Court paves way for quarry on Edwards Aquifer recharge area

In what Comal County environmentalists called a “slap in the face,” a three-judge Third Court of Appeals panel once again paved the way for a 1,500-acre rock quarry project between New Braunfels and Bulverde.

Early last week the panel reversed a decision of the district court to withdraw Vulcan Materials’ Texas Commission on Environmental Quality-approved air permit for its proposed quarry in Comal County, just north of San Antonio, thereby restoring the TCEQ permit and allowing the building materials company based in Alabama to resume its development plans.

environmental groups, including an alliance of citizens of Comal County, Preserve our mountain environmentand the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliancehave been actively fighting the creation of the quarry since 2017, said David Drewa, director of communications for Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry and Preserve Our Hill Country Environment.

“This decision is wrong – and a slap in the face to the thousands of concerned citizens of Comal County who have worked tirelessly over the past five years to protect our families, our natural resources and our beautiful Texas Hill Country from the pollution generated by a corporation out of state,” Drewa said in a news release about the decision.

Vulcan did not respond to a request for comment on the decision at press time.

The TCEQ granted an air permit to Matériaux Vulcan in 2019, for the portable rock crusher in its future career. In an effort to rescind the permit, Friends of Dry Comal Creek and Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry sued TCEQ in 2020.

Last year, lower court judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled in favor of environmental groups, reversing and reversing TCEQ’s approval of the Vulcan air permit.

Vulcan’s proposed surface limestone quarry would span nearly two and a half miles of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, a 1,250 square mile area where highly faulted and fractured allows large amounts of water to flow into the aquifer.

Neighbors have continued to express growing concerns about the development of this area and its contributing areas, fearing it will affect local water quality.

They are also concerned about growing air quality issues in the region. The air license would allow Vulcan’s rock crusher to emit more than 95,000 pounds of particles – including particles dangerous to human health such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, Drewa said – in the air of the Texas Hill Country every year.

Retired Judge J. Woodfin “Woodie” Jones wrote the opinion last week, sitting by assignment. Jones is not one of the six judges currently elected to the Texas Third Court of Appeals.

Jones’ opinion use the term “de minimis” five times, arguing that the expected contamination levels – based on 2017 modeling data submitted by Vulcan – are so low that “no further analysis by the applicant or TCEQ staff is necessary”.

His opinion also noted that if there is a chance that Vulcan’s crystalline silica emissions will exceed established pollution limits, Vulcan does not need to disclose the sample data used to run its air pollution modeling. to the public or to TCEQ. While opponents and the trial court argued that the data samples collected by Vulcan were unreliable, Jones disagreed.

“The possibility that data from other core samples from the Vulcan survey in 2016 may show higher levels of silica content is only speculation,” he said.

Inhalation of very small particles of crystalline silica can cause multiple diseases, including silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Drewa told the San Antonio Report on Monday that the groups felt confident going to the appeals court because they said Gamble’s decision included ample supporting evidence.

The new ruling, he said, sets environmental groups “two steps back”.

“We were very pleased with the district court’s decision, which was quite unprecedented for a judge to rule against TCEQ on an issue like this,” Drewa said. “We are not so happy to [the Appeal’s Court ruling].”

Following the new ruling, environmental groups are weighing future options, including requests for a rehearing and an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, Drewa said.

“It’s not the end of the road for us,” he said.

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