The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held its third and final public meeting on Sept. 3 regarding an application submitted by Tommy Davis of Slick Machines to operate a rock crusher on Chalk Mountain.
Residents, many sporting white shirts that read “Save Chalk Mountain,” gathered at the Somervell County Expo Center to voice their opposition to the permit’s approval for the third time in less than a year. The first two public meetings were held on Oct. 23, 2008 and March 31, 2009.
Ten residents questioned the TCEQ and Davis. Fourteen residents, including many who participated in the question and answer segment, made formal comments, which will be recorded and responded to by the TCEQ.
The residents opposing the rock crushing permit had two main platforms they voiced during the meeting - the affect the machine will have on their quality of life and the affect it will have on endangered species in the area.
“We value our land, we value our home and we value our quality of living,” Linda Gustafson said. “We like our land and we want to live on our land peacefully.”
The interest of human lives were not the only ones discussed during the comment period. Several spoke up about the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Attwaters Prairie Chicken, which both have habitats near or on Chalk Mountain.
“Fossil Rim marked the beginning of a new era for the Attwaters Prairie Chicken, located 4.9 miles away from dust, blasts and destruction,” Fossil Rim Wildlife Center Executive Director Patrick Condy said. “They are very easily stressed and susceptible to disease.”
The endangered wildlife has been a concern previously with this application, which one resident inquired about. He asked why the meeting between Davis and Hill County Fish and Wildlife was cancelled.
“Hill County and I got together and decided at this point in the process the meeting wasn’t needed yet,” Davis said.
Another resident asked what the outcome would be if the permit application was denied, which produced an answer that surprised the crowd.
“I can crush it, mine it or drill it,” Davis said. “I don’t have to have this (permit) to do what I want to do.”
Mary Best stood and asked what could possibly be done to stop Davis from placing the rock crusher on Chalk Mountain.
“You have this community that does not want this done,” she said. “We feel like this is a nightmare. Here’s us and we are screaming we don’t want this and you (TCEQ) are here with all this ammunition telling us we have to take it.”
Legal representative from the TCEQ Erin Selvera said the commission is ensuring that Davis’ proposal is legal and does not affect public welfare.
“If commissioners find that it is protective of human health and environment then we have to grant the permit,” she said.
The permit, which was submitted on July 25, 2008, was issued a preliminary decision on Dec. 1, 2008.
“The TCEQ executive director has completed the technical review of the application and prepared a draft permit which, if approved, would establish the conditions under which the facility must operate,” the document stated. “The TCEQ executive director made a preliminary decision to issue the permit because it meets all rules and regulations.”
The next step in the permit process will be the Response to Comments period from the TCEQ. Once the comments are completed, they will be mailed to everyone on the mailing list.
After the comments are received, the public has 30 days to file for a contested case hearing. According to the “Public Participation in Environmental Permitting” brochure provided by TCEQ, “a contested case hearing is a legal proceeding similar to a civil trial in state district court.”
“The person requesting a hearing must demonstrate that they are an ‘affected person’ in order to be granted party status,” the brochure states.
Representatives of TCEQ reiterated the same point to residents on Thursday.
“Make your comments as specific to you and your case as you can,” one representative said.
Eli Martinez, from the Office of Public Interest, represents a small group of attorneys who get involved in permit applications once a contested hearing is granted.
“Our office can assist you in understanding what your rights as a party are,” he said. “If a contested hearing is granted it’s a whole new ball game.”
For now, residents are waiting for the responses to their comments and to file for a contested hearing. If a hearing is not granted, the individual who requested it can file for a motion to overturn, which requests commissioners to overturn the executive director’s decision.
For more information, visit www.tceq.state.tx.us.