Hundreds of Angry Residents attend TCEQ Hearing
Commissioner Garcia offers to buy property
By Gilbert Hoffman
ALDINE – Residents of this community are up in arms over the announcement of another proposed concrete plant within their neighborhood.
A public hearing was held last Thursday evening, at the offices of the East Aldine District, and hundreds of residents, government officials, educators and health professionals turned out to voice their opposition to the proposed plant.
Speaker after speaker told the representatives of TCEQ, the state agency that must approve the application for air quality, that they suffered from asthma and other health conditions caused by eight existing concrete plants within a five mile radius of Aldine.
Many of the speakers pointed out that the site for the concrete plant couldn’t have been a worse choice, since it is next to residential homes, a new all-inclusive county parks for immunocompromised children and adults, and within a close distance to an elementary school, with children walking there every day.
The organized protests actually started the day before, when Precinct 2 organized a press conference at Driver Park, next to the site of the proposed concrete plant.
Speaking at the press conference were government representatives, including Pct. 2 commissioner Adrian Garcia, State Representative Armando Walle, State Senator Carol Alvarado, and County Attorney Christian Menefee. They spoke about what a poor choice this site was for a concrete plant, how many other plants in the area already polluted the air and dirtied or damaged the streets, and how the plant affected the health of residents and park users. This latter fact was reiterated by several health professionals, including Dr. Ericka Brown of Harris County Public Health, Dr. Latrice Babin of Harris County Pollution Control, Dr. Adriana Tamez of the Tejano Center, Leticia Gutierrez of Air Alliance, and many others.
As part of his remarks, Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said, “I care about business, and I want to bring better paying jobs into the precinct. However, this community is already overwhelmed. This is about a broader picture. I understand the need for these facilities to exist, but not next to a school and not next to a park – a park designed with all people of all abilities in mind. I urge the company to withdraw their application.”
State Representative Armando Walle agreed, saying “folks already live, go to school, and play in the parks next door to this proposed facility,” Walle said. “ I am tired of these companies coming into our backyards and throwing up a concrete plant just because it is cheap and easy to do it.”
“No mas! No more! We cannot afford to have another concrete batch plant adding to already high emissions and putting our children, seniors and others at an increased risk of heart and lung disease and premature death,” said State Senator Carol Alvarado, “Our arms are wide open for businesses that provide new jobs, economic investment and a higher quality of life. We want more grocery stores, banks, restaurants, and entertainment venues to keep East Aldine money in East Aldine and to attract visitors from around the Houston area. We don’t businesses that are only interested in lining their pockets at the expense of our community.”
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee expressed concern about how the permitting process works in the State of Texas, saying, “the TCEQ allowing yet another plant to overwhelm this neighborhood is proof that the system is broken. Our state laws and state regulators should have rules that protect the health of our communities, children, and seniors. This should be about protecting people, not profits.”
“As a representative of Harris County Public Health, it is our role to inform and provide policy information to leaders in our community,” said Community Health & Wellness Division Director Dr. Ericka Brown. “Another batch plant would increase the rates of asthma for our elderly and small children. On behalf of the residents of this community, Harris County Public Health stands with these important voices in opposing a batch plant, specifically because it would adversely affect the health outcomes of our community.”
“Concrete batch plants and the amount of pollution produced by these plants are not a new nuisance issue in Harris County,” said Dr. Latrice Babin of Harris County Pollution Control. “By the same token, these plants are not a new issue in communities disproportionately impacted by numerous environmental nuisances. Communities of color are the location of choice for batch plants and other aggregate facilities. This targeted placement creates environmental justice issues that decision-makers and community leaders should address holistically. Harris County Pollution Control is committed to doing our part.”
“Particulate Matter 2.5 emissions from these facilities contribute to negative respiratory, cardiovascular and other health outcomes,” said Leticia Gutierrez of Air Alliance. “Air Alliance Houston stands with the community against yet another concrete batch plant in East Aldine.”
Thursday night’s TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) was scheduled for two hours, but because of the large number of persons that wanted to speak, it continued for over three hours.
The hearing opened with statements from Commissioner Garcia, and State Rep. Armando Walle. After that, the Applicant Mr. Meliton Gomez, owner of Avant Garde Construction, showed slides and spoke about how he planned on operating an environmentally clean and friendly plant.
Among the Best Practices that Gomez promised, included:
–A barrier to control dust, noise, and light suppression around the site.
–Concrete paving of the high-traffic areas on the site, along plant-bunkered aggregate, to minimize potential dust.
–Sloping truck loading and truck washing areas to collect water run-off in basins.
