Mining the Guadalupe River
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guadcutout.jpg
Picture taken at a crossing between Center Point and Comfort shows bank cut for gravel removal.

 

Mining the Guadalupe River

By Carolyn Kahant

Posted 2/11/06

 

     Gravel pits and surface mining, particularly along the Guadalupe River, have become a major topic of controversy, after first being brought into public debate by Geologist/Geophysicist Scott Pope and TaxpayersWatch for Kerr County exactly one year ago.

 

     And rightly so. This is a multi-faceted and growing problem that exists all over Central Texas. It should concern all residents because it impacts our environmental integrity and our treasured Guadalupe River.

 

      The photograph shown above was taken by Pope in early 2005. Bulldozer-type tracks were left, also a scoop nearby, indicating that heavy equipment had been in the area scooping up gravel, which is both damaging to the river and illegal.  

               

     A recent letter by Heidi McCord of Kerrville about the increase in this type of operation along the river between Kerrville and Center Point expresses the sentiments of many.

 

     While there are several commercial mining operations in the area, she believes one of the worst is a long stretch just past the low-water crossing, called Brinks Crossing, on River Road going toward Center Point. It’s operated by Martin Marietta.

 

      Pct. 2 Commissioner Bill Williams, who is up for re-election this year, has placed his political signs all along this Martin Marietta property. At the same time, he is supporting his Center Point constituents who are trying to deny Wheatcraft the rock-crushing permit it is seeking. For the time being, at least, the opposition to Wheatcraft is based on air quality only.

 

     To be fair, no commissioners want to get involved in questioning the rights of the mining companies or private property owners to do as they please on their property. Pct. 3 Commissioner Jonathan Letz has stated “the county has no authority to regulate pits.”

 

     This writer also has no interest in violating legitimate private property rights, but we must remember that no one owns the river. The Guadalupe is a public resource, not a private commodity. This distinction, while seeming to be obvious, needs to be made clear.

 

     Persons or businesses/corporations who owns land adjoining the river do not have (or should not have) any right to dig, scoop, or haul away any part of the riverbank. But who’s to enforce it? 

 

     The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has the responsibility and authority for all environmental issues in the state. But it is limited by its funding and subsequent staff size; right now it is way behind in dealing with all the requests for intervention.

 

     The job of the Upper Guadalupe River Authority (UGRA) is to determine water pollution from actual river samples they analyze. However, the heavy sediment from riverbank mining settles too rapidly for them to get a correct reading from their usual sampling methods.

 

     The crux of the matter seems to be this: Currently all miners are required to obtain a flood plain permit before they begin operations. But there is no such thing as a quarry permit, which could specify what is and is not legal.

 

     Quarry permits would mean more government employees to issue and inspect the sites. This column has spoken against government growth, but with population increases, and the high demand for gravel and other building materials, we cannot continue to look the other way.

 

     If we have a huge economic slow-down in the near future, these particular problems may diminish. But we could be left with an eroded, polluted, disfigured Guadalupe. Can we tolerate that?

 

 

         

 

 

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In same area as above pic, disfigurement and dead cypress trees are result of unregulated mining.

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