About a hundred people gathered at the Hill Country Youth Event Center on Thursday evening for a town hall to discuss gravel mining operations along the Guadalupe River.
Two years after a similar event was held in connection with the Martin Marietta mining operation now across from the Kerrville/Kerr County Airport, Thursday’s town hall revealed that, although mining companies are reportedly fulfilling promises and adhering to state laws, neighboring residents are unhappy.
Presentations by representatives from Martin Marietta and Wheatcraft Materials said they were operating within regulations set by the Texas Environmental Quality Commission, but they also wanted to be good members of the community and to work with residents who have concerns.
Amanda Miller with Martin Marietta public relations noted that the company had met conditions set by Kerrville when the site was approved, including no rock crushing, operations limited to daylight hours and paying for turning lanes on Texas 27 at the plant.
“By now, you know us as a good neighbor and business partner in your community,” she said.
Joe Davilla, representing Wheatcraft Materials, said the company is in the final phases of opening a new asphalt plant, which is also following all TEQC regulations.
Shane Hutson of Posada Construction, which is laying a new wastewater line from Center Point to Comfort along Texas 27, also said his company is adhering to state guidelines for the moving and replacement of materials and operations near the river.
Strengthening state regulations regarding mining operations drew applause for the two candidates seeking the District 53 Texas House seat in November.
State Rep. Andrew Murr, who is up for re-election, said he had attempted to get stronger reclamation rules through the legislature, but the bill died in committee. He vowed to keep trying, saying it would be a long process because it faced opposition from lobbyists for the mining industry.
While a bill may start as something the mining industry approves, they fear that it will become something entirely different by the time it goes through the legislative process, so they oppose it from the start, said Murr.
His Democratic opponent, Stephanie Ertel, noted that Texas is the only state that does not give counties zoning powers. She said that having those would give counties more authority in the control of mining operations.
“It’s nice that Martin Marietta wants to be a good neighbor, but its neighbors would be happier if it were somewhere else,” Ertel said.
It was pointed out that, although the county issues flood plain permits, they are primarily meant to protect people from the river, not the river from pollution by industrial activity. Any environmental concerns are the responsibility of the TEQC.
Dr. Leo Tynan, a Fredericksburg physician and past president of the Hill Country Alliance, said the organization was advocating for “a few simple rules” that would give communities more power.
“The counties’ hands are tied by limited authority, and the state-level permitting agencies are limited in the impact they have on the operations they oversee and permit,” Tynan said. “This often leaves communities with limited options in asking new quarry operators for concessions and insuring good neighborly practices.
“We want a Hill Country where all private property rights are respected, and where we are thinking about the long-term character of our region, because once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.”
The latter part of the town hall featured questions from the audience. While some answers appeared to satisfy inquiries, others left questioners shaking their heads.
Smaller breakouts occurred as some participants tried to get their issues settled in one-on-one talks with presenters.