–A sprinkler system and wheel truck wash areas to minimize dust and dirt leaving the site.
–Minimal plant lighting to prevent creation of a visual nuisance at night.
During the rest of the night, Gomez and his son listened and said very little about the public comments.
Walle gave an impassioned talk about growing up in Aldine, and seeing it improve. He mentioned that many organizations had recently built facilities and invested over $100 million, and a plant like this threatened the progress of the area. He said about existing plants, “we have a history with these concrete plants. Dust, noise, particulate matter, 24 hour operation. He closed by asking, with anger in his voice, that TCEQ reject the application, or the operator withdraw his application.
Commissioner Garcia offered to find another use for the property if the owner kept it, but in the formal portion of the hearing he actually offered to purchase the property for the owner’s $700,000 investment. Mr. Meliton Gomez, the owner and applicant, stated “It’s not for Sale.”
Walle pleaded with him, saying “you had a very generous offer from Commissioner Garcia. Take the offer and GET OUT OF HERE.”
Several hours of the hearing were devoted to residents and others placing their opinions on the public record, which will become part of the decision making process of TCEQ, according to the representatives that were present.
Some of the many comments that were made follow:
AISD’s Abel Garza asked why AGCC (Avant Garde Construction Co.) built a 12’ high wall around their site, unless they knew dust blew away. Also, if cleaning the frontage road would impact traffic flow regularly.
Mr. Gomez stated that he expected 30 to 40 trucks daily to use the facility. He only controls them on his property, not on roads. He stated he has no experience operating a concrete batch plant.
Sergio Hernandez pointed out that the plant would be within 1500 feet of Scarborough Elementary, where children walk to school daily, affected by air quality good or bad.
Manuel Ronquillo said, “You come here to cause problems.”
Maria Ronquillo said, “I am 70 years old. I enjoy the park. I walk there every day. I want it to be healthy.”
AISD’s Rose Avalos said the School District works to improve everyone’s health, and “your plant will set us back in healthy environment.”
EAD’s Richard Cantu said that current concrete plants leave cement and gravel on the roads, causing flooding. He said another plant would decrease property values.
Green Forest CC president Ruben Salazar said that the existing plant on Hartwig violates regulations continuously, and enforcement is not effective. He presented a petition against the project, with 400 signatures.
Scarborough Elementary teachers Maria Pellegrini and Sanford Lewis said that students already are present at the school with asthma or sick from polluted water, and they don’t need additional problems.
Pilgrim Place’s Coco Martinez said that her senior citizens use the Driver Park daily, and would be affected by the air quality problems.
GFCC’s Marina Sugg mentioned the seniors and the kids that use the park. She said seniors walk daily in the park, or exercise, and “They are trying to live a few more quality years.”
BakerRipley’s Rocio Witte stated that her job is bringing “healthy life” to Aldine, and she angrily criticized the plant proposal. “Please withdraw your application,” she said.
Rosalva Hernandez said she lives 2 blocks from an existing batch plant, and her family now all have asthma after the plant came.
David Hernandez Jr. said that the Aldine community is coming to life, and told the applicant, “Don’t stop it.” He cited all the rules TCEQ uses to evaluate an application: law, common sense, public participation. His conclusion was the permit should be denied.
Super Neighborhood #46 Lupita Talle said there are too many health hazards associated with the plant proposal.
Randall Macias said that no one cleans up the concrete that spills on local roads.
Courtney Kinder, speaking from her wheelchair, said using the new All-Inclusive Driver Park was crucial to her, and her two special needs children, and would be compromised by the new plant.
Air Alliance’s Leticia Gutierrez said that her group would hold the plant owner accountable for his promises of cleanliness and healthy air. But she said the plant would destroy a beautiful park.
Monica Martinez said she lives next door to the site of the proposed concrete plant, and when Gomez worked on filling low spots in the site, and removing trash, the streets were left dirty and no one cleaned them up.
8 year old Alexander Lopez reached up to the microphone, and said, “I have asthma. I don’t want more.”
Gloria Estella said she lives near and regularly passes an existing concrete plant in Aldine, and the street always has potholes from the heavy trucks, and they often fall into the ditches because the street is too narrow.
Sandra Luna, one of the last speakers, asked, “Are we going to go backwards?”
The TCEQ hearing adjourned at 10:15pm, about 3 hours after it had started. Most participants felt they had the opportunity to speak, but doubted that the TCEQ was very responsive to public opinion, favoring business interests. They said that they had to work within the state legislative rules, and decide only on this compliance.
This left the audience and legislators wondering why the state doesn’t have stronger environmental rules for this typs of plant.