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Environmental Board gives green light to TXI mining road

Thursday, September 27, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The City of Austin’s Environmental Board has given its blessing to a proposed ordinance that would allow construction of an internal haul road for Texas Industries Inc.’s mining operations in far East Austin.

 

Travis County officials stressed the upsides for TXI’s proposed sand and gravel mining operation, including saving public roads from an estimated 700 truck trips per day.  At the prompting of the board, Tom Weber, environmental quality program manager for Travis County’s Natural Resource and Environmental Quality program, acknowledged that TXI would benefit from the agreement as well.

 

“Let’s face it, there are some advantages for TXI to have the interior haul road. It’s a quicker way to the plant, and they’ve said there is an economic benefit,” said Weber. “The county believes that there is enough public benefit in the agreement for the public-at-large. … From our point of view, the public is probably better off with the agreement than the status quo, which is going back to the roadway agreement and mining as they are permitted to do.”

 

The board attached their own recommendations that would expand county air, water and noise monitoring programs on the site, allow the city to review the native species selected for re-vegetation, and stipulate that mining stopped if the environmental monitoring shows the operation exceeds established acceptable thresholds for air and water quality and noise.

 

Earlier in the discussion, Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols was hesitant to say that impacts to the environment would allow the county to demand a cessation of mining. “That’s where it’s hard to say, because it will depend on the facts,” said Nuckols. “It may depend on that nature of the violation what our remedies are, but at the very least the county can enforce state environmental laws. So one remedy would be we go to court and seek judicial remedies.”

 

The Environmental Board had previously postponed the item, citing a need for more information before they felt comfortable proceeding. After several hours of explanation from city and county officials, they voted 6-0 to approve the ordinance, with Board Member James Schissler recused.

 

Former Travis County Executive Manager of Transportation and Natural Resources Joe Gieselman explained the importance of passing the ordinance, which contains four environmental variances, one site plan expiration variance, and one variance that would roll-back regulations to 2010 standards on two parcels of land that are not currently permitted for mining.

 

“The whole thing is contingent on the variances being granted. We have no agreement if there are no variances. It’s that simple,” said Gieselman.

 

Under the terms of the agreement between Dallas-based TXI, Travis County and the City of Austin, the county will buy 178.6 acres of priority conservation land. Additionally, TXI will donate more than 181 acres of land along Gilleland Creek and the Colorado River. TXI has also agreed to prohibit mining on about 60 acres of its land, creating a buffer for the nearby Chaparral Crossing subdivision. TXI has also agreed to refrain from mining within 1,000 feet of Chaparral Crossing, Austin Colony and Twin Creek subdivisions. All told, TXI says “approximately 715 of our 1,974 acres will not be mined for the project,” which company refers on its website, http://www.txi.com/TXI-hornsby/hornsby-bend, as the Hornsby Bend project.

 

Gieselman explained that the open space acquisition would add to a county vision of a publicly owned greenway along Gilleland Creek and the Colorado River. He explained that plans for the area, including the recently stalled Rio de Vida Municipal Utility District, would hopefully transform the area in the future.

 

“We’d like to see a plan put together where even if there is mining operations, it’s not the end state. Ultimately those will be redeveloped into a community of people living, shopping and working in this area,” Gieselman said.

 

The city’s Environmental Program Manager Chuck Lesniak told the board that staff would recommend City Council approval of the ordinance, calling it a good package.

 

“It reminds me of the approach we’ve done on the Water Treatment Plant, where the staff has been involved in a number of different types of monitoring,” said Board Member Bob Anderson. “I like the idea where a significant land-use change will have an environmental monitoring program that deals with a number of issues that we need to be aware of.”

 

Zoning and Platting will consider the ordinance next, then it heads to City Council on Oct. 11 for approval.

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