Serving Kerr County with a Conscience

Wheatcraft

Center Point citizens have become aware of another attempt by Wheatcraft gravel mining operations to obtain a permanent rock and cement crushing permit for their HW 27 quarry site. The mining operator originally applied for such a permit in 2006. Indeed the rock crusher construction had begun without a permit but the Wheatcraft owners were forced to dismantle the structure when a knowledgeable neighbor requested a TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) investigation.

During the subsequent permit application process citizens organized into GREAT (Guadalupe River Environmental Action Team) and opposed the approval of the application. Wheatcraft already had the gravel surface mining operation in full production. The mined area along the Guadalupe River banks had become barren with the riparian area stripped of vegetation and only a few cypress trees remaining. The large amount of water being pumped from the Guadalupe for the gravel washing process was evident with a noticeable decrease in flow below the Wheatcraft river pump. Holding ponds required to contain runoff from the gravel washing process were not up to TCEQ standards and required revision.

GREAT members called attention to the health hazards posed by a rock crusher at the Hwy 27 location. Concerns were voiced over airborne particulates posing a health threat to the nearby Center Point school children and the high concentration of frail elderly. Prevailing winds could carry the contaminates several miles from the site.

If granted a cement crushing permit the old cement would be arriving from distant locations with unknown makeup and a high likliehood of toxic material content including silicone, lead, mercury and asbestos. Particulates from these toxic materials could produce an even greater health threat including cancer, skin and lung disease.

Over a period of months GREAT established its tax free status by aligning with the Texas Rivers Protection Association, hired legal council, prepared for the local TCEQ hearing and began maneuvering the legal system. Wheatcraft withdrew their application immediately before a court hearing after errors in their application had been revealed.

In the interim 5 years Wheatcraft has continued the surface mining of the entire highway 27 site with the results visible from Highway 27. Previous farmland, grazing and wildlife areas have been destroyed. There are no plans for restoration. This previously quiet pristine section of the river has been deserted by recreational tourists. Fishermen, floaters and paddlers prefer to avoid the dust, noise and barren riverfront. Wheatcraft has pumped huge amounts of aquifer water for their gravel washing operations in the area of the county at greatest risk for dry wells.

In 2008 Wheatcraft began operating a temporary cement and rock crushing operation. They have now applied to TCEQ for a permanent permit. GREAT members and local citizens met on Nov. 1, 2011 in opposition to Wheatcraft's application for a permanent permit. Concerns were expressed over air quality, river contamination at the site, contaminants settling in surrounding soil and runoff into the river.

The public can comment on the Wheatcraft application and request a local hearing. The communication must arrive at TCEQ before Nov. 17, 2011.

Download your comment form here. Fill it out and send it to the link below.

Below is the link to go online to send in your form:
http://www.tceq.texas.gov/about/comments.html

Below is the link to go online to see the facility site map for Wheatcraft:
http://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/hb610/index.html?lat=29.9436&lng=99.0183&zoom=13&type=r

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A QUARRY NEIGHBOR'S QUANDARY

A Sunday morning drive along Center Point’s River Road ain’t what it used to be.


The drive from east to west still begins beneath the stunningly beautiful canopy of old pecans, oaks, elm and cypress. The undergrowth opens up in a few places to give the driver a few peeks at the Guadalupe River—just teasers leaving you wishing for more. Trouble is, the bigger view opening up on the other side of the road is a quarry neighbor’s nightmare. Thistles, thistles, thistles. Everywhere, musk thistles.

And what have our neighbors, the gravel quarries, done to stop the explosive proliferation of these awful weeds?

Martin Marietta Aggregates has made no attempt to control thistle growth on their property that adjoins River Road and Sutherland Lane. White seeds are drifting in the wind to all parts of the county. And beyond.

Drymala Quarry seems to be mounting a late poisoning of their thistle forest on Sutherland Road. Probably a high-powered chemical since Roundup® won’t kill thistles that are that tall. This quarry neighbor guesses they have a license to purchase those potent, federally regulated chemicals in large quantities, since Drymala obviously used a lot of whatever noxious chemical it is.

Do the quarries’ neighbors have a right to know what chemical compound Drymala has sprayed?

The runoff from whatever they are, those herbicides or herbicide, seeps directly into the river and is undoubtedly detrimental to the downstream neighbors as well as to fish and to river plants.

Could there have been some drift onto neighbor’s property or onto the roadway as they sprayed…?

Let us return to our tour.

Take a turn back onto River Road and you see the backside of Drymala’s quarry.

Oh, no!

While county crews have mowed their side of the fence, the right-of-way, the quarry’s neglect presents a stark contrast.

Musk thistles run amuck on this part of Drymala land.

A monumental travesty will undoubtedly unfold next spring. These thistle seeds are already drifting across River Road. They drift, spreading hundreds of thousands of seeds, each one eager to bloom into a tall stalk of sharp thorns. Thorns that injure livestock and wildlife, while ruining the land, be it recreational, agricultural, or residential.

I see the wedge of ground that has been scrapped and gouged into an ATV-motocross facility. All the vegetation has been removed from the surface, leaving bare dirt. Prime river bottom dirt.

Can a thistle seed ask for more?

I know there is relief ahead. I am almost to TEXAS MONTHLY Magazine’s #3 swimming hole in Texas, the Brinks-Reese-Guadalupe crossing. But there’s no relief for me. This popular recreational spot, a haven for man since the days of the Native Americans, has not been spared. Musk-thistle seeds have made their way to the riverbank.

Thankfully, those weeds have not germinated in huge numbers. Not yet. Were they seeded from the unattended quarry berms a few feet above the river?

A return to Highway 27 is encouraging. Martin Marietta has removed thistles along this heavily traveled roadway. Well, maybe not so encouraging. Neighbors wonder why this international corporation controls the musk thistle at their high profile front fence that runs alongside the highway, but ignores the infestation beyond the view of Highway 27 motorists.

Then there is Wheatcraft, situated on the river bank.

Neighbors suspected the berms along Highway 27 were strategically located to hide the dismal reality inside the pits. These berms have now become a seedbed for the musk thistle. Wheatcraft Materials Incorporated has also made a sloppy attempt at control with herbicides.

Do neighbors have a right to expect more appropriate thistle control, given the high risk of chemicals soaking into the soil, the river’s alluvial system and the main river stream?

Quarry neighbors also suffer from unattended quarry thistles, and nearby farmers and ranchers lose the productivity of their land, since these weeds aren’t suitable as agricultural feed and they are sharp and tall, poising injury to livestock and wildlife.

Removal is impossible with the annual seeding from the quarries as well as the seed bank lying dormant from previous years. Any method of control is labor intensive, time consuming, expensive and frustrating. Neighbors can attempt to pop a few out of the ground but this is impossible when faced with a blooming bumper crop. Do we spray and kill everything in site? Do we mow and destroy the wildflower seed bank forever? Unfortunately, the musk thistle blooms and seeds in sync with our native wildflowers.

The quarries are not operating on this Sunday but thistle seeds are still blowing in the wind, soon to land and germinate.

Wouldn’t it all be better, if gravel quarry owners would simply make concerted efforts to control thistles on their property, before they morph from seeds to weeds?

~Frances Lovett

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