Proposed quarry, asphalt plant meet resistance in Florence

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Florence-area residents largely expressed anger and skepticism over a proposed quarry at a public forum last week. Troy Carter (center) speaking for the company, said that while he could not make any promises, he could assure them that the company was eager to work in conjunction with the community. Residents’ concerns were focused on the plant’s impact to the water table, its potential for fumes, and noise pollution. (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

FLORENCE — More than one hundred Florence-area residents packed into the Salado Creek Saloon on Saturday to voice their grievances against a proposed quarry and asphalt plant.

“I moved out here to the country to enjoy clean air,” said Beth Mann, a local woman of 33 years who suffers respiratory problems after surviving cyanide poisoning. “If there’s no way for your company to control the wind and smell of gasoline, […] who’s going to pay for me to go back on oxygen? Who’s going to give me a million dollars for my 10 acres when I can’t live here?”

The representative for the company, Operations Manager Troy Carter, told her that if she survived cyanide poisoning, the plant should not be a problem.

“No, it won’t,” she interrupted. “I have no immune system. But if you’re not concerned with the health of your fellow men, I can’t support your operation.”

It was one of many tense moments in the meeting, which organizers began by announcing that it was a “session for information, not a court fight and not a brawl.”

Carter stood to address questions and objections concerning the proposed plant, which would be built just east of Florence on FM 487.

“I’m not saying you’re going to be happy we’re coming into town,” Carter told the audience at the beginning, “but we want to put the truth out there.”

One of the most common concerns raised by residents was how the plant would affect Florence’s water table.

Many in the water-stricken area use their own water wells. Recent years, several noted, have required those wells to be dug deeper and deeper.

“Those wells are gonna dry up, I can tell you that right now,” said Randy Isbell, 55, born and raised in the area, and whose father was born and raised there as well. “And when it does, there are a lot of people that can’t afford to drill the new ones.”

Isbell told Carter that if the company’s owner was “truly such a generous man as you say he is,” then he should pay for all the local residents that have to build new wells.

Another woman who said she used to work for Florence ISD said that at one point they did not have enough water to put out a fire at the high school.

Carter said the plant’s water consumption — 4,000 gallons per hour — would not be as much as a housing development, and that 92 percent of its water usage is recycled.

If there was a drought similar to that in 2011 or 2012, Carter said, the plant would shorten its hours of operation.

The plant, which Carter said would employ 12-14 people and operate “an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset,” is set on 850 acres.

Some 578 acres would be wildlife exempt for a period, but Carter cautioned that he could “make no promises” about how long that would remain the case.

Carter continually told the audience that he could not make any promises on behalf of the company, Asphalt Inc., LLC., but emphasized that they were eager to work in conjunction with the community.

Residents also expressed concerns about air quality, noise, and the increased flow of heavy trucks on the roads.

Kambrah Garland, the owner of a vineyard directly adjacent to the proposed quarry site, said dust and soot from the production would ruin their grape harvests and the feasibility of the housing she is developing.

“This is our livelihood we’re talking about,” she said.

Carter throughout the meeting said that the plant’s impact would be “miniscule.”

He said he grew up in Silver Springs, New Mexico, where mining had left “horrible” effects on the land. “But we [the quarry industry] don’t do that anymore,” he said.

He also said that TCEQ standards would be enforced, and that the quarry is relatively small.

Traffic would be limited to certain roads that they would offer to pay, he said. Noise from production would not be a problem, he said, “unless you’re right up on our fence line.”

“I’m right on your fence line,” said Sandy Payne, a local woman who moved to the area two years ago seeking a country living.

“Honestly, you’ll probably be more impacted than anyone,” Carter said.

Contestation against the plant by local landowners is expected to continue, the meeting’s organizers say.

Some attendees are reportedly in the process of hiring an environmental attorney from an Austin-based law firm, Fritz, Byrne, Head & Gilstrap PLLC.

A discussion of the proposed quarry was also slated to be discussed at the Florence City Council’s Tuesday agenda, although the site falls outside city limits.

Asphalt Inc. LLC has filed for a rock and concrete crushing permit from TCEQ. It requires equipment to be placed at least 200 feet from property lines and for production to not exceed 200 tons an hour.

The company has also applied for an air quality permit for the plant. Local residents have until Nov. 28 to file comments with TCEQ.

Waylon@LHIndependent.com

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