NEW BRAUNFELS—On March 6, nearly 200 concerned Comal County citizens filled the courthouse in New Braunfels to capacity. Rebecca Smith, an administrative law judge with The Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) steadfastly listened to a multitude of area residents passionately list personal and medical concerns from possible exposure to and inhalation of microscopic particulate matter generated by limestone quarrying and processing.
Despite Vulcan’s own press release just 24 hours earlier stating that they will be a good neighbor, it was highlighted repeatedly that TCEQ’s draft permitting process and Vulcan’s claims that it will follow the regulations, were not sufficient to ensure citizens’ short- and long-term health and well-being, quality of life, enjoyment of personal property, and minimization of environmental impacts over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, including water sufficiency.
In the initial stages of the preliminary hearing, the judge quickly garnered agreement from all legal representatives that any resident who spoke at the preliminary hearing and lived within a two-mile radius of the rock crusher would be named an affected party.
Those citizens outside the two-mile radius were then asked to verbally attest before the judge their own reasons as to why they too should have affected party status. Citizen after citizen bravely stood up, including physicians, professional engineers, geologists, and many active and retired military service men and women, who sought refuge in Comal County due to clean and abundant water as well as non-polluted air which ensures them an active life-style and enjoyment of outside activities.
One such commenter, Keith Randolph, PhD, a retired military veteran and experimental pathologist, who moved to Comal County just over 18 months ago stated, “Current studies suggest Comal County citizens are already at risk of over-exposure to respirable particulate matter (PM).”
Randolph added, “Currently, exposure of Comal County residents to PM from a proposed industrial limestone processing facility such as the proposed Vulcan rock crusher is estimated by TCEQ based upon mathematical modeling estimates. In Comal County these modeling methods do not take into consideration any actual measurement of PM in the air as currently TCEQ does not have air sampling stations for this purpose in the County. They rely on assumed air modeling estimates.”
Shortly after a break for lunch, Judge Smith announced that those citizens who had earlier testified had merit to be granted affected party status. She furthermore expanded the radius to five miles from the crusher to address citizens’ concerns that the permit application was for a portable crusher for which neither the TCEQ nor Vulcan could guarantee that citizens would be notified publicly of such a move or not be affected by such a move.
The judge granted party status to the following groups: Comal ISD, Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry/Friends of Dry Comal Creek, Harrison Ranch Group, Greater Edwards Aquifer (GEAA), and Smithson Valley Heritage Oaks HOA.
“We are very pleased with the fairness and patience demonstrated by the ALJ today,” stated Sabrina Houser-Amaya. “The next 180 days will go by quickly in terms of identifying and deposing expert witnesses, and other legal activities leading up the contested case hearing, which we expect to occur in mid-June. Once we receive the final timeline we will be posting, as all the persons named affected parties are encouraged to attend the contested case hearing. We will also be hosting a community education meeting so as keep everyone up to speed with our legal efforts,” stated Houser-Amaya.
Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry is a grassroots-driven campaign opposed to Vulcan Material’s proposed 1500-acre open-pit rock quarry in a residential area of central Comal County, between Bulverde, Spring Branch, Garden Ridge, and New Braunfels.