But Monday, Elaine and I went to the county council meeting (In Texas this is called “commissioner’s court”) with a bunch of neighbors because an open pit mining operation (sand and gravel, crusher) has gone in down the street from us. Aerial photo is from February 19th of this year.
More than 100 loads per day of loaded semis and six-wheelers are going past our property now. Thankfully, the house is 1,500 feet from the road. But it doesn’t help property values, and it has wrecked quiet enjoyment of the Outback.
Ure’s truly – who until this year had a paved road on two sides of his property – has now been reduced to a paved road on one side and a narrow single-track dirt road on the other. It turns into an off road mudding track when it rains.
We are not anti-progress, and we don’t deny that the operator of the open pit mine has a right to develop the property any way they want – including scaring and defacing it, if that’s what makes them happy.
But when it comes to impacting other people’s lives? Inconveniencing and reducing property values of surrounding homes? Well, that’s a different matter. Since one of my paved roads has been stolen and my property value thereby decreased, I figure the County ought to make things right.
In case you hadn’t figured it, Texas doesn’t have much in the way of environmental regulations. Big money in the oil and gas business has pretty much neutered environmental protection. And, in fact, the Texas Department of Environmental Quality specifically says they can’t do anything about noise complaints or impacts of property values.
Neither, as it turns out, can county government.
If you have a gypo-mining operation, Texas is heaven on earth.
A group of us (half dozen spoke) at the “commissioner’s court” (*equivalent to county commission meeting most other places) recounted the various problems including noise, dust, being run off the road, being unable to walk or bike ride in the area, and so on.
One neighbor even reported that the Insurance Information Institute shows that when large dump trucks and cars get in accidents, the odds of a fatality (among car occupants) is about 33%.,
In my own remarks, I explained things this way:
If I were to blow up a bridge owned by Anderson county, you’d have the local constabulary arrest me post haste, throw me in jail and make me pay for the damage if I could.
But when gypsy truckers come in and ruin a county asset (like 10-miles of road) the cost of repairing the road is not born by those who ruined the county asset – You the commissioners expect EVERYONE IN THE COUNTY to put up with being screwed a little more on taxes so the pit profiteers can make money.
Then there’s the county a”judge”. Instead of listening to the community and reducing speed limits, requiring oiling and watering to keep dusty down, and reducing weight limits on the road,, and other reasonable actions, according to rumor he’s going to ask for a “petition” from the community.
This is making up government on the fly.
This is how it runs in the small town South. They have learned from football how to “run the clock” and all the while, the hundred plus loads of gravel per day will keep tearing up the roads.
Of course, I’m not at all satisfied with this turn of events, especially the “running the clock” move by asking for a petition.
I am on the verge of taking out an ad in the local newspaper and on local radio calling out the county judge and explaining to everyone in Anderson County that the commissioners are letting an open pit mining operator ruin roads for profit and sticking it to the future public with the bill.
And/Or, I’m looking at a website like www.fixourdamnroads.com or some such.
And then there’s the matter of elections.
Buying Local Government
I pulled the campaign disclosure records of what it costs to buy a commissioner job in this part of the world: Less than $20,000 for county judge and less than a couple of thousand if you are looking for a commissioner position.
Wait! Did I say buy? Well, yes. Politicians are in the business of buying their offices. Or did you miss that in civics class?
They raise money by telling good fairytales and then they buy advertising and then (quite delusionally) convince themselves that they represent “the people.” In fact, they represent the money that puts ‘em in office. 51% squeaker elections get pointed to as “clear mandates.”
I didn’t move out to the sticks to have my life ruined by the noise of trucks running from around 6 AM until 5PM, five or six days a week.
Nor did I move out here to have my property values pillaged by local profiteers who have figured a grand scam: Find a county with 60-mile an hour speed limits on roads narrower than your driveway which aren’t even paved in the first place (they use oil sand due to costs). And then ruin them while sticking every taxpayer in the county with the bill.
Then, if they’re really lucky, the county judge (commissioner) will be paralyzed and will “run the clock” with procedural delays (like a petition which doesn’t show up in law that I’ve been able to see) and so forth.
I’m not going to “go Trump” on them. But I told the group that the community is warning them. School buses will be running on these roads in a month and I just don’t see on a 16-foot wide dirt road how a school bus and loaded semi full of gravel with limited sight distances going 60 MPH is a good thing.
But then, I don’t hold office – partly because I’m not patient and mostly because I’m not part of the “old boy network” that still exists in the South.
Come election time, since commercials are cheap, I plan to run an “Anyone but the incumbents” if we don’t get some local satisfaction out here on the road problem.
And it’s not like we’re the only place in the country where overweight trucks on under posted roads is happening.
People in Pennsylvania and North Dakota have the same problem. In comes industry and fracking and here come the road issues.
The Wall St. Journal ran a 2012 piece on how Dewitt County was suing the state for more dough to repair roads down in the Eagleford shale area. They lost.
Ures truly will lose, too…at least at first.
But eventually, someone besides me will figure out that roads are a public asset and that those – like the county “judge” and commissioners here – who are squandering a public asset for the private gain of pit mine operators – are guilty of malfeasance or misfeasance of office.
Not that it matters: In Texas, the only public officials subject to recall at those in Charter Cities. Like looking out for the property rights of surface land owners, Texas has turned a blind eye to environmental justice.
So when you hear any of the Texas presidential wannabes claim how great the Texas economy is doing, let’s wait a few years when the deferred costs of “good old boy development” show up. And then let’s look at the true cost of Texas’ “economic success story.”
I can turn any state you want into a flash-in-the-pan economic miracle, as long as you turn a blind eye to the wastewater injection wells, the ruined roads, and the imminent danger posed by development laws that ignore the little people in order to help the rich get richer.
That I’m sad to report, is corporatized government at its very worst.
Oh, and if you can find a good environmental lawyer in Texas who works cheap – or for a piece of the action – have them got hold of me,.
Write when you break-even,