Serving Kerr County with a Conscience

The New Martin Marietta Quarry: My View by Mary Matthews

GRAVEL QUARRIES: 11 POINTS

After reading the headline in the Kerrville Daily Times for March 9, 2016, “Martin Marietta: We Will Fight City Control,” and reading about the spectacle of a private corporation standing up in Council Chambers and speaking—with such disrespect, indeed almost contempt—dictating to, and threatening, the Kerrville City Council—I felt compelled to write this editorial.

Members of the Kerrville City Council are the elected representatives of the citizens of Kerrville. They are elected to enact the wishes of their constituency and to do what’s best for the entire city of Kerrville—NOT to support a private industrial development that is, without question, NOT good for the city of Kerrville, its growth, or its residents, including its ETJ. To me, the speech by Martin Marietta’s (MM) Chance Allen at the City Council Meeting on March 8 was insulting, and a challenge: “Who Owns the City of Kerrville and Kerr County—The Citizens, and Their Elected Representatives, or Corporate Bully Martin Marietta?”

Unfortunately, many people have not taken the time to support their City Council representatives, who have vowed to fight MM over the onerous quarry proposal that MM has forced onto the city and homeowners in the ETJ (extra-territorial jurisdiction.) The City is correct in its decision to NOT support MM on its choice of a quarry site. This site is eminently unsuitable for industrial development!

No matter how hard Chance Allen tries to sugarcoat MM’s mining operations, GRAVEL QUARRIES ARE UGLY, COSTLY, AND DEADLY. The only people who benefit from the gravel mining industry are the mining companies and their shareholders and landlords, who become MILLIONAIRES, many times over—AT THE EXPENSE OF THE PUBLIC. Here are 11 reasons why everyone should fight Martin Marietta on this site: Reasons that are based on facts and on actual evidence, from their mining operations currently working east of the City of Kerrville.

