Incumbent Donna Eccleston is running for her fourth term as Precinct 1 Comal County Commissioner. Unfortunately, Ms. Eccleston has a history of unresponsiveness when it comes to representing her constituents and Comal County citizens. During her 11 years on Commissioners’ Court, countless emails and calls to her have gone unanswered. While she wrote a letter to TCEQ in 2017 requesting a public meeting and attended one meeting, talk is cheap (and so are letters). When it comes to meaningful actions related to the proposed Vulcan quarry, Ms. Eccleston has done nothing.
2020 General Election candidates for Comal County Commissioner, Precinct 1: Lindsay Poisel (left), Donna Eccleston (center), Ivan Foster (right)
While she says she supports “collaboration with nonprofits,” Ms. Eccleston has repeatedly ignored invitations from our group to meet and discuss the planned 1500-acre open-pit mine and other environmental issues important to Comal County citizens.
On March 22, 2018, in Commissioner’s Court, citizens urged Ms. Eccleston and her fellow commissioners to postpone a vote on a pointless, do-nothing resolution until it could be revised to effectively support area citizens fighting the quarry. Despite having specific actionable tools and examples of other counties who have led the way opposing TCEQ air quality permits, commissioners seemingly ignored their constituents and passed the resolution anyway. By supporting this impotent resolution, Ms. Eccleston continued to side with an out-of-state corporation rather than the citizens she was elected to represent.
(While she did request a public meeting in 2017, Ms. Eccleston and fellow commissioners refused to request a contested case hearing with the county as an affected party. While the difference may seem minimal, there is actually a huge distinction between the two as defined by TCEQ. According to Texas statute, counties do have standing in such matters. Had Comal County requested a contested case hearing, the county would doubtless have been named an affected party, as have other counties in similar cases.)
County Authority & Efforts
During the 2019 legislative session, numerous county judges and commissioners from other counties like Burnet, Kendall, and Victoria made the trip to Austin to support good bills that would protect the health and safety of their citizens—and our state’s natural resources—from unregulated aggregate mining activities. Sadly, Donna Eccleston was not among them. Ms. Eccleston says she supports legislation giving counties more authority, but where was she at the Capitol last year when relevant bills were in committee?
When asked in a recent video interview about preserving open space and setting aside land for county parks, she stated: “We don’t have the resources, particularly with the new changes in the legislature, to assign a lot of that, our budget or whatever, to these types of things because we have to maintain the courts.” Even though other counties have figured out how to both build infrastructure and fund parks and open space, in Comal County, it is apparently an either-or proposition.
Precinct 1 constituents are tired of alternately being ignored and talked down to by their commissioner. We are not asking the county to implement zoning, supersede state authority, or reach beyond the authority granted them by Texas law. We are weary of our county commissioners passing the buck to the legislature and TCEQ.
Lindsay Poisel has met with our group and exchanged meaningful ideas about solutions and tools that other Texas counties have successfully used. She is concerned about preserving our natural resources, holding polluters accountable, and protecting the health and safety of Comal County residents. She believes it is important and necessary to monitor local air quality to maintain the lifestyle we expect, and she supports county-operated air monitors and periodic inspections of aggregate facilities and quarries by the county.
Ms. Poisel’s experience includes overseeing environmental impact reports and identifying mortgage-related fraud. Currently she is employed as an executive recruiter, often working closely with various government agencies such as the SEC, FTC, and Department of Justice.
The third candidate in this race, Ivan Foster, did not respond to our questionnaire or meeting requests. Mr. Foster owns a landscaping company and his primary focus appears to be lowering county taxes “as close to zero as possible.”
Precinct 1 deserves a commissioner who listens to citizens, pursues outside-the-box solutions, and takes appropriate action—not someone who settles for offering excuses why something can’t be done. It’s time for fresh ideas and new blood at Comal County Commissioners’ Court. We support and recommend challenger Lindsay Poisel in Precinct 1.
Early voting begins on October 13 and election day is November 3, 2020. Visit the Comal County Elections webpage for polling locations and sample ballots. Candidate responses to our questionnaire are listed below.
Preserve Our Hill Country Environment sent a candidate questionnaire to all three candidates in August, then followed up with each candidate. Responses from each candidate are shown below verbatim. As per instructions, responses have not been edited for spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors. “No response received” is shown for any candidate who did not reply by the September 23 deadline.
Question 1. Texas counties do not have the same powers as cities when it comes to zoning and certain types of regulation. However, counties do have many tools available to protect the health and safety of their citizens against the well-documented risks of air and water pollution from quarries and other aggregate production operations (APOs). Some of these tools include the ability to participate in contested case hearings as an affected party, issue a county-wide moratorium, form a commission to require TCEQ coordination with local authorities, and create a comprehensive county development plan. These tools have already been and are currently being used by other Texas counties. The aggregate industry and their shell companies now own over 25,000 acres in Comal County: seven percent of the entire county land area. Which of these tools have you used (for challengers, would you use) to support your constituents who are concerned about our natural resources and the health effects of the proposed Vulcan Materials quarry and future aggregate facilities in Comal County? (Selection options: Contested Case Hearing, Moratorium, Commission, Development Plan, Other.)
