By now, most of you have heard about the new industrial sand mine proposed for Mason County. The mine, owned by Proppant Specialist, LLC, will be located between Camp Air/Peters Prairie and Katemcy in the northern part of the county. Yes, the mining site is “in the country” and located in an area that for decades has historically been only used for farming and ranching. Agricultural land lost to industrial sand mining operations may be lost forever. The area is not a heavily populated community, but it is one of numerous small communities located through out the county that are populated by folks who are your neighbors. The neighbors of the community are concerned about their health, air, water, land, highways, the health of their livestock, wildlife and their quality of life and how the sand mine operation may affect those concerns.As in all things, there are several sides to the story. Everyone generally favors new business ideas as long as they are not detrimental. More jobs are mostly beneficial to the local economy as long as those jobs are not potentially unsafe or unhealthy. If new businesses to the area want to become part of the community, they should contact the community and communicate what they want to do and how they can get community support — prior to buying up property and creating bad feelings. The attitude of “I have lots of money and I will do what I want to do!” does not float many boats.In Texas, mining operations such as uranium, coal or lignite plants are closely regulated to protect against pollution of the surface and ground water, air or environment by various regulations monitored and enforced by state agencies such as the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC), the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), etc. Apparently, sand mining operations are not strictly regulated, as they only have to obtain a permit to use water and a permit for air quality. Minimal monitoring by the Hickory UWCD and the TCEQ appear to be the only regulations. Investigation and enforcement of violations appears to depend on documentation, complaints and reporting by the public or employees. Proppant Specialists, LLC claims that they will be good neighbors and historically appear to have been in other plant locations. Only time will tell if they are good or bad neighbors as talk is cheap and actions are what count when it comes to doing the right things to protect the community health and the environment by not contaminating the air, water and soil. PROS and CONSPlant jobs for the unemployed of the county may add up to $2.4 million in salaries to the local economy. Will it also add to increased health and medical cost for the employees and citizens of the county? Employing local contractors and vendors may have a minimal impact, as there are few mining service companies in the county. Mason does not even have a “truck stop” that could provide sufficient quanities of diesel fuel or diesel mechanics for an additional 120 to 200 plus sand trucks operating on a 24/7 schedule. Where will all of the non-local employees and contract truck drivers stay when they are in the county and “off duty”? Where will the hunters, out of town visitors or the tourists stay when the local motels and B&B’s are full? Will tourists continue to stop, visit and stay if they have to listen to 120/200 plus additional diesel trucks going down the highways and through town 24 hours a day? Will the loss of tourism dollars have a negative impact on the local economy?Proppant expects to add $15 million to $20 million to the county tax roll. Is this annually or over the life of the plants operations? Of this amount, the majority of the new tax money will benefit the MISD as they receive the largest share of property taxes. Will the City and County receive enough new taxes to cover their increased cost of repairing damaged highways, roads and streets from ever increasing numbers of sand truck traffic? Will the new tax money cover the loss of tourism dollars? How will the increased sand truck traffic affect all of the events held on the Court House Grounds? Will the County and the State receive sufficient new tax revenue to pay for the additional Deputies and Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Troopers required to handle the traffic collisions and Department Of Transportation violations? Will TXDOT have to finally put up traffic signals to control traffic on the highways and through town to improve traffic safety for the citizens and visitors? Will TXDOT receive sufficient new funding to maintain the state highways and bridges? Should TXDOT be conducting traffic counts on the state highways? Where will the money come from? How will all of this affect the surrounding cities of Llano, Fredericksburg, Junction, Menard, and Brady? Where are all of the sand trucks going? Will their transport routes change as the demand for frac sand moves further north as the areas of drilling move?Proppant advises that their plant will be accessed off of US Highway 87/377. This entrance is over a hill north of the US Highway 87/377 and RR 1222 intersection. The plant entrance will need to have traffic stop lights installed to reduce the number of collisions from northbound traffic and the plant’s sand trucks. Will we have to wait for numerous collisions and fatalities before action is taken? Who will pay for this cost?Proppant claims their equipment meets or exceeds all industry and regulatory standards. They also claim that best industry practices are used throughout their mining operations. Only time will tell as to how well they operate their sand mine. It will all depend on how much construction noise they generate, and when they generate it. It will also depend on how they install their plant’s lights so they can operate 24 hours a day. Poorly aimed and non-shielded lights will cause dangerous glare that could be the contributing factor of traffic collisions on three sides of the plant site. It would also generate complaints from the community neighbors for various reasons. Water quality will also be a major issue for Proppant. Who pays if Proppant fails to protect the surface and ground water from pollution that is discharged from their plant site and unlined open pits? Who will pay for cleaning up Dry Prong Creek, Katemcy Creek and the San Saba River? Who will pay for cleaning up the ground water that the neighbors and surrounding cities depend on for drinking, watering their crops and livestock? Polluted waterways and underground water devalues real estate and make selling difficult. Especially properties near the sand plant operation, who would want to purchase land there and move in? How will the plant operations affect the community’s tax appraisals? Will higher appraisal values for the industrial sand plant properties be greater than the decreased values for surrounding private agricultural properties?Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite any many other minerals. It can break down into particles small enough (one micron or less) and be inhaled by mine site workers as well as their transport drivers, neighbors and anyone along the transport route. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the EPA and CDC have classified crystalline silica as a human lung carcinogen. Breathing the dust can also cause silicosis for which there is no known cure. Additional health measures should also be taken regarding concerns of infection from Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever). Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever) is a disease caused by the inhalation of the arthroconidia (spores) of Coccidioides immitis, a fungus that lives in the soils of southwestern United States, including Texas. Further details on this topic can be found at USGS Operational Guidelines for Geological Fieldwork in Areas Endemic for Coccidioidomycosis on the internet site; http://geopubs.wr.usgs.gov/open-file/of00-348/of00-348.pdf. Proppant says they provide health insurance for their employees. Who pays for the health insurance cost for the non-employees that are exposed to the release of crystalline silica or arthroconidia (spores) by Proppant employees and/or their contract transport employees?Proppant states that this project is a substantial investment, and they plan to operate it for the long term, possibly up to sixty years. That is nice to hear, but on the downside it probably means that they are still looking for more land to expand their plant operations and/or build another sand mine. There is lots of sand land from Voca through Erna and beyond.As you can see, there are potentially many good and many bad things in this industrial sand plant project. I am sure that I probably only scratched the surface on both, so I would suggest that you educate yourself on the issues of Frac Sand Mining. The internet is a wonderful thing, but it is only one of many resources to research the issues. Remember, only time will tell how this issue plays out, as words are only words and actions show the results, good or bad. One major question to remember, who pays for all of the bad decisions?
Peters Prairie/Camp Air, Texas