Lindale Farms Residents request Contested Case Hearing

We recently wrote about a public protest against the Integrity Ready Mix concrete batch plant in the Lindale Farms community in East Aldine. Air Alliance Houston was contacted by that community last month, and we have been guiding residents through the public participation process. We have helped residents file complaints against the company with Harris County Pollution Control Services and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). We are also helping them challenge a permit renewal application by request a public hearing and a Contested Case Hearing.

Interested parties have until June 6 to make these requests. In addition to dozens of residents, state Representative Armando Walle has made his own request, and Senator Sylvia Garcia is likely to as well. Typically, a request from a local representative would be sufficient for TCEQ to grant a Contested Case Hearing. In this instance, though, TCEQ is claiming the application is a “no-increase renewal” that does not include any additional pollution. They point to a state statute that allows them to deny a Contested Case Hearing request for a no-increase renewal.

There are at least two reasons I believe this is incorrect. First, Integrity Ready Mix is applying for a Standard Permit, which is a generic permit issued for a particular type of facility, in this case a concrete batch plant. Standard Permits are sometimes seen as little more than a paperwork exercise, with the applicant simply checking boxes to prove that they are eligible for the permit. Integrity Ready Mix received its first Standard Permit in 2006. But the standard permit for concrete batch plants was amended in 2012. Changes were made to the Standard Permit, so Integrity Ready Mix isn’t simply renewing a permit on existing terms. We believe this makes the renewal application eligible for a Contested Case Hearing.

Second, Integrity Ready Mix isn’t complying with the conditions in the Standard Permit. Condition (9)(D)(ii) states that: “The owner or operator shall not locate or operate stationary equipment, stockpiles, or vehicles used for the operation of the concrete batch plant (except for incidental traffic and the entrance and exit to the site), within 50 feet from any property line.”

As this and other photos show, Integrity Ready Mix is operating well within this 50 foot setback:

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The fence in the bottom left of this photo is a residential property line. I have personally seen the boundaries of this facility, and spoken to many of its neighbors, and it is not meeting this Standard Permit condition.

I have spoken with a TCEQ attorney about these issues. I pointed out that the situation has drastically changed since this facility received its first permit. It has a new owner who has increased volume, is operating at all hours of the night, isn’t complying with its existing permit, and is ignoring residents pleas for relief. TCEQ opined that the issues I have raised are a matter for enforcement authorities, not permitting. It seems that they may choose to hide behind statutory language and deny the Contested Case Hearing request.

That would be a mistake. The residents of Lindale Farms need every opportunity they can get to clean up this facility. They are already filing complaints and pursuing enforcement at the state and county levels. The permitting process is another opportunity for public input, and they have a right to take advantage of it. My hope is that once TCEQ sees the overwhelming number of residents and elected officials who have requested a Contested Case Hearing, they will make the right decision and grant the hearing.