It looks like the Chalk Mountain Foundation defied the odds and is well on the way to defeating Tommy Davis' designs to crush up part of Chalk Mountain.
The foundation put forth a solid argument, providing evidence to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that two endangered bird species nest at Chalk Mountain and that the area has a rich archaeological and historical heritage that would be threatened if Davis was allowed to put a rock crusher on the county's highest and arguably most scenic area.
But Davis also proved to be his own worst enemy. His defiant demeanor and refusal to cooperate with directives from the State Office of Administrative Hearings did not help his cause. An administrative law judge hearing the case has recommended that TCEQ commissioners deny Davis' application for an air quality permit to allow his Slick Machines business, based in Brownwood, to bring a rock crushing operation to Chalk Mountain (see related story on the front page).
Davis has had a negative attitude from the beginning of the process when he applied for the permit in 2008. He refused to speak or answer questions at the first hearing in Glen Rose, proferring a spokesperson who did the talking for him. He positively glared at the audience, arms folded, during the proeceeding. He has not spoken to the news media except to tell Fort Worth Weekly writer Jeff Prince that he would “tear down” the mountain.
Last year, after appearing in front of TCEQ commissioners in Austin, Davis strode out of the hearing room and muttered, “To hell with you people” when passing by a group of concerned citizens from Somervell County who made the trip to show their solidarity against Davis' application. I did not hear the comment, but someone there whom I trust did. Davis was visibly frustrated.
Back in Glen Rose for another hearing with Craig R. Bennett, the administrative law judge assigned to the case, Davis again was belligerent and resentful that the state government would deign to regulate his operations. Davis and his fellow crushers hold up the banner of property rights and the 14th Amendment's clause on due process. But by not complying with orders and rules of procedures, Davis has shown his disdain for the entire process and state law.
In a letter to the State Office of Administrative Hearings dated Feb. 1, Davis did not try to disguise his disgust at the SOAH's suggestion that he consult an attorney or an expert to help obtain the permit.
Davis said that alhough the suggestion was appreciated, “it seems quite ironic that someone like an attorney who has absolutely no understanding of the operation of a mine site, or the knowledge of operating a crusher, much less controlling the dust that is emitted from the crusher, is able to help obtain this permit.
“Although it should not be this way, it appears that TCEQ is more concerned with paperwork to obtain the permit than the actual quality of the air that is emitted,” Davis added in his letter.
The only expert Davis trusts is himself. He listed all the mine sites he has successfully operated for customers such as the City of Coleman, Coleman County Precincts 1 to 4, the City of Ballinger, Runnels County, the City of Cross Plains, Comanche County, Cook Canyon Ranch, Galveston County, FEMA, the City of Brownwood, Love's Truck Stop in Hearne and the Corky Underwood lease in Glen Rose, across U.S. Highway 67 from the Parham property site where he wanted to set up the rock crusher.
“Why does TCEQ question me now when this agency has never questioned my mining knowledge in the past?” Davis asked. “This is unfair, prejudiced politics.”
Davis closed the letter with “Sick of TCEQ,” and his signature.
I don't know whether Davis has ever encountered the kind of opposition to a permit application that he encountered in Glen Rose, but he clearly underestimated the resolve of people here against having a big crusher on a place that is much more than a pile of rocks — or a pile of money — to them. Maybe he met his match in Glen Rose.
Darrell Best, president of the Chalk Mountain Foundation, pointed out that Davis' “bad acts” led to some good ones in Glen Rose. The foundation was formed because of Davis' permit application, then evidence was gathered about the endangered species and other supportive materials. So when Lone Star Transmission LLC last year applied for permission to construct 311 miles of transmission lines for electricity across West and Central Texas and one of the proposed routes cut across Chalk Mountain, the foundation had already been formed and was ready to spring into action. In the end, the TCEQ ordered the lines to run through Bosque County.
“We were able to show them it wasn't just a 'not-in-my-backyard' argument,” Best said.
It's too early to proclaim Chalk Mountain saved, though. A surrogate for Davis could try to get authorization to operate on the Parham property using a standard permit that doesn't require public notice. Or perhaps he'll decide that there are other places with limestone — and fewer opponents.
Other challenges to Chalk Mountain no doubt will arise in the future besides rock crushers and power lines. More people likely will want to build homes on Chalk Mountain if they can buy the land. The trick is going to be encouraging what Best calls a “peaceful co-existence” between residents and endangered species.
“But the last thing people want to see is the western part of the county looking like the eastern part,” he told me.
Davis apparently did not understand how strongly those of us who live and work here believe that.