  1. Horrorific Guadalupe River Valley and riparian-area destruction, with no legal requirements imposed by the State of Texas to remediate. This wholesale destruction, and then abandonment, hurts the value of all neighboring properties AND hurts the City of Kerrville: The ugliness of gravel mining has a severe negative impact on local tourism dollars. That’s why, although these mines are a necessary evil, in other states they are placed in industrial-zoned areas out of sight of residences. The Guadalupe River Valley is a major natural attraction of Kerrville and Kerr County. Both the City and the County should be jealously guarding its scenic beauty and its environmental health.
  2. Hazards to Health: The dust and dirt produced by this mine will be unbelievable. Residents who listen to Allen’s propaganda about “working with neighbors” are living in a fantasy. NOTHING will stop the dust and dirt from this mine from getting into homes and affecting the breathing of everyone living in them. MM is counting on the fact that residents are too poor and too uneducated to afford legal counsel, when this air pollution kills the elderly and disables the young. And make no mistake: TCEQ does NOTHING to mitigate this baleful haze, just ask those living around the present quarry sites. Better yet, see for yourself—when driving west on Highway 27, travelers can’t miss the huge dust cloud smothering the river valley—it’s from the MM Bedrock Quarry, and other quarries operating here, including Drymala. In fact, Kerr County is Gravel Quarry Heaven—because, in the past, the Kerr County Commissioners Court and the City of Kerrville have done nothing to stop the devastation.
  3. Irresponsible, self-interested control over large sources of water: Quarries waste water; take water that should be shared with other landowners—for life!—divert waters from replenishing the river; pollute rivers and streams with silt and run-off; and sell waters for profit (It is known that MM sold water from its other operations—water taken from private neighboring landowners and Nowlin’s Hollow, a major tributary of the Guadalupe River—to the Kerrville/Kerr County Airport.) Has anyone ever checked on MM’s business activities to see how they have managed their water rights? For their own profit, to be sure, and at the expense of the public, surrounding property owners, and the City of Kerrville’s tax base. Citizens have a voice in water usage because they vote for their City Councilperson, Kerr County Commissioner, and Headwaters and UGRA representatives. But they have no voice in the immense abuse of water by these gravel quarries—all so MM can become even wealthier.
  4. By choosing this site, MM maliciously and purposefully ignores the PROPERTY RIGHTS of all of the people who own homes, and live, around the MM quarry site. MM has NO respect for these people, and for this reason we should have no respect for this company! With the operation of this quarry, it is guaranteed that property values around the site will be ZERO. It is hard to understand politicians who continue to spout the worn-out “property rights” slogan—that only applies to MM--to defend MM. MM is the latecomer to this site; they are not the only entity entitled to “property rights.” What about all of the homes surrounding the site? What about THEIR property rights? The right to enjoy their homes and families, free from a rock crusher in their front yard? Why does Chance Allen keep bringing this subject up? Because he has found that it has hit home with some unthinking leaders, and because NO ONE stands up to defend the private homeowners and THEIR property rights.
  5. Damage to local roads requires continual maintenance, paid by the taxpayer—all to benefit the gravel quarries. What a travesty that on top of everything else, we pay for MM’s roads! Yet NOT ONE PERSON spoke up against MM at the Kerr County Commissioner Court’s hearing on new load limits for Split Rock Road. And there’s more, on the subject of Kerr County Road and Bridge (KCR&B). Clearly, KCR&B, its Director Mr. Charlie Hastings, and its Flood Plain Administrator John Hewitt, all have a giant conflict of interest in any business they transact with MM and the other quarries. Not only is KCR&B the entity that hands out the permits necessary for the mining companies to mine in the floodplains—but it also buys gravel from the very businesses it is supposed to be regulating—the quarries! Seriously, is KCR&B going to jeopardize the deals they make with local quarries for road gravel, just because a gravel quarry destroys a few homes and a few people? All taxpayers should see the excellent, like-new quality of the blacktop road that runs next to MM’s Bedrock Quarry—take a drive down Sutherland Lane—you will see that KCR&B takes very good care of MM’s transportation needs, at taxpayer expense.
  6. It is a well-known fact that quarry trucks are a major cause of highway accidents—just Google it! At the new Split Rock Quarry, semis will be going in and out of the site, onto Highway 27—“24-7.” This is right across from a high school, on a highway MM will be sharing with teens just beginning to drive—teens that are precocious, impatient, impulsive, and dare-devil. Children will be killed, and when that happens, it will be too late to complain. Why is the administration and parents of Our Lady of the Hills High School not attending these meetings, and picketing MM? (See two photos, one of a gravel truck accident on Hwy. 27 just east of the airport, and another showing congestion with trucks pulling in and out of the MM Bedrock facility on Hwy. 27.) How many accidents each year are caused by gravel trucks, in Kerr County? TXDOT has the statistics on this, someone should find the answer.
