TCEQ hearing draws big crowd for sand plant issue

As part of the formal process of an attempt by a new sand mining company to open a new sand plant in McCulloch County, a public hearing on issues concerning the issuance of an air quality permit was hosted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Tuesday night at the Ed Davenport Civic Center. The meeting spawned from written objections by neighboring landowners to the issuance of the permit following public notification that the permit had been requested. Officials from both the state and regional TCEQ offices hosted the meeting which was designed in three stages. The first portion of the meeting was a presentation by members of Proppant Specialists, the applicants for the TCEQ permit. Following their presentation was an informal question and answer session for members of the audience to voice their concerns about the plant to the audience and TCEQ. The final portion of the two-hour meeting was deemed as a formal record submitted to the TCEQ on which the basis of a subsequent contested hearing about the issuance of the air quality permit will be based. The well-attended meeting which had an estimated 125 members of the audience, followed a format that required each person to address the panel and state their name and questions into a microphone to permit all questions and answers to be recorded. Proppant Specialists representatives Ron Jordan, Vic Kastner and Marty Benson introduced the company’s plans and explained a basic outline for the proposed new facility. The company already has one plant in operation which is located in Perryville, Mo. and has been in operation since November 2006. In his presentation to the audience, Benson explained the type of facility Proppant is expecting to build and gave photo examples of their Missouri plant as visual aid of the type of plant that they plan to construct in Voca. In his presentation, Benson also summarized the location and planned methods of creating and operating the mine. Besides the actual types of equipment that will be used at the mine, the details included a proposed payroll that consists of 25-35 hourly employees, up to six salaried employees and an estimated annual addition to the county tax revenue of approximately $350,000. After the presentation, the floor was opened to the audience for questions and comments and numerous individuals asked detailed questions of both Proppant Specialists and TCEQ looking for detailed information about a variety of topics. ‘We are here tonight to talk specifically about the emission sources on the property that have the potential to go off the property,’ stated the TCEQ moderator. Harold Yates, president of the San Saba Property Owners Association, spoke first and inquired about who was representing the group known as Tri- County Landowners representing San Saba, McCulloch and Mason Counties. He also stated that his concern focused mainly on the possible impact the plant would have on San Saba County. In limiting the discussion to air quality impact, Jordan said there was no impact expected from the plant on San Saba County. Several concerned citizens took to the microphone next and voiced concerns toward TCEQ with issues of the permit application and also what measures TCEQ had used to model and evaluate the environmental impact the plant would have on the air quality in the area. TCEQ representative Mike Gould responded to many of the questions concerning modeling and did his best to explain what exact methods were used in determining the viability of the permit request. In addition to his explanations about what specific models were used, he also introduced Shelly Stratton, a TCEQ professional who was specifically responsible for scientifically reviewing the permit application and full air dispersion modeling reports. Barry Carter, posed the question to TCEQ about the cumulative effects on the environment of having several mining operations in the area and asked when a critical point reached and where the line is drawn as to the number of mining operations allowed to operate in one particular area. In his response, Gould stated that government and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations governing airborne particulate matter do not indicate that McCulloch County has any problems with industry emissions. He further stated that areas with significantly higher concentrations of industry, such as Harris County, do not have emission issues and that the levels created by local sand plants would not boost emission levels past allowable levels. ‘How many silica plants are there in those counties’ responded Carter. Other questions posed to Proppant representatives asked if the company had ever been fined by an environmental agency for violations to which the answer of ‘none’ was given. John Harkey, a landowner with property adjacent to the proposed plant site, addressed the Proppant representatives with a variety of questions ranging from construction already underway to how the company was going to be monitored for its emissions. ‘Emissions from the stack are minimal and those areas around the plant will be monitored,’ stated Jordan. In response to several questions about how the air quality surrounding the plant and the immediate vicinity would be monitored, TCEQ representatives stated that no actual monitors are used to evaluate air quality levels. They also indicated that the company is required to keep detailed records of compliance with a variety of state and federal emission standards and those records are used by TCEQ officials during site inspections to ensure air quality levels are being maintained. Voca resident Scotty Durst expressed some concern about the air quality and asked what guarantees TCEQ could give he and his family that they would not be adversely affected by the air emissions from the plant. If there are issues that come up in the future, that is what the formal complaint process is specifically designed for with TCEQ. In further discussing the regulation of the total number of mining operations in the area, Gould stated that EPA considers annual emissions of 250 tons of particulate matter as a ‘major source’ for environmental regulations. According to Gould, sand plants individually only put out an estimated 10 tons of emissions. Gould also stated that as a county, with the sand plants already in operation and accounting for one more, the critical levels are not close to the 250 ton annual emission. Two other citizens voiced concern about how the viability of the claims that the proposed plant would eliminate 99 percent of the dust from its scrubbers and whether or not manufacturer claims of dust reduction were able to be confirmed. After all other comments were presented, the group reconvened in a formal statement hearing that posted comments directly into record that will determine whether or not a contested hearing will be required. John Harkey Jr. spoke first and read a list of concerns dealing with the application for the air quality permit. He then introduced John Vay, an environmental attorney from Austin who detailed a considerable list of concerns pertaining to a variety of issues ranging from proper public notification to sufficient procedures outlined in the permit request. Vay was followed by several individuals who spoke in favor of TCEQ passing the permit. Those individuals included Brendan Weatherman speaking on behalf of the Brady/McCulloch County Chamber of Commerce, Tom Sammons on behalf of the McCulloch County Industrial Foundation, Danny Neal as a representative of the Brady Economic Development Corporation and Charlotte Harper, a private citizen with a history of employment in the oil and gas industry. The meeting concluded when all official comments had been stated or submitted in writing and the meeting formally adjourned at 9:15 p.m. Additional public comment, either for or against the air quality permit can be formally submitted to TCEQ until the deadline of Sept. 28. After that deadline has passed, the agency will determine if a formal contested hearing will be held which will determine the next phase of the application approval.

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