Poisel: I would like to create a commission that works directly with the State in order to require the TCEQ coordinates with local authorities to place air quality monitors near the site and around the community. The commission would also be responsible for initiating periodic inspections of aggregate facilities by Comal County to supplement the gaps in TCEQ air monitoring. The commission would include environmental experts to protect the health and safety of our citizens.
Eccleston: CONTESTED CASE HEARING. I did request hearings for the citizens on this issue in the summer of 2017 when this first came to my attention, after the land was already sold. Comal County does not qualify as an affected party and has no standing with the State on this issue. I recommended people contact their state representatives directly as did I on your behalf. They are the authority to effect change through the legislature which gives TCEQ its budget and guidelines. We have and will continue to advocate at the legislature. We cannot do moratoriums and a county created commission can never supersede the authority of the State. Counties who have attempted this in the past were rejected. Counties have no zoning powers, so we cannot confine industry to specific areas as can incorporated cities, with one exception – we can and do restrict sexually orientated businesses to keep them away from neighborhoods, schools and churches. We have and will continue to seek conservation easements to preserve open areas when offered. However, property owners cannot be told to whom or when they can sell their property.
Foster: No response received.
Question 2. Vulcan Construction Materials will likely soon submit a Water Pollution Abatement Plan (WPAP) for their proposed 1500-acre quarry in Comal County. In recent years, Texas counties such as Kendall, Kerr, and Burnet have supported their citizens by contesting or opposing TCEQ permits for rock crushers. Water quality and supply are vital to Comal County—both as a foundation for the local tourism industry as well as for human consumption and agriculture. Heavy industrial operations, quarries, and mining directly over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones endanger one of our most precious natural resources—water. When Vulcan submits their WPAP for this facility, how, specifically, will you be involved, and what actions will you take as a Comal County commissioner?
Poisel: If elected, I would also support the citizens of Comal County in contesting and opposing TCEQ permits for rock crushers. Whether this means drafting letters of support or attending TCEQ hearings, I will stand with the citizens of Comal County to ensure our land, air, and water remain safe for our citizens.
Eccleston: There is no question that water quality and supply are vital. We elected our representatives to the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) to ensure the health of that vital resource. Ron Watson from Vintage Oaks is our district representative. The EAA’s mission is to protect the Aquifer and they have the staff and expertise to do the job. I was personally involved in the stakeholders committee that eventually resulted in the long-awaited Comal Trinity Groundwater Control District (CTGCD). This was an important milestone since the Trinity Aquifer underlies the Edwards Aquifer. The EAA and the CTGCD were statutorily created to protect out water sources. I will continue to voice the concerns of our citizens to the TCEQ as I have in the past and seek hearings where appropriate. The TCEQ Chairman directly referenced my concerns during the hearing on the Dry Comal Creek/Meyer Ranch development, for example. My advocacy with the legislature has never stopped on behalf of Precinct 1 and Comal County. When an activity occurs in a county it does not automatically make that county an affected party. The counties referenced above were not affected parties and were rejected. The courts were very clear.
Foster: No response received.
Question 3. Comal County is home to numerous natural features, including many amazing caves and caverns. In 2019, local landowners discovered a brand-new chamber in Double Decker Cave, located less than a mile from the proposed Vulcan quarry site. New passages are being explored in Natural Bridge Caverns, just a few miles south of the planned quarry. Just to the west, Honey Creek Cave is the longest known cave in the state of Texas, currently measuring over 22 miles. Unfortunately, Texas allows quarries, such as the nearly three-mile-long facility proposed by Vulcan Materials, to destroy caves encountered during the blasting and mining processes. The next Natural Bridge could be at risk of destruction—even before it is fully explored. Aquifer recharge features such as sinkholes and caves are also in jeopardy. As a Comal County commissioner, what specific actions have you taken (for challengers, would you take) to identify and protect caverns, caves, and other unique geological formations that are so abundant throughout the county—especially the area in and around the proposed Vulcan quarry?
Poisel: If elected, I would look into different ordinance that could be passed that would keep these beautiful caves and caverns intact. I would also like to work with the state to give counties in Texas more authority over their land and the best use for it. While the county has limited resources at this time, I believe if we work with the state to pass laws allowing more authority at the county level, we will be able to ensure safe air and water quality.
Eccleston: We all agree those are valuable and important treasures in any county or state. The county has no visibility or detailed knowledge of these features on private property, nor do we have any oversight on their use or protection. Any specific efforts to preserve such features are up to the property owners, and any mandates needed to protect such features lies with the state and legislature. Education, conservation easements and help from nonprofits are all important to these efforts. I worked a land donation to establish the Curry Nature Center in Precinct 1. It takes time and effort, and a willing property owner. It’s worth the effort and I will continue to seek to acquire protected land for conservation easements in the county.
Foster: No response received.
Question 4. Texas law (TCAA § 382.111, 382.015) states that counties have the same authority as TCEQ to monitor and inspect air quality and emission violations, including the power to install and operate air quality monitors, and to enter public or private property to determine if permitted plants are exceeding allowed emission levels. Harris County has already done this and operates multiple county-owned air monitors to help protect its citizens. Have you (for challengers, would you) helped protect Comal County citizens by actively supporting the installation and operation of county-owned air quality monitoring equipment and initiating periodic inspections of aggregate facilities by Comal County to supplement the gaps in TCEQ air monitoring and oversight? (Selection options: Yes, No.)
Poisel: YES. I would absolutely help protect Comal County citizens by actively supporting the installation and operation of county-owned air quality monitoring equipment and initiate periodic inspections of aggregate facilities by Comal County to supplement the gaps in TCEQ air monitoring. Living in an area where people enjoy boating, hiking, floating the river, and listening to live music outdoors, it is extremely important and necessary to monitor the air quality of our area to maintain the lifestyle we all moved here to enjoy.
Eccleston: I have stated many times a reasonable requirement from TCEQ is to increase air quality monitors. I have and will continue to request they do so. Comal County has neither the expertise nor the resources to take on this task. It would require a large expansion of taxpayer-funded governmental bureaucracy for our county government to duplicate the State’s responsibilities. The State/TCEQ should be responsible for these measures. Harris County is able to perform this task (unrelated to quarries) because it is a county of over 4 million people with its own science department that receives both state and federal funds for this effort. By comparison, Bexar County’s Environmental Services Dept. does not perform these functions on the many quarries in Bexar County and they have a population over 2 million. Comal County has approximately 160,000 people.
Foster: No response received.
Question 5. Westward Environmental provides consulting services to aggregate companies such as Vulcan. Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association (TACA) is a lobbying group representing Vulcan Construction Materials and other aggregate companies. Did you communicate with or have contact with, or receive campaign contributions from Vulcan, Westward, TACA, or any representatives or their subsidiaries prior to public notice of permit application number 147392L001 in July 2017? (Selection options: Yes, No.)
Poisel: NO. I have not had any communication with TACA prior to public notice of permit application number 147392L001 in July 2017.
Eccleston: NO. I have never taken any contributions from these businesses. I did not know Mr. White had sold his ranch until Vulcan representatives informed me at the courthouse that they had purchased the former White Ranch.
Foster: No response received.
Question 6. Comal County is experiencing rapid growth, much of which is occurring in unincorporated areas. County commissioners have claimed they have insufficient authority when it comes to regulating incompatible land use or protecting citizens against threats to their health and property. What specific actions have you taken (for challengers, would you take) to rectify this lack of authority and foster a reasonable and predictable approach to development that protects all property owners?
Poisel: I realize that the reason most people moved out here is to have more freedom with their land. It is one of the reasons we moved here as well. With that being said, if we would like to continue to enjoy this beautiful hill country, we must work with the state to preserve our community’s beauty. Because the county is limited on their authority, I would begin by reaching out and working with the State Legislation to see what bills we can pass that would allow counties to have more authority when it comes to regulating land use and protecting citizens from threats to their health and property. Once the county has more authority, we can begin to put things in place such as working with experts in regards to air monitoring systems that would monitor air quality and enforce compliance where needed.
Eccleston: Counties only have specific statutory authority. Any changes in authority have to come from the legislature. I have given testimony and continue to advocate with the legislature and the state for necessary tools. We will continue to advocate with our representatives, but it takes every voice. Every county is unique and each need unique tools for their unique situations. Counties generally have rural tools but some, like us are experiencing more urban issues with our rapid growth. For now, we have no zoning power and can only control the location of sexually oriented businesses.
Foster: No response received.
Question 7. Eminent domain has recently been used by a Vulcan subsidiary, Southwest Gulf Railroad, to condemn properties that Medina County landowners refused to sell. Now this Vulcan company has built a nine-mile railway to connect a quarry to the Union Pacific line. In Hill Country counties just to the north, Kinder Morgan is using eminent domain to seize land and easements for their Permian Highway Pipeline. What specific actions have you taken (for challengers, would you take) to help correct the imbalance of power between large corporations and their lobbyists, and regular citizens and landowners when it comes to property rights and eminent domain condemnation?
Poisel: To be honest, I am not sure how to correct the imbalance of power between large corporations and their lobbyists, and regular citizens and landowners when it comes to eminent domain. I can tell you that I will support the landowner’s rights and will fight for what is best for our community. Public hearings need to be held and every landowner’s voice should be heard before authorizing the use of eminent domain.
Eccleston: I am opposed to eminent domain except for express public necessity like a highway or road with high fatalities that needs to be improved, and only after other options have been exhausted.
Foster: No response received.
Comal County precinct map. Click map for more details and voting precinct information.
Preserve Our Hill Country Environment (DBA Friends of Dry Comal Creek, Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry) is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit social advocacy organization formed to preserve, protect, and restore the land, water, air, wildlife, unique features, and quality of life in the Texas Hill Country against the aggressive and insufficiently regulated expansion of the aggregate industry. To learn more, visit www.preserveourhillcountry.org and the Preserve Our Hill Country Environment Facebook page.