Over the last year, I’ve read numerous posts on NextDoor about people hearing loud booms around town. In some cases, their windows even rattled. What’s going on? Are  Putin and the Russians now interfering in our great quality of life here in Georgetown?

I started digging into these loud booms and discovered it wasn’t Putin this time, but blasts from a growing number of quarries that seem to surround Georgetown. According to an article I recently read, if you live a few miles from these blasts, the blast’s shock wave is very similar to the sonic boom generated by a jet airplane when it “breaks the sound barrier.”

Talking to some friends that have been following these issues, I discovered that no one seems to have the authority to regulate the blasting at these quarries.

Now I’m not big on government regulations, but come on. When loud quarry blasts start to affect people’s quality of life and their property values…I think it’s time for someone to start doing something!

Looking into this noisy issue, I learned that the City says that they have no authority over the quarries, even though a lot of them are located in the City’s Extra-Terratorial Jurisdiction (ETJ). County Commissioners have told folks in Sun City that they can’t do anything about it…talk to the State. Apparently, the State of Texas doesn’t have much control over the situation either.

Is anyone doing anything?

Recently, I was really happy to discover someone is actually doing something about it. It turns out that a friend of mine, Michael Spano, has started a community dialogue with neighborhoods in and around Georgetown.

Michael and a few concerned friends recently organized the “Coalition for Responsible Environmental Aggregate” (CREAM…great idea, but I’m not too sