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Environmental Board postpones vote on private mining road

Friday, September 14, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, the Environmental Board considered a series of variances for TXI mining that would allow that company to construct a haul road through their property. But with questions remaining, the board opted to postpone the case.


The variances are contained in a proposed ordinance that requires review by the Environmental Board and the Zoning and Platting Commission prior to a City Council vote.


The ordinance would solidify a proposed tri-party agreement between TXI, Travis County, and the city of Austin. The agreement would allow TXI to construct an internal road to move materials for processing on its Hornsby Bend East and West properties and Webberville Sand and Gravel Operations. In return, the county would acquire TXI property for open space.


The road, which would include several creek crossings, requires city approval.


“I do want to emphasize that we are here tonight talking about the variances,” said the Watershed Protection Department’s Environmental Officer, Chuck Lesniak. “TXI has their permits from the city and the county to do their mining, and what this does is facilitate getting trucks off the county roads and the county acquiring a significant amount of open space in the Colorado River Corridor.”


Under the agreement, the company would set aside approximately 12 acres as open space.


“In this particular case, in my opinion, there will be significantly less environmental impact by the granting of the variances. They are actually providing for the reduction of the environmental impact,” said Lesniak. “For me, as the environmental officer, that’s the bottom line.”


Lesniak explained that under current permits, TXI could put a large amount of traffic on public roads. With the ordinance, the county would gain green space and the city would gain the authority to impose environmental conditions related to road construction.


“Granting the variances actually mitigates the impact that their permits allow to occur,” said Lesniak.


Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources executive Steve Manilla told the Environmental Board the new road could redirect up to 700 truck trips per day. Manilla also told the board that the county and the city would be monitoring the roads for potential air, groundwater, and noise pollution for the next two years.


Suzanne McEndree of the Del Valle Community Coalition argued that the variances would actually allow TXI to mine because, even with the permits, they still need a way to haul the materials. She said that she was unclear on the relative environmental impacts of different hauling methods and routes.


“I would not want an ordinance passed that would allow them to do things that the law doesn’t allow them to do right now. … It just seems like in every situation our government officials are trying to help the mining company do what they need to do instead of having them follow the actual laws that are in place,” said McEndree. “I know there are very few on mining.”


McEndree told the board that there were mixed feelings in the community about allowing TXI to build an internal road instead of using public roads. Board Member Jennifer Walker said she didn’t really like either option.


The board voted to postpone the case 6-0, with Board Member James Schissler recusing himself. The ordinance will return to the Environmental Board at next week’s meeting.


The board has asked for additional info on the ground, air, and noise monitoring planned by the city and county and for a copy of the agreement between the county and TXI. They also asked for information on comparable ordinances to better understand the process.


“It is legal for them to mine. This ordinance is about how you manage that… We don’t understand clearly what the county’s part is and what the city’s part is, and we need to understand that better so we can do what we need to do,” said Board Chair Mary Gay Maxwell.

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