As more people come to live in the Lone Star State, the demand for new housing and roads grows. But that, in turn, has created a demand for more raw building materials. Now, unregulated quarries and material-mining operations are cropping up especially in the Texas Hill Country.
“The state only requires a quarry operator to register with the state,” Plohetski says. “There is no thorough application process, no testing.”
He says though the exact number of rock quarries and mining operations in Texas is hard to determine, the number of companies that have registered with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, since 2012 – the first year registration was required – rose to more than 1,000 from just 52 in that first year.
While some vital quarry equipment requires a permit from governmental agencies, Plohetski found holes in the permitting processes. Companies are often allowed to inspect equipment themselves to make sure it’s up to the agency’s standards. For example, companies send their own models of rock crushers to prove the dust particles released by the equipment don’t exceed TCEQ’s threshold in order to be able to grant an air permit.
“In terms of oversight, or lack of oversight, that is one example that critics point to, and neighboring communities point to, as a gap,” Plohetski says.
In Texas, companies are not required by state law to restore the land in any way after they mine, nor are they required to notify nearby communities of their planned activity or maintain any particular distance from a residential community. As a result, some Hill Country residents are speaking up against the mining.
“What we were seeing is really a groundswell from residents in a number of communities in the area who were simply saying, ‘This is too close to us. This industrial zone is right outside our back door,’” Plohetski says. “And so, their position is that the state is simply not doing enough to ensure these operations and these neighborhoods coexist.”
Places like Double Horn and Marble Falls in Burnet County have taken legal measures to limit mining. Double Horn recently incorporated as a city in order to put rock mining restrictions in place. Marble Falls sued TCEQ to bar a new quarry from opening near a hospital.
“It certainly is an example where the desire for preservation, particularly in places like the treasured Texas Hill Country, really is butting up against the need for resources to sustain the growth that Texas is currently having,” Plohetski says.
Written by Savana Dunning.