s quality of life, their health, the ability to enjoy their property, because it’s now covered in dust,” she said.
Vulcan spokesman Scott Burnham said since day one, Vulcan has presented a safe and responsible plan that demonstrates it is committed to Comal County.
“We look forward to working with the community and the state on the next steps in the permitting process,” Burnham said.
Vulcan will implement a comprehensive dust control plan, ensure water resources are preserved, and work with TxDOT to make sure traffic entering and exiting the facility flows safely and efficiently, Burnham said.
“These are measures Vulcan has successfully implemented at numerous facilities across the state and country that are located in close proximity to residential neighborhoods, schools, medical facilities, shopping centers, and places of worship,” Burnham said.
The 1,500-acre property is uniquely designed to fit within the existing landscape and topography, and will include more than 600 acres of buffer zones, setbacks and natural landscape, Burnham said.
“Meaning 40 percent of the property will not be mined,” he added.
Houser-Amaya said she hopes to see a big turnout at the preliminary hearing.
“We’ll just see what happens,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can do.”