Jessica Hardy shared an update on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s investigations on retention pond spills from local sand mines, Preferred Sands and Martin Marietta, at the Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District Board of Directors meeting on Feb. 28. She and Janice Jones spoke during public comments.
Local residents such as Jones who lives on Mangum Road and Karl Hilberg who resides on Wilkey Road in Poteet reported a retention pond breach from Preferred Sands and Martin Marietta spilled onto their property in mid-October 2018.
Hardy said the investigations were complete, all except for one violation, which was having the sand mine’s retention ponds on Galvan Creek.
“Which means they were impounding waters of the state without the required permit,” said Hardy.
“We also have an agency looking into the possible violation of the Clean Water Act. Other violations they incurred were failure to report the noncompliant issue, failure to prevent the issue, not taking corrective action immediately and not taking samples. In addition to the corrective action, they have been authorized to, the permitee must remediate all the impacted properties that flooded downstream, and that’s for Preferred Sands and Martin Marietta. That’s actually started in the preliminary stages.”
Hardy said the EUWCD was likely to see at least one water permit come through, because it’s going to be too expensive for them to bring in water to refill some of these tanks, and so they are going to have to drill a well for one of the affected individuals.
Hardy added, “What we’ve learned from this is, there were a couple of areas that we didn’t realize that there were big holes that needed to be filled. No samples were taken from this, so the only thing they had to go by whether this is toxic or non-toxic was, the mine had to tell them. They didn’t report it in the beginning. I’m asking for the future, if Evergreen can work with TCEQ in seeing about getting the samples taken and passing them to TCEQ. They are usually two weeks coming out for an investigation. Chris (Mc- Farlane, Assistant Manager of EUWCD) and I spoke hours after this happened, that way at least we have some kind of samples. This could have went into bore holes, wells. I mean, this went for miles and miles. This could have contaminated our groundwater as well. I’m asking for your help in this matter.”
Jones followed, beginning, “You’ve seen me before and I had concerns. I probably sounded a little bit like a big fairy tale, what I said about the evil wizard waving a wand and everything devastated, and then a fairy comes back and makes it alright.”
She had concerns that cases in which the frac sand mine industry was negligent and flagrant in violation in Wisconsin, in which there had been a breach in a berm in floodwaters, would happen here.
Jones read her report from TCEQ, stating on Dec. 4 the investigator visited private property located northwest of the intersection of Mangum Road and Coble Road, to assess the impacted area.
She read, “The property owner described a high volume of orange colored water moving across the property. The sediment laden water remained on the property for weeks back from the initial event.” “
The land had been disturbed and deposit sediment inhibits the use of ponds on the lands which are intended for cattle, said the report.
“In the conclusion, they had the retention pond fail resulted in an unauthorized discharge of sediment waste processed in the water in August and October of 2018. Both times they failed to report it.”
Jones other concern was, when they saw the sand mine plant’s plans, the company said they were not going to use chemicals, and that they would come back and ask for a new permit. Jones said her worst fears came true and Preferred Sands was operating in violation, as they failed to update the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWP3), after the site conditions had changed.
“Modifications to the storm water process water management controls noted during the investigation were not reflected on the SWP3, furthermore they already failed to maintain the required records in the SWP3 according to the Multi-Sector General Permit,” said Jones.
She read additional failures, such as, “After written records request was made, they already failed to make records readily available for review.”
Jones later continued, “After the August retention pond breach, they already failed to adequately evaluate, document and respond to the incident in a manner that might have minimized or prevented the unauthorized discharge that resulted from ineffective controls in October. And then they are cited for six violations to which they paid no financial fines. They have deep pockets, they don’t even have to worry about having deep pockets when they aren’t really held accountable. There has to be remediation.”
At the meeting, Jones said she had not been contacted yet for remediation.
“My other concern is Preferred Sands because of its indebtedness has now reorganized as Signal Peak, so as a new entity, will they have to reapply for water permits, or are they grandfathered in on Preferred Sands because they are really a reorganization of Preferred Sands?”
Jones emphasized the need to protect the recharge zone. She asked the board to consider all the facts when someone applies for a permit, such as the frac sand industry’s use of flocullants for the resin treating of the sand. She thanked them for listening and for what they do.
“I am just glad that I can come here and have a voice,” said Jones.
Karl Hilberg provided a copy of his letter to Preferred Sands, to the Pleasanton Express. It stated “Preferred Sands mine runoff deposited an enormous amount of sediment (clay) on our property and according to TCEQ effluent guidelines, it would make this discharge illegal.”
He was also worried about any short and longterm, potential contamination of two stock ponds, his drinking well, and the groundwater. Hilberg went on to state that on numerous occasions, that the Preferred Sands Operation Manager Nick Hyatt and other company representatives visited the property at their request to look at run-off and after the spill to look at sediment contamination to the property, stock tanks and flow off of the property.
“They made promises to prevent and mitigate issues in future, rocks, berms, etc. and discussed the possibility of removing sediment contamination from fields and cleaning out stock tanks,” stated the letter from Hilberg.
On March 19, Not Just Dust reported three of their members, along with the plant manager from one of the mines went to the residences to assess for the remediation required by TCEQ. Everyone affected by the retention pond breach was visited by the mine. Not Just Dust looks forward to getting these messes cleaned up and for measures to be taken to keep this from happening again.