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East Travis residents appeal to Commissioners over proposed mine

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

A parade of residents upset about a proposed mining operation east of Austin Bergstrom International Airport came before Travis County Commissioners last week, though the county’s limited authority may stand between them and any remedy.  More than a dozen citizens spoke out against a proposal by mining giant TXI that would place a substantial operation on the 1,973-acre site for the next 15 years.

 

Commissioners were told that staff had three areas of concern to be addressed by TXI before the county would approve the site development permit: water drainage, driveway design and traffic. In a memo to the court, Anna Bowlin, division director in Transportation and Natural Resources, wrote, “Staff is scrutinizing potential transportation, water quality, floodplain and environmental issues that may result as a part of this proposed mining operation.” The proposed sand and gravel mine is located in the eastern portion of the county, within Austin’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction alongside Dunlap Road, south of FM 969.

 

Although Bowlin acknowledged the plight of the residents, her staff’s investigations found that drainage capacity would likely be increased as the runoff would be stored in the depression made by reclamation of the former mine holes. The reclamation process, TXI says, would fill in the used mining areas with dirt and create an opportunity for agriculture or open space. Because material would also be mined, the reclaimed areas would be sunken as well.

 

The residents who showed up to speak to commissioners represented a diverse group of ages and races. A disabled Vietnam Vet spoke of recently buying his first home in the Chaparral neighborhood – which will border the mine. Young mothers with children, retirees, Texas transplants, teachers and civil servants all expressed a wide range of complaints.

 

Primarily, they were upset at the potential plummeting of their homes’ value. They expressed worry about asthma and lung disease due to the mining dust, and safety with the revelation that TXI estimates 710 semi-truck trips down Dunlap per day once the operation was up and running. Others were concerned about a historic home and cemetery that are on the site.

 

Area resident Carla Bright reprimanded commissioners. “If this land were around Westlake and Tarrytown and Lakeway with a whole bunch of lawyers, this wouldn’t even be considered,” she said

 

Because the county had just requested further information from TXI, the court could not take action. However, Judge Sam Biscoe said their decision would be “agonizing” whenever it was made. Texas state law does not allow for a county to make land use decisions based upon incompatible use. 

 

Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis had hosted a community meeting earlier in the year and was unable to find a resolution to the problems associated with the mining operation. Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt told In Fact Daily, “The state has set the balance of power on these permits heavily tilted in favor of industry.” The item is expected back in front of commissioners in a few weeks, perhaps with the additional language recommended by staff.

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