• erika vela | pleasanton express A group displays their signs showing their opposition to the sand mine facility planned for the Bruce Road and Old Applewhite Road areas of Atascosa County, as well as part of Bexar County.

Sand Mining of Texas receives permit

“We have organized. We have met. We have opposed. We have testified and we’ve worked non-stop to try and get this facility not to come. But unfortunately, the reality is here.” Bridget Booth Not Just Dust- Bruce Rd. treasurer

The first official public meeting between Preferred Sands and Not Just Dust-Bruce Rd. members brought mixed news for both sides. At the March 23 meeting, Preferred Sands President T.J. Doyle confirmed that Sand Mining of Texas has received their permit-by-rule. However, Doyle also said the company is putting the construction site on hold because they are vigorously studying other opportunities to move the sand mine plant to a different area of their sites. In total, they control 2,500 acres.

Doyle also told the audience that they have temporarily put the sand mine project and construction on hold because they want to continue the dialogue with the audience and understand how the company can minimize the impact.

Approximately 150-200 people attended the public forum at the Poteet VFW Hall.

“Obviously, this is not what we would have chosen to have in our backyards, but it’s here,” said Bridget Booth.

Booth is treasurer of Not Just Dust-Bruce Rd., the non-profit organization formed in January after hearing plans for a frac sand mine facility in the area of Bruce and Old Applewhite Rd. The group invited Preferred Sands to join them for a public meeting, to answer any questions or concerns directly.

Sand Mining of Texas is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Preferred Sands– the entity that would be operating at this facility.

Not Just Dust president Russell Wilson thanked everyone and acknowledged public officials in attendance: Atascosa County Commissioners Eliseo Perez and Bill Torans, Poteet City Council member Estella Rocha, Justice of the Peace Mike Pascarella, the Ata-Bexar Volunteer Fire Department, Noe Rodriguez of the Poteet Police Department and Joe Saucedo with the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office.

“As Russell mentioned, we are a group of local concerned citizens who stand for ensuring our health and safety, a clean environment and maintaining our existing quality of life, as it may be affected by the incoming Sand Mining of Texas processing plant,” said Booth. “As we said before, we are not against the sand industry. We are not against the oil fracking industry. What we are for is the responsible placement of these types of processing facilities, away from populated areas.”

She explained that the group has addressed their major concerns in the form of petitions for “no truck traffic” on county roads, clean and safe water, activity restriction based on flood plain run-off, aquifer protection and attention to safe school bus routes and emergency responders.

Preferred Sands brought a panel of experts (geologists, engineers, etc.) who were situated at informational tables at the meeting. The audience was instructed to visit each table individually to have their questions answered. Some audience members expressed their displeasure at the way the meeting was set up.

When Doyle explained the questions would not be addressed in a Q&A style, one gentleman responded, “I think everyone here would rather just ask a question than go around like a job fair, for lack of a better word. I think there are some hard questions that people have that need answers.”

Wilson asked that everyone be respectful and courteous to the guests and go with the format the company set up to do.

Before the audience members visited the tables, Booth said they asked the company to join them for a meeting, “in an effort to get a clearer understanding of their proposed processing, any potential environmental and health impacts and proposed location.”

Booth also shared how the citizen’s group first organized to try and stop the company from coming at all.

“Many of you were at that initial meeting. That we would do everything in our power to stop them and if that did not work, that we would do our best to try and work with them to make sure our health, safety, environment and quality of life were protected,” said Booth.

She listed many of the ways the group has expressed their opposition to the sand mine.

“We’ve petitioned, close to 300 now. We have written countless letters to government regulatory agencies, senators, Congressmen, elected officials, newspapers, TV stations. We have rallied. We have incorporated. We have organized. We have met. We have opposed. We have testified and we’ve worked non-stop to try and get this facility not to come,” said Booth.

At that point, someone in the audience yelled, “And it ain’t over yet!”

Booth continued, “But unfortunately, the reality is here. We have heard that the one we never wanted but knew was a real possibility when we started, that Sand Mining of Texas has received their Texas Commission on Environmental Quality PBR (permit-by-rule) permit. It has been approved and they are in the process of attaining their water permit from Evergreen, which by the way, we are still opposing.”

Booth noted that while one cannot control what happens to them, they can control their reaction to it. The recent news is an emotional struggle and affects everyone, she said.

“We all live here. We drink the water from here. We breathe the air here. We send our kids to school here. We all grew up or built our homes here and are raising our families here.”

Doyle said the issues that have been brought to their attention so far have been: being able to site the actual plant, truck traffic, dust, water quality, potential sensitivity around the Battle of Medina and any artifacts that may be found on site.

Doyle thanked Wilson, Booth and Not Just Dust vice-president Jessie Hardy for the constructive conversations they have had since they were first introduced in January. He then thanked Atascosa County Judge Bob Hurley and Commissioner Lonnie Gillespie for helping them facilitate those meetings.

“Our intention is to be a good, corporate and responsible neighbor and to eliminate any of the impact. We realize that our operation is going to have an impact on the community. We hope that’s more positive than negative. In the sense that it is negative, we want to eliminate those impacts and those opportunities where we can’t eliminate it, we’d like to minimize those impacts,” said Doyle.

More on Preferred Sands

Preferred Sands shared some background information on the company.

Doyle has been with the company for 17 years and they have been in the frac sand business since 2007. The company owns and operates sand mines throughout the U.S. and a lab in Houston that conducts tests.

The sand mine processing facility will be a surface mine with a washing operation and then a dry plant, where they dry the damp sand and then sift it into its individual grain size, where it will ultimately be siloed. Then it will be loaded out into trucks as finished goods on the way to market, Doyle said.

“I would say it is going to be substantially similar to the processing equipment and the plant structures that exist in the surrounding area,” said Doyle. “Nothing in our site is unique compared to anything of the surrounding operations.”

Fracking and frac sand may carry a negative connotation, said Doyle, but he wanted to emphasize this is a sand mine.

“While the majority of our customers are in the oil and gas business, the sand is the same sand that you use for construction materials and many other uses that sand is utilized for.”

He wanted to clarify that the company does not intend on doing any milling or grinding of the sand.

“When it comes to dust, we are highly regulated and first and foremost concerned with those individuals who are employed at the site who are working within inches of these emission points, let alone the actual plant site itself and outside the boundaries of the facility,” said Doyle.

Regarding water, Doyle wanted to emphasize they are using pre-existing wells to the capacity that they are already capable of.

“We purchased land with these wells on them and within the rights as a landowner. We are not bringing anything special on that front. Any of the mining that is taking place is going to be at a depth that is much higher than we are reaching any water tables or any aquifer levels. There’s going to be a natural barrier, a natural filtration between the bottom of our ponds and the height of the aquifers.”

He said they recycle 90 percent of the water that they utilize, so the water that they draw from the well is really just for topping of the system on an as needed basis.

Regarding artifacts, Doyle said the company has a history of being sensitive to historical value. With this site specifically, they performed a study in advance and dug over 300 holes on the site, to try and find artifacts related to the Battle of Medina and nothing was found.

Doyle said the plant will employ 100 full-time workers and will provide quality wages and benefits. Entry level pay will range from the mid-low teens, all the way up to salaried positions.

Reaction to news

After the meeting, Not Just Dust board member Scott Smoot was asked how he felt upon learning the sand mine had received their permit and that it will be built, despite the group’s efforts.

“It is disheartening because the decisions that I’ve made in order to live where I live are based on future generations and my kids. It is disheartening and disappointing how limited our county officials are in regulating our county roads,” said Smoot.

He also shared that he, too, was upset with the way the meeting was set up and how the company avoided group questions.

EUWCD meeting

The environmental impact study relating to the Sand Mining of Texas operations will be discussed at this Friday’s Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District meeting, which starts at 9 a.m.