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Council approves variances to permit private road on TXI property

Friday, October 12, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Members of the Austin City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a set of four variances that will allow concrete manufacturer Texas Industries (TXI) to construct a private hauling road on its property in eastern Travis County. The move will let Travis County officials to complete an agreement that governs TXI’s Hornsby Bend East and Hornsby Bend West aggregate mining facilities.


Travis County officials maintain that the deal will allow for better regulation of the mining operation. That idea has met with some resistance from the residents of neighborhoods that surround TXI’s operation. Indeed, in a new development, Del Valle resident Suzanne McEndree told Council members that Title VI-based civil rights complaints had been filed with the federal government over the permitting of TXI’s operation. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.


Council members approved the variances after Assistant Travis County Attorney Tom Nuckols told them that the complaints, in his opinion, lacked a basis in fact. Council Member Bill Spelman summed what appeared to be the prevailing opinion. “Sympathetic as I am with the concerns of the Del Valle community, the marginal effect of building this road is going to be to make the Del Valle community safer rather than less safe,” he said.


The variances were approved by Council members along with three amendments, one of which extended environmental monitoring at the mines to five years from the original two. The variances will allow TXI to construct a private haul road over portions of the Critical Water Quality Zone.


Spelman’s thoughts echo the upshot of what has been a long-running debate at Travis County Commissioners Court. Commissioners approved permits for the Hornsby Bend mines in January 2010 with no small amount of frustration. Indeed, two commissioners voted against the permits despite a lack of county regulatory authority more or less prevented the court from denying TXI’s application. In other words, a refusal from the court would likely have resulted in a lawsuit. (See In Fact Daily, January 27, 2010.)


County officials and TXI representatives have since put together a contract agreement that will, in simple terms, transfer more than 300 acres of open space from the company to county control. The deal also establishes buffers between the mining operations and area neighborhoods, as well as a selection of environmental monitoring efforts that could, if severe pollution is indicated, result in the shuttering of the mines.


On Tuesday, commissioners heard from McEndree that it wasn’t enough. And though McEndree and another TXI neighbor Richard McDonald urged commissioners to do more, the court’s hands appeared tied. Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt went so far as to suggest that, without the deal, county officials “wouldn’t have any regulatory authority.” 


Neighors near the TXI property said they have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Interior. McEndree argued that the county had applied different standards for land use in eastern Travis County than they had in the western portion of the jurisdiction. “If you look at the hazardous uses and the unwanted uses in eastern versus western Travis County, you will find a striking difference,” she said.


Nuckols brushed this aside. “The basis for the allegation that there was discrimination was that there was a belief that somehow, Travis County could have denied these permits – and indeed had denied permits – for development in western Travis County,” he said.


Nuckols reported that the allegations were centered on Travis County’s restriction of development that relies on groundwater in the western portion of its jurisdiction (see In Fact Daily, Feb. 1, 2012). “I think the complainant saw what was happening in western Travis county … and saw what was happening with the mining and somehow saw those as equivalent, and it’s sort of apples and oranges,” he said. “We don’t think there’s a factual basis to support (the complaints).” 


Still, McEndree urged Council members to wait until the resolution of the Title VI complaints. “It’s still open, it’s under investigation, and I just ask that you please postpone any decisions until that’s been closed,” she said.

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