In the newly redrawn House District 73, the hotly contested primary on the Republican side offers voters three choices. The winner will face Democrat Justin Calhoun in the November general election to determine a replacement for Representative Kyle Biedermann.
We are grateful to all four candidates for taking the time to meet with our organization, answer our questionnaire, and discuss issues of environmental importance in Comal and Hays counties: clean air, water quality and quantity, reforming TCEQ, and common-sense supervision of quarries and other aggregate production operations (APOs).
2022 candidates for Texas State Representative, House District 73: Justin Calhoun, Barron Casteel, George Green, Carrie Isaac. (Courtesy candidate Facebook pages)
During his term as mayor of New Braunfels, attorney Barron Casteel became personally familiar with many of the problems at TCEQ and is ready to tackle them through the ongoing sunset review of TCEQ. He knows Comal County well and is sincerely concerned with the potential for eminent domain abuse should Vulcan Materials attempt to construct a railroad spur running from their proposed quarry to the Union Pacific lines near Interstate 35.
Carrie Isaac, from Dripping Springs, leads a nonprofit focused on assisting veterans. In 2015, she worked with her husband, Jason, during his time as state representative for Hays and Blanco counties, to draft and pass HB 3405, empowering local groundwater conservation districts and increasing protection of the Trinity Aquifer. Ms. Isaac recognizes that standard air permits TCEQ so frequently rubber stamps are wholly inadequate to protect Texans living near these plants.
George Green, former New Braunfels city councilman, is also running.
Both Ms. Isaac and Mr. Casteel, as well as Mr. Calhoun, have made commitments to work with us and other organizations like Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining (TRAM) to draft and support legislation similar to HB 509, HB 2871, and HB 3798, in the hopes of establishing badly needed rules and requirements for out of control (and often out-of-state) quarries and concrete batch plants.
Barron Casteel and Carrie Isaac both carry some baggage in the forms of campaign contributions and industry connections. But both candidates have assured us that preserving our natural resources is a high priority: either would pick up the mantle of Representative Biedermann and work hard to protect Hill Country citizens and our private property from unnecessary and unacceptable industrial pollution.
In the Democrat primary, Justin Calhoun is unopposed and would also be a welcome representative of our concerns and efforts. Not only does he talk the talk, but Mr. Calhoun invests personally in caring for our environment: he took time out of his busy schedule to join our July Adopt-A-Highway event and clean up the roadside adjacent the Vulcan property. Mr. Calhoun, from Comal County, served in the Army, deployed to Afghanistan, and is now a social worker. He shares our concern with the lack of APO oversight by TCEQ and the critical need to protect our precious natural resources such as the Edwards Aquifer.
Early voting begins on February 14 and election day is March 1, 2022. Visit the Comal County Elections webpage or VoteTexas.gov for polling locations and sample ballots. Candidate responses to our questionnaire are listed below.
Preserve Our Hill Country Environment sent a candidate questionnaire to both candidates in January, 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.
Question 1. During the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions, nearly one hundred bills related to quarries, aggregate production operations (APOs), water resources, and TCEQ permitting were introduced. Unfortunately, very few were passed into law. The House Interim Committee on APOs issued a report on the industry in January 2021. Would you author and actively champion legislation identical or substantially similar to HB 509, HB 2871, and/or HB 3798 (86th Texas Legislature)?
Calhoun: YES. The House Interim Committee report makes several recommendation that should be implemented. Placing PM monitors on property lines as a prerequisite to the approval of an air quality permit. Establishing a reclamation plan with an APO stormwater permit to include “Surety Bond” too cover the reclamation cost if the mining project operation ceases. Increased research and impact consideration must be implemented for higher risk environmental areas such as community water reservoir and aquifers.
Green: OTHER. You need a new representative!
Isaac: YES. I have spoken with both Rep. Terry Wilson and Rep. Biedermann, who has endorsed my candidacy, on this issue at length. I believe business and community interests do not have to be mutually exclusive. APOs currently have very little regulation with almost no requirements beyond a standard air quality permit. We must create some sort of regulatory structure around this industry to ensure surrounding private property is protected from harm and nuisance.
Question 2. Does the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have major, systemic problems related to regulation and permitting of APOs such as quarries, concrete batch plants, asphalt plants, and similar facilities? If so, what are the biggest issues, what needs to be done to solve them, and how would you help?
Calhoun: YES. The TCEQ was created to protect our environment they need to be held accountable to that job and empowered to perform it. Their primary objective should be the safety and well being of the citizens they have been charged to serve. As an overseeing authority they should function independently from any influencing group or organization. They should be required to have full transparency of all their personal or organizational self interests. They should have a reporting system of failures and equipped to hold fines or remove permits based on history of violations.
Casteel: YES. The TCEQ is facing the Sunset process and that is a tremendous opportunity to reform the commission and ensure it can better take into account the local stakeholders concerns when making decisions at the state level. This must be done.
Green: OTHER. You need a new representative!
Isaac: YES. From what I understand, with the exception of the TCEQ Air Quality Permit, the standard permit allows an applicant to enter various values into a form and if the resulting numbers are below allowable levels the permit is required to be approved within a month. A permit should have to go through an evaluation and not just serve as a rubber stamp.
Question 3. Vulcan Construction Materials will likely soon submit a Water Pollution Abatement Plan (WPAP) for their proposed 1500-acre quarry in Comal County. Water quality and supply are vital to District 73—both as a foundation for the local tourism industry as well as for human consumption, agriculture, and wildlife. 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, would you be involved and what actions would you take as a state representative?
Calhoun: As a state Representative, I will support legislation that ensures the safety standard is up to par with research and national standards. I will ensure that the WPAP meets the standard for safety in our community. It is crucial that the research is specific to this facility, and the research is accurate and unbiased as possible. Our aquifer is a very sensitive area that should be protected from any risk of pollution. We must balance our industrial development with protecting our environment and community.
Casteel: I would ensure that the thousands of homeowners in the vicinity of the proposed quarry, who would be directly affected by its construction, are fully heard and their concerns are addressed by the Legislature. We cannot allow the folks who are directly affected by projects like this to go unheard. Private property rights must be fully upheld at all costs.
Green: You need a new representative!
Isaac: Water is one of our most precious resources in the Hill Country. When my husband, Jason, served in the Texas House, I was very active with him as he fought to expand a groundwater conservation district (GCD) to ensure all of Hays County was in a GCD which protected surrounding landowners from any commercial wells. The bill, HB3405 to “Save Our Wells”, was opposed by the Speaker of the House and team, as well as some of the largest political donors in the state, but we would not be deterred from doing what was right. The bill became law, without the Governor’s signature, in 2017. I will be a relentless fighter and champion of efforts to protect private property and the environment.
Question 4. 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 has used eminent domain to seize land and easements for their Permian Highway Pipeline. What specific actions 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?
Calhoun: I will protect property owners from unnecessary eminent domain. Unnecessary eminent domain defined as: when there is an existing alternative that does not impose eminent domain. -Ensure all literature for the proposed plan and purchase agreement is written in plain language. -Allow Market value, Broker Price Opinion (BPO) -Ensure that public meetings are held by the provider for all the property owners that will be affected and the surrounding communities. -Property owners should not be required to financially provide legal services to represent their interests during any condemnation proceedings, or to negotiate on their behalf. -Extend representation to Brokers, Appraisers allow self-representation.
Casteel: As I said in my previous answer, I will not support the use of eminent domain by a private company to violate anyone’s private property rights againt their will. That is a violation of due process and the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The will of private property owners must maintain supremacy.
Green: You need a new representative!
Isaac: Private property rights are the foundation of our country. I believe eminent domain must only be used for infrastructure with truly public benefits. I would need more information before commenting on a specific project; however, I am aware eminent domain abuse is becoming more and more prevalent. I would support legislation to clarify when eminent domain is appropriate. I will fight to prevent low initial offers, improve easement terms and require meetings with landowners. Property owners should be notified of their rights with regard to the use of eminent domain and the entity should be required to petition a court of jurisdiction to show public necessity. Taking of property should result in immediate compensation of fair market value to the owner. These issues should be administered by elected officials accountable to voters. The use of eminent domain must exclude the seizure of private property for private economic development or increased tax revenue.
Question 5. The mission of Preserve Our Hill Country Environment is 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. Considering our mission and the interest of our over 5,000 members, followers, and supporters, why do you think you are the best person to represent District 73?
Calhoun: I have lived in this community my whole life and understand how important it is to balance development and the environment. Our district encompasses some of the most remarkable and pristine sites in Texas, and the Edwards Aquifer is the lifeblood of our community. We have seen growth in our community far beyond what was expected. That growth needs infrastructure and development while minimizing the negative impact on our environment in order to sustain the growth we have seen. I will work with my colleagues to support legislation that improves our approach to air and water pollution that will keep the Hill Country a beautiful and safe place to live and visit. I will be the best choice for District 73 because I am passionate about the community I grew up in, and I understand that we can have successful development here while protecting our environment for generations to come.
Casteel: Absolutely. I will always put the will of the property owner over that of the government or private companies. Our individual liberties – especially the protection of private property – must always be upheld.
Green: You need a new representative!
Isaac: As a resident of the Hill Country for 16 years, I too treasure the beauty of our Hill Country and believe we must wisely steward our natural resources. As a longtime community leader and political volunteer, I’m intimately familiar with this issue, especially when it comes to potential threats to our groundwater and air quality, and am ready to hit the ground running on day one to ensure the proper balance between property rights and protecting our environment. My existing relationships with legislators will allow us to be successful in our efforts to protect the hill country. I am not beholden to any special interests, I will be beholden to the constituents I wish to serve.
Map of Texas House District 73 (2022)
Preserve Our Hill Country Environment is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization formed to preserve, protect, and restore the land, water, air, wildlife, unique features, and quality of life in the Texas Hill Country from the aggressive and insufficiently regulated expansion of the aggregate industry.