Perry Orders Rock Crusher Study, Fraser to be Named to Special Panel
AUSTIN -- Prompted by a controversial proposed rock crusher and quarry in Burnet County, Governor Rick Perry has issued an executive order creating a special panel to review the state's permitting procedures and regulation of the facilities across Texas.
Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who is expected to be appointed to the 9-member committee, hailed the governor's decision as a major victory for Central Texas, a frequent target of quarry and rock crushing operations because of an abundance of limestone deposits.
"The governor is to be commended for his leadership on this issue," Fraser said. "By calling for a review of the process, it will allow the Legislature to address the larger policy issue of what factors the state should consider in making decisions about permits. "
Fraser's involvement in the issue was triggered by his constituents' concerns over the potential impact to Lake Travis water quality, damage to the aquifer that supplies water to the city of Bertram, and additional truck traffic on a U.S. Highway 281 -- a major north-south reliever route -- if Capitol Aggregates, Ltd., is allowed to operate a quarry and rock crushing operation just south of Burnet.
Under current state law, proposed rock crushing operations need only to demonstrate that air quality in the surrounding area will not be negatively impacted. Fraser said he believes the state should also consider other factors such noise, blasting operations, increased truck traffic on local highways, the impact on water quality and land reclamation.
"It's important for the public to understand that this rock crusher -- which includes extensive blasting as part of the quarrying operation -- could impact two tributaries of Lake Travis," Fraser said. "Honey Creek and Hamilton Creek both run through the tract where the quarry would be located, and thus poses a potential threat to water quality."
The proposed site, Fraser noted, is also located near wells that serve as the sole source of water for the city of Bertram. Because the underlying aquifer is largely undefined and the recharge zone is unclear, quarrying operations could have a devastating effect on the groundwater supply, he said.
"The current process is skewed toward the applicants," Fraser said. "The way the system is rigged, local communities have no recourse until their water supply is polluted or a key highway becomes either a death trap or completely clogged with traffic because of another 250 heavy trucks a day on the road."
The special joint committee will comprise three senators, three members of the Texas House of Representatives and three members of the general public. The governor will appoint all nine members of the committee and designate the chairman.
The committee is charged with considering "all appropriate issues in permitting and regulating rock crushers, including rock crushers operating in association with quarries." It will then submit a report, including recommendations for changes to the permitting laws, to the governor and Legislature no later than December 31, 2004.
While the governor's order stops short of blocking the proposed Capitol Aggregates facility just south of Burnet, Fraser said he believes the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will grant his request for a contested case hearing before deciding whether to issue the permit.
A contested case hearing could extend the time line on a decision for at least a year. Any decision by the TCEQ would then be subject to appeal in state district court.
"The fight over this permit is not finished, but we've reframed the debate on the issue of fairness to the public during the permitting process," Fraser said.
Perry's executive order calling for the review comes in the midst of a year-long battle over a proposed quarry and rock crushing operation that would be located on a 540-acre tract of land along U.S. Highway 281 between Burnet and Marble Falls.
The proposed operation is opposed by hundreds of Burnet County residents, the cities of Marble Falls, Burnet and Bertram, the Burnet County Commissioners Court, the Burnet County Sheriff, local hospitals and numerous local business and industry groups.