A large crowd of Somervell County residents met at the Somervell County Citizen’s Center Saturday morning to discuss issues surrounding an air quality permit application filed in August.
On Aug. 14, a public notice that ran in the Glen Rose Reporter said Tommy Davis of Slick Machines in Brownwood applied for the permit to move a rock crushing operation to 11209 US Highway 67 in Somervell County. The proposed site is on property owned by Larry Parham and sits right on the Erath-Somervell county line.
Rock from Chalk Mountain would be mined and sold as gravel.
“We as a group are not against rock crushers. We all need gravel. What we’re against is taking gravel from Chalk Mountain,” said Darrell Best, a Somervell County resident and one of the opponents of the facility.
Saturday’s meeting was called in anticipation of a public meeting tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. on Oct. 23 at the Somervell Citizen’s Center. The meeting will give people a chance to question Davis and representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
“We’re all outraged. Between now and the 23rd we need 1,000 phone calls and 1,000 letters to TCEQ,” Best said. “This is a tremendous turnout but we need to have more on the 23rd.”
Joan Taylor, a Preservation board member, pointed out that rock mining has very few industry regulations. She also said the county as a whole has a myriad of historical aspects and suggested designating the land as a historical landmark.
“Every time a rock is crushed we lose fossils and artifacts,” Taylor said. “We have found dinosaur tracks all over the county - I mean how historical can you get?”
Best said the rock crushing operation posses more than just a threat to the landscape. He said the dust produced pollutes the air and water and puts more large trucks on the roads.
Slick Machines already operates at a site in Coleman County, which Best visited. He showed the crowd pictures of dust covered bushes and an armadillo wading through thick dust.
“If we had that much snow on our county roads in the winter, we’d close the schools,” Best said.
Davis has been quoted by some residents as stating that he wants to take the mountain “down.” Best said it should be the rallying cry of the county residents.
Best also said Davis plans to be a “good neighbor,” But Best questions how a good neighbor can scrape 75,000 tons per year from Chalk Mountain.
Chalk Mountain is also home to two birds on the endangered species list. Lee Clauser, an Erath County resident and a wild bird rehabilitator, said the Golden Cheek Warbler and the Black Cap Vireo bird use that area as a nesting site from March until June or July.
The birds are only found in a 33-county area in Texas and are listed on both the federal and state endangered species list.
The Golden Cheek was placed on the endangered species list in 1990 and the Black Cap was listed in 1987.
He noted that attempts to gain access to the property in question to evaluate the extent of the bird’s habitat have been unsuccessful.
“There is no doubt in my mind that they are there,” Clauser said.
Clauser said “birders” spend about $2.9 billion in tourism annually in Texas. He is worried that once the rock blasting starts, the birds will leave the area completely and the county will not only lose the birds, but the tourism dollars as well.
“Birders are peculiar people. I’ve had people come from England just to see these birds,” Clauser said.
Dr. Pat Condy of Fossil Rim addressed the economic impact of the rock crushing operation.
He said tourism has a large footprint and employs a large number of people. Visitors travel through the town to buy gas and food. They might stay the night at a local hotel that employs local residents to cook, clean and care for guests.
The rock mining economy on the other hand has a very narrow footprint and only benefits that company.
“Tourism is a renewable industry. Rock crushing is not,” Condy said.
He also pointed out that the county already has several rock crushing operations.
“Rock crushing is already here and it seems to be expanding,” Condy said. “We’ve got to decide how we feel about it and what we’re going to do.”
“We get the eyesore, we get the expense. They get the revenue,” Best said.
The other side
During a phone interview, Davis said county residents were only being given one side of the story. He maintains that he never said anything about taking down the mountain.
“I’ve never made any comments like that. We have a couple of hypocrites making a big to-do over this,” Davis said.
He said some of the same property owners that are opposing his operation have not been so concerned about the birds or the environment in the past. Davis said the same people opposing him are in negotiations with Barnett Shale, trying to sell mineral rights to natural gas on their property.
“Mr. Parham also has a right to make money on his investment, his minerals,” Davis said.
He also noted that some nearby neighbors have cleared cedar trees to make room to land their airplanes.
“These are the same people that are worried about the bird,” he said. “In what I’ve read, most of those birds live over at Fort Hood and they make all kinds of noise over there.”
John Yearwood is an Erath County resident who owns a house and a ranch on 67 and supports Davis.
“I’ve seen people get railroaded by this ‘not in my backyard syndrome’ that is the absolute taking of private property rights,” Yearwood said.
Davis said he runs a small operation and his work at Chalk Mountain will not be noticeable. Only half an acre a year will be crushed.
“Traffic isn’t going to get any worse because the market has already been set by crushers in the area,” Davis said. “The reason we picked that location is we have no neighbors. No one will even notice for 5-10 years that there’s even a crusher there.”
He said he will do everything he can to comply with TCEQ air quality regulations.
“We will stay 100 percent within the law,” Davis said.
He heard that Best had traveled to the Coleman location to take pictures, but stated no crushing has occurred recently.
“I have not crushed in that location in over 90 days,” Davis said. “I’ve had one neighbor complain one time about dust there. The TCEQ came and checked it out and said it was county road dust.”
Davis said he was looking forward to the Oct. 23 meeting and hopes residents will finally get to hear both sides.
Best urges residents to remember that as much as the landscape and the natural habitats mean to the locals, it doesn’t mean much to the state.
“I bring that up because on the 23rd when we’re in front of the TCEQ, none of that matters. They’re emotional arguments,” Best said. “The permitting process is a state process, not a county process.”
Because of the way the permits are processed and granted, Best said there is a 99 percent chance the residents will lose their battle.
“We only have a one percent chance and I’m probably an optimist. All the rules favor that rock crusher,” Best said. “Our only chance is to make life so painful that they withdraw their application.”
Anyone can contact the TCEQ regarding the air quality permit and request a public hearing. However, only “affected parties” can request a contested hearing. TCEQ defines an affected party as someone who owns a home with a quarter mile of the proposed facility.
State Representative for District 59 Sid Miller (R), who was not able to attend the meeting, has requested a contested hearing before an Administrative Judge in Austin.
“The purpose of the meeting (on Oct. 23) is to identify issues for a contested public hearing in Austin,” said Bob Portman.
Portman added the case will be heard and decided on technical merits only, such as air quality and endangered species.
Erath and Somervell County residents can fax their comments directly to the Chief Clerk at (512) 239-3311 and then mail their comments in to:
Office of the Chief Clerk
MC: 105 TCEQ
PO BOX 13087
Austin, TX 78711-3087
All correspondence should reference air quality permit number 82199L002.
A sample letter can be found at the Fort Worth Autobahn Society Web site, www.fwas.org
The direct phone number for the Chief Clerk office is (512) 239-3300.