News 12 investigates: A small community’s fight for cleaner air in Gunter

News 12 talked to lawmakers about how they are addressing the concerns about air quality in Gunter.
Published: Dec. 29, 2022 at 6:00 PM CST
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GUNTER, Texas (KXII) - One concrete batch plant next to another.

“For all intents and purposes, it acts as a single plant,” said Senior Air Quality Scientist at Air Resource Specialists, Howard Gebhart.

He said permit applications don’t include the question about the proximity of other batch plants, allowing the plants to lawfully operate only a stones throw from each other.

“What I would be advocating for is the corrective action to address this and sort of eliminate this loophole that these companies have exploited,” said Gebhart.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, may be leading the way to address what, until now, has been perhaps overlooked.

It’s amending its permits for concrete batch plants.

“Texas is going to look at maybe being a little stricter than what the federal guidelines are,” said Senator Drew Springer (R-District 30).

The TCEQ sent the following statement to KXII:

“TCEQ periodically reviews all its rules to make certain that permits are protective of human health and the environment. The Concrete Batch Plant Standard Permit was last reviewed in 2012.

An updated protectiveness review is being conducted. TCEQ is currently reviewing all of the informal comments and suggestions that have been submitted.

TCEQ will consider all comments that are submitted as part of this rulemaking.”

Deirdre Diamond with the group Gunter Clean Air is eager to make 2023 the year the TCEQ requires plants to list its proximity to one another.

“There is an opportunity for change, so I’m going to help see it,” said Diamond.

“We love to hear from our constituents,” said Springer.

News 12 last talked to Senator Springer in March of 2022 about the batch plants.

“I’ve had an awful lot of meetings since we last visited about the batch plants,” said Springer.

He said the plants continue to come back with zero violations, despite the TCEQ sending an inspector to address dozens of complaints in the last few years.

“The challenge that they have is that when they’re on that one property, yes, they may have gotten permitted by being their own batch and not taking into effect, but the problem is when you go off property, upwind and downwind, you don’t measure each batch plant,” said Springer. “You measure all of them. So, if they’re not violating one standard, they’re not violating it all together.”

While each plant falls within its individual permit regulations, Air Quality Scientist Howard Gebhart said the cluster of eleven plants collectively may be exceeding the national air quality standard by a maximum of ten times.

“There’s no requirement in the Texas permit for kind of an accumulative analysis of what would be an impact on air quality from the combined emissions of all of these plants together,” said Gebhart.

Senator Springer said the focus should instead be on transportation.

A report from Gebhart said roughly 3,500 trucks travel to and from the plants a day, releasing dust and emissions.

“It’s really a traffic concern,” said Springer. “Maybe we need to look at putting a spur around Gunter, so where that traffic that’s heading south or headed out isn’t going by the school.”

Springer said the issue of a new spur falls to local governments, but diamond said support from her city appears clouded.

“This is all boiling down to our city,” said Diamond. “Look at how much our city leadership is intertwined with the batch plant owners. It’s not hard to see why we’re having so much resistance.”

In July of 2020, a public records request shows Gunter City Council accepted a private donation of almost 3,000 dollars from multiple people and organizations for uniforms and equipment.

The request showed one of those donors, Mike Anani, was given a certificate of appreciation.

According to the Grayson Central Appraisal District, Mike Anani owns part of the land the concrete batch plants sit on.

A public information request from the police department said that Anani’s donation didn’t go to help pay for uniforms or equipment and Anani was being thanked for a previous 2019 donation.

Based on the request, it’s not clear where that money went, and Mike Anani did not want to comment.

“They all dropped the ball,” said Diamond. “They are not protecting Gunter. They are not serving the community in this capacity.”

KXII reached out to the city, County Commissioner Phyllis James, and State Representative Reggie Smith.

The only one willing to go on camera with News 12 was Springer, but Diamond said she hasn’t heard from him lately.

“They blocked me on Facebook,” said Diamond. “He doesn’t come up at all.”

“I’d have to go look at that,” said Springer. “We’ve had a couple of people over the years. Usually they’ve violated the code of ethics.”

Diamond upholds she did not say anything inappropriate

And she said she’s not backing down either.

“The laws should be written to protect humans,” said Diamond. “There’s an opportunity for balance, and I’m just not a quitter.”

Diamonds said this battle is for her community.

“This is my home, and I believe in fighting for it,” said Diamond. “These people are worth it.”

But if she and Gunter Clean Air can win a battle in the fight for cleaner air with a change in TCEQ permit laws, it won’t just change how Gunter breathes, but Texans everywhere.

A representative of the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association sent the following statement to KXII:

“Sometimes concrete batch plants are located in proximity to residential areas; which can happen when new communities grow up around plants that have existed for many years. If local communities do have issue with the location of a concrete batch plant, TCEQ rules and regulations empower neighborhood associations to go to the local county to request a zoning change.

“Concrete is an essential construction material that supports Texas’ tremendous growth and is one of the oldest and most utilized building materials in the world. Nearly all buildings – commercial and residential – owe their structural integrity to concrete.

“TACA member companies are responsible for bringing this essential material to Texans. To do this, concrete batch plant operators must undergo a robust permitting process by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which includes a rigorous environmental review and public comment period. Concrete batch plants operate under a set of regulations that ensure the protection of the most sensitive surrounding populations.

“TCEQ’s air permitting process was developed through extensive data analysis incorporating modeling, sampling, monitoring and toxicological data. TCEQ’s assumptions are highly conservative and ensure emissions from the plant do not result in a violation of the US EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

“The regulation of aggregate production and concrete operations requires a delicate balance between sustaining unprecedented population growth, while being attentive and protective of the environment and local communities through consistent, predictable and science-based regulations.

“Through advocacy efforts and past budget and legislative initiatives, TACA has always been in support of making the TCEQ the strongest regulatory agency it can be, including ensuring it has the adequate resources to meet the extraordinary growth of the state of Texas.

“As always, we will continue to work closely with the agency to keep our communities safe, while also providing the essential materials that all Texans rely on to build vital infrastructure, including homes, businesses, schools and hospitals, as well as roads, highways and bridges.”

Josh Leftwich

President & CEO

Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association