  7. After the next big flood—when people lose their homes, their property, their pets, and their lives—the flooding will be called “An Act of God.” But God is not responsible for flooding caused when MM and other gravel quarries alter the floodplain, with permits granted by Kerr County! Engineers are not Gods. The streams and tributaries to the river in this area—and they are many—have not even been mapped. FEMA maps along the Guadalupe River are wrong, and the officials know they are wrong; but Kerr County Floodplain Administrator John Hewitt refuses to sensibly ask FEMA for help in remapping, because that would affect the ability of developers to mine and build in the floodplain. Local officials, including the UGRA, have no idea how much water is going into the river from these tributaries, because many of them are flowing underground—the entire area is karst topography, including the Airport. In the next flood, how much water will there be in these streams, and at what point will it reach the river? What effect will these streams have on a rise downstream? Since so little is known about this, it’s simply impossible that John Hewitt can grant permits to MM to completely destroy the natural drainage and the floodplain, and still be confident as to what impact this will have on neighboring land and the river. And don’t let the County say “There is nothing we can do.” The County can regulate gravel mining, in spite of County Attorney Stebbins’ insistence to the contrary. The local government agency AND the community are supposed to decide floodplains, based on history as well as engineering. The City already has zoned out mining within its limits (but not in the ETJ.) The County could deny floodplain permits to mining—but they never do. And remember, “God helps those that help themselves.”
  8. Before MM bought the Bedrock facility, it was locally owned and mined. This local gravel company actually destroyed a registered Kerr County Cemetery, the Moore Cemetery, that was situated in the middle of the Bedrock mine site. In spite of the complaints from family members, written in letters to Commissioner Bill Williams, their pleas were ignored, and THE CEMETERY AND EVERY GRAVE AND GRAVESTONE WERE GROUND UP FOR GRAVEL.
  9. Every day, gravel mines grind up the irreplaceable historic and pale-ontological heritage of Kerr County. This is a remarkable scientific heritage that our children will never see. I know for a fact that MM—in the Bedrock mine east of our ranch—ground up an enormous Columbian mammoth skeleton, with incredible tusks. I know this because a brave MM employee from Center Point went back to the mine after dark and salvaged some of the skeleton and tusk from the mine’s sidewall, and I was given a piece of the tusk for the Naylor Ranch archives. Rumor has it that another Pleistocene megafauna skeleton, a sabertooth cat, probably Smilodon fatalis—was dug up at the Wheatcraft Mine in Center Point. This is one of the most interesting creatures of the Pleistocene, 14,000 years ago, that lived right here in our area, and probably encountered the first humans who entered the river valley. After some research it was found that if there really was a sabertooth cat skeleton, it was extremely rare and valuable—there is not another such skeleton in the entire state of Texas, in spite of the fact that the name Smilodon fatalis and the best examples come from this state! Skeletons that the public can see are in the collections of the La Brea Tar Pits in L.A., the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. How awesome that would be, to have this skeleton displayed at the art center in downtown Kerrville! But the public will never see any of these Paleolithic treasures.
  10. The convenience granted to local contractors to be able to buy gravel, almost in our front yard, does not provide enough public benefit to offset the negatives. What will these contractors do when every gravel site on the river has been destroyed? Why doesn’t the City or the County erect a concrete recycling plant in an outlying, industrial area? A concrete recycling plant would offset starting new gravel pits.
  11. The City of Kerrville has the right to support and protect the city’s interest with planning and zoning that will insure the future economic viability of the Kerrville community. What retiree would want to buy in the City or the County when their investment in their home and land could be undermined, and destroyed, any day, by the placement of a gravel mine—an INDUSTRIAL use—next door? During a drought, when small landowners’ wells go dry, because these gravel quarries are taking the water, what options are open to them? The answer is NONE, unless they can afford an attorney, become annexed by the City, or have the funds to afford to drill deeper (an option that which not too far in the future will not even be available!) Are these same retirees aware that during times of severe drought there is not even enough water to fight fires in certain areas? Realtors who are loathe to support the effort against MM should pay attention to the fact that at the present time, it is not safe to buy any land located on a river or major stream in Texas, due to the dominance of the gravel industry. Luckily for the real estate business, this basic fact is not advertised extensively right now—but with the anger and frustration residents feel over the quarry issue, it could become a major ad campaign.

The above “Gravel Quarries: 11 Points” should bring home that unregulated gravel quarries are a terrible, destructive evil with only one purpose: to make the mining companies rich beyond belief, at everyone else’s expense. Each responsible, conscientious person should do everything they can to see that MM does not win the Split Rock Quarry battle against the City of Kerrville and its ETJ neighbors.

Mary Matthews

“FOR EVIL TO TRIUMPH IT IS SUFFICIENT THAT GOOD MEN DO NOTHING.” Edmund Burke, Political Theorist and Philosopher


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WILL GROWTH AFFECT OUR WATER?

By: Mike Mecke, Kerrville

Natural Resource Manager & Water Specialist – Retired


YES! It seems the destiny of Texas is to grow. We are exploding in population from within, from out-of-state – all together it is a very serious picture. Texas, for the most part, has limited water resources. Much of the growth is occurring along or west of I-35/I-37, which is a region known for frequent and often severe droughts. The semi-arid Central Texas’ Hill Country is where vegetation and climate from the East meets plants and climate from the West and the deserts beyond. And now, where old, largely German or just pioneer-settled towns meets tens of thousands of new comers…… us!

A high percentage of our new Hill Country newcomers came here from wetter regions or out of state. At least, that seems to be true in Kerr, Kendall and Gillespie Counties. Many of our younger or new Texans did not endure the Drought of the Fifties, as many older residents did. That intense seven to ten year drought (depending upon where you lived) was a character builder and a severe trial especially for Texas farmers and ranchers. Some turned to new irrigation afterwards. Many did not make it. You must read our Texas “bible” for those times by the late, great Elmer Kelton “The Time it Never Rained”. Elmer was at his best in that absorbing fifties novel of a family and a boy growing up and existing on a Texas ranch at that time. He makes you feel that hot, dusty drought and see the social conditions - they endure in your mind!

Growth and expanding population, home building and new businesses seem to be the main goals of most city officials, councils and the development community. That viral disease has seized even small town Texas and the Hill Country seems to be a major target area due to its beauty, climate, many rivers, springs and convenient location to major cities. We seem to be in the process of sometimes killing or destroying what we came here to enjoy and appreciate in these quaint small towns with their clear rivers, history and peaceful rural life.

The Hill Country and many areas of Texas cannot handle a lot of growth simply because there are not the water supplies to support higher populations, especially during prolonged, severe drought. Many new residents now want their homes and towns to resemble “back home” with large lush green landscapes, parks and golf courses. Years ago, water was not an issue in most cities and towns. Now it is!

There is little or no understanding of a term that is familiar to ranchers called“carrying capacity”. On a ranch or in a pasture, it means the numbers of animals, including livestock, deer and exotics, which can be maintained without damaging the desired rangeland vegetation. In good years and in drought these numbers will be managed to fit
the conditions. It is always limited by the production of desired forage and by rainfall.

2.
Mecke – Growth & Water


Personally, I think towns, cities, counties and regions also have a sustainable carrying capacity for people. Water is the limiting factor usually. There is a practical and ethical limit to how much water we can beg, borrow, buy or steal from adjoining neighbors without damaging either them or the environment. These issues are now facing Texans from Amarillo to the Rio Grande Valley and from El Paso east to Dallas, San Antonio or Houston.

Many areas of the state are now beginning to realize that our groundwater – aquifers– do not exist on county lines, so geographic groups of counties utilizing the same aquifers are forming Groundwater Management Areas (GMA’s). In Kerr, we are in GMA-9. This is an improvement in groundwater management and protection as people then work together to arrive at plans for water pumping and to derive a view of what they want their aquifer to look like in the distant future……maybe: the same as now, or wells averaging 20 ft. lower, or other standards? It is causing some heartburn for people in neighboring counties or towns with differing goals for their groundwater and their area’s growth. Some of us live in small towns because we like small towns. Others may want unlimited growth or financial rewards and would be happy to see a big city grow up in our Hill Country.

Too much well pumping affects groundwater levels and spring flows. This can be a disaster for our springs, creeks and rivers - especially in a long drought. All Hill Country streams arise from springs. Downstream bays and estuaries would suffer from reduced freshwater flow and nutrients. It is all connected isn’t it?

Excessive growth is becoming more and more important across the state as we continue to grow in often poorly planned or not well organized developments and communities. Get involved locally in water meetings. Texas needs to have smart growth. Water is NOT like any other “commodity” as there is no substitute!

Truly, Water is Life!

Comments

Pardise


As I drive what I refer to as the industrial corridor between Center Point and Kerrville many thoughts spin in my head. As a former teacher, connecting learning to real life made curriculum teachable. Music, news stories, art, etc. were called into action.

Music....Joni Mitchell....”Big Yellow Taxi”....

They took all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot

Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
I don't care about spots on my apples
Leave me the birds and the bees
Please
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot



We bought our “paradise” 5 years ago after the hefty rains---- the grass was green and the tank was full. But no matter the season or condition, it is still our paradise. As such we are working to heal the misuse of said land and use it in a way that adds value to the ecosystems and economy of the Hill Country rather than destroying for economic gain. I marvel that Texas and its rich history does not do more to protect its treasures....God given and man made.

Each time I pass through the industrial corridor I begin to sing “Big Yellow Taxi” and think are lessons never learned.

Jana Colgate

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