SMITH COUNTY, Texas (KETK) – Flint residents battling against the building of a concrete batch plant in their neighborhoods took their fight to the Smith County Commissioners Court Tuesday.
A capacity crowd packed the courtroom as residents gathered to voice their strong opposition to the construction of the Tycon Ready Mix concrete batch plant near the intersection of Burkett Road (CR 139) and Hunter’s Trail.
Yet while county commissioners and County Judge Nathan Moran were clearly sympathetic to the speakers and their concerns, Moran reminded all that there is little, if anything, Smith County can do once the State of Texas and its agencies get involved.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is a permitting agency, not Smith County. And through pre-emption, state agencies can override any laws or regulations passed by the county, such as regulations that restrict weight loads on county roads.
Tycon released a statement urging its willingness to comply with all environmental regulations with advanced technology.
First and foremost, we want the Flint community to know that we have and will continue to take every measure in order to ensure that we were are compliant with both the county and the state in all matters regarding the plant. The plant itself will be the newest and contain the best technology of any plant in the Tyler area. Our high dollar investment into this technology will allow us to provide our residential, commercial, and state customers with the highest quality concrete in the Tyler area while allowing us to exceed the environmental regulations enforced by the TCEQ.Tycon Ready Mix LLC
Nonetheless, one after another, residents of neighborhoods in the construction zone rose and, sometimes with confidence, sometimes with nervousness mingled with determination, spoke to the court, raising health, safety, and quality of life concerns.
Robert Burkett expressed his concerns that heavy vehicle traffic from the plant would “destroy” Burkett Road.
The permit the company is seeking, Burkett said, would allow Tycon to batch as much as 6,000 cubic yards of concrete a day. Each concrete truck conveying the product “hauls 10 yards,” he said. “That’s 600 trucks a day. Each truck weighs 70,000-75,000 lbs.”
That weight and traffic, Burkett said, doesn’t include the semi-trucks carrying cement, the sand trucks, the gravel trucks.
“Would it be 600 trucks a day?” he asked. “Who knows. But this is what their permit would allow. I would express to you that that much weight on Burkett Road would destroy that road.”
Tycon plans to address each and everyone’s needs in hopes of coming to a consensus of understanding.
Our goal is to address everybody in the community’s concerns and shine light on any misinformation that has been interpreted as fact. We began reaching out to the community last week in order to set up productive conversations to address their concerns. Although these initial conversations seemed promising, we were never given the chance for a discussion. Rep. Matt Schaefer then stepped in and is assisting on this front. We did have a productive conversation with a community leader this last weekend. Rep. Schaefer is assisting in taking this further and setting up a face to face meeting. This meeting will allow us to clear up any misinformation and address each concern the community has. The main problems that will be addressed are the differences of cement plants vs concrete plants and their environmental impacts, how our plant will exceed the requirements laid out for dust suppression, clearing the air on the temporary use of Burkett Road, and our investments in Flint beyond the concrete plant. There are plenty of other topics that will be discussed, as well as common interest in working to a solution with the community.Tycon Ready Mix LLC
Two health professionals who live in neighborhoods in the proposed building zone emphasized health concerns centered around the potential dangers the plant poses to respiratory health.
Dr. Kathy Glem, an emergency medical pharmacist with CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Health System, and Dr. Ronald Masters spoke about what they described as the dangers of particulate matter.
“Particulate matter is a mix of particles or pollution that cannot be seen by the naked eye,” said Glem. “These particles can be made up of dust, metal, soil, organic materials.”
“Dust and particulate matter are created in the transfer of materials, silo filling, mixer loading, cement and aggregate weighing, by material-handling equipment, wind action across stockpiles of materials, dust from paved and unpaved roads,” said Masters.
He cited the numbers for the court: “A 300 cubic yard per hour plant limited to 6,000 yards per day will emit 4 lbs particulate matter per hour in a 24-hour period. That’s 96 lbs per day, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But in the course of a year, that’s 30,000 lbs., assuming the plant operate 312 days in the year. That’s 15 tons of fine particulate matter that would be released into our neighborhoods. If the plant were only to operate 12 hours a day, that’s still almost 8 tons per year.”
That matter, he said, will be stirred by operations, transportation, and the wind.
“It will cover our homes, cars and swimming pools and will fill our lungs with air pollution,” said Masters.
“This plant has the potential to release particulate matter and other pollutants into the air which could include silicate, calcium carbonate, lime or other chemical components associated with the production of concrete,” said homeowner Steve Lange.
Breathing in such particulates day in and day out, all three said, can greatly increase the chances of residents developing asthma, COPD, and cancer.
Several speakers are spoke of the proposed plant’s potential impact on local wildlife and the environment.
The same particulates that residents will be breathing will be falling into local waterways and runoff, said Lange, affecting fish and wildlife.
Frankie Burkett and John Atkinson voiced concerns about what the lights and noise of the plant would do to local bird populations as well as the raccoons, deer, and countless other wildlife that thrives in the construction zone.
“We have owls that you can hear at night, we have hawks that you can see and hear, we have all kinds of birds,” said Atkinson. “All of that is going to go away if you pollute the air. The contaminants will drive them away. The noise is going to be a big factor. That’s going to be night and day. It’s just not good, and an alternate site needs to be considered by the Tycon people.”
Several speakers talked about the impact they fear a concrete batch plant in their neighborhood will have on the quality of life they’ve come to enjoy and their property values.
“This is really a very dense residential area,” said Garrett Boersma. “There are a lot of houses that have been built and a lot of communities that have been built in this immediate proximity. And these homes were built with the understanding that this would be a community that does not have this kind of industrial application in the area. So this is really changing the dynamic of that immediate area. But additionally it’s a high-growth corridor for our county. So this kind of industrial application could adversely affect property values and could adversely affect that future growth.”
“We are worried that the quality of life we invested in when we chose our neighborhoods will betaken away from us,” said Scott Chelette, a resident of Foxwoods and member of the HOA board. “Here’s what we’ve learned about what we can expect if the plant is built. When we talk about our quality of life, I should say that most of us bought our homes because of the quality of life. In our neighborhoods, you can walk around most evenings and all throughout the weekends and you will find kids playing in their yards or out riding their bikes to their friends’ houses. People are jogging, riding with bike clubs. We do annual get-togethers and we talk in our front yards often.
“If Tycon has its way,” he said, “those kids won’t be outside any more and those neighbors won’t be neighborly because no one will want to go outside any more. Why? It’s simple. There will be carcinogenic dust and pollutants flying around in the air, there’s noise that this plant will be emitting so that this quiet neighborhood won’t be quiet any more, and they’ll light up the sky so much that you would almost think you’re standing in Times Square. These plants start (operations) around 1 or 2 a.m. Could you imagine the noise the Tycon plant will make in the still of the night? How’s that gonna affect those kids who are trying to rest up for that important standardized testing or finals the next morning?”
Chelette also brought up the issue of water pressure, a chronically troublesome fact of life in his area.
“Our water pressure in Flint is very weak, especially during the summer when everyone is watering their lawns,” he said. “Right now, it takes forever to fill a bathtub or do even simple tasks. So we don’t even want to think about how Tycon is going to affect our water and that supply.”
Chelette proved he was one more resident who had done his homework.
“At 50 trucks per day, that’s 1,650 gallons that they would use,” he said. “The state average for batch concrete plants is 75 trucks per day, 2500 gallons per day, 49,500 gallons per month.”
Todd Buchanan, president of Forest Glen South HOA, put potential damage in monetary terms.
“A portion of our subdivision is within the 440 yard radius of the proposed concrete batch plant,” he said. “There are 3 HOA subdivisions and approximately 25 homes on Burkett Road between CR 140 and FM 2868. Based on our research there are approximately 240 homes, an average of $300,000 in value, with a total investment of $70 million. These are just the homes on Burkett Road and does not include the other homes and subdivisions in the 1-mile area of impact.”
Buchanan said his research had shown that, should the concrete batch plant be built, homes in the area can lose at least 20-25% of their taxable value. He urged the court to consider the cost to Smith County, the taxing entity, of of the loss of appraised taxable value on $70 million.”
Tycon emphasized on the fact that they have taken every measure and precaution for legal and environmental actions.
We want to emphasize that our company has taken every measure and precaution up to this point and are going beyond what is required to make sure every action we have taken is performed in a legal and compliant fashion. We purchased four-times the amount of land required for our plant, as we are looking to invest into Flint beyond this first plant. There is no desire or intention of de-valuing the surrounding area and negatively impacting the way of life in Flint. Even with the negative attention this has brought to us we still plan on becoming a strong positive force in the community, all that we ask is for the chance to be fairly heard and allowed to prove ourselves.Tycon Ready Mix LLC
After all the residents had spoken, Moran praised them for their passion, their commitment, and their research.
“I want to applaud your efforts,” he said. “This is one of the most well organized and well spoken discussions or debates or defenses of an issue that’s come before this court. And even if we can’t do anything substantively for you today, we wanted to make sure there was a public forum to air the grievances and to make sure that you had an opportunity to have your voices heard in a very public manner. Quite frankly, that’s as important as anything.
“Continue your conversation with your state officials,” he urged. “And I want to echo your concerns. If I lived in your neighborhood, I’d have the exact same concerns and have the same issues.”
Moran then took the opportunity to launch an impassionaed defense of local control, the lack of which he cited as the reason for the commissioners court’s helplessness in the face of the Flint resident’s determination to stop a plant they do not want but which the state may well approve anyway.
“Here’s what I want to touch on as a county judge, because I think this goes to a larger issue, and that is not just the doctrine of pre-emption, but the issue of local control. These days, when you hear somebody wanting to erode local control, either at the state or local control, your radar antennas need togo up and red flags need to go up. Local control matters. It matters. And when the state ties our hands here at the local level and doesn’t allow us to get involved substantively on behalf of you, the citizens that we can hear from and that we see on a day to day basis, that’s problematic. And it happens every time the Legislature meets.
“Every time they meet in Austin, they believe, as well-intentioned as they are, they have better wisdom, more guidance and more appropriate authority to exercise than we do here on the local level. And that simply is not true. It is easier for you to show up in this court and to influence decisions locally and for us to intervene for you locally than it is for you to go all the way down to Austin and to try to talk to some TCEQ commissioner that doesn’t know who you are, doesn’t live down the street from you, and doesn’t really care, honestly, about what you think. But we do here in Smith County.
“So let me urge you, every time the Legislature decides to meet, and every time you hear this issue of local control, you need to say to yourself, ‘I want control to be local. I want control to be with the cities and counties where I know who my city councilman and county commissioner is so that I can get in their ear and they can make a difference for me.’ Because in issues like this and in a myriad of other issues, we have zero authority to intersect on your behalf. And that’s very frustrating to me. It’s frustrating that this issue is so important to you and my hands are tied. And I just want you to know that.”Smith County Judge Nathan Moran