Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

14 January 2010

New Braunfels Residents fight rock crushing plant

Bucky Smith has fought, and lost, this battle before.

She has owned a home on five acres of brush off Krueger Canyon Road just west of New Braunfels since the late 1950s — property that today backs up to what is now cement giant CeMex’s Balcones Plant.

When her noisy new neighbors first moved next door under a different owner in the late 1970s, the daily blasting of limestone would carpet her home in a layer of dust, with an occasional chunk of fragmented rock sent crashing through her ceiling and into her living room.

“It was just awful, and we tried fighting it, but it didn’t do any good,” she remembered. “It took a long time for us to find out that there’s no recourse if someone really wants to build something like that next to your property.”

Thirty years later, some of her neighbors might be learning the same lesson.

Aggregate Industries, a subsidiary of Swiss-based global cement supplier Holcim, has applied for an air quality permit from the state to allow it to build a rock-crushing plant among the live oaks off Farm-to-Market 482, within a mile of Smith’s home.

And like she did decades ago, her neighbors are doing whatever they can to stop its construction.

A group of citizens from the area petitioned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requesting a hearing to contest the granting of Aggregate’s permit, citing the potential impact from the plant’s emissions on everything from water and air quality to the health of children attending Comal Elementary School.

On Wednesday, TCEQ commissioners ruled that such a hearing should be held to gauge the impact of the plant’s construction on “affected” residents — those, like Smith, who live within one mile of the proposed plant site.

At the request of TCEQ, the hearing will be held by the State Office of Administrative Hearings within the next nine months.

“I think that’s a good thing and I’m glad we’re going to have a hearing,” said State Senator Jeff Wentworth, who also requested the hearing because of the potential adverse affects on the environment and health of local residents.

Ultimately, if Aggregate can prove its emissions won’t have a substantial impact on the environment or residents, a new plant will soon be crushing limestone in western Comal County.

“We’ve got to follow the law, and if they’ve followed the law and can get a permit, they’re going to be entitled to do business in Texas like everybody else,” Wentworth said.

The reason residents can only fight the construction of a new rock-crushing plant or quarry through the state is that county commissioners have little to no authority over land-use — control both Wentworth and Comal County Commissioners have lobbied for for decades.

“I’ve been talking about that for about 25 years,” said Wentworth, a former Bexar County commissioner. “We’ve made some progress, but in relation to not allowing a business, like the one subject to this application, we’ve not given them that kind of authority.”

As such, the only recourse available is to do what Comal residents are doing, asking the state to deny permits.

And while a state hearing now will decide the fate of the proposed plant, Smith said she’s seen it all before, and that her neighbors may as well welcome their new neighbors.

“You can fight like hell, but it won’t do any good,” she said. “I guess it’s one of those necessary evils, you know, for progress.”

Chris Cobb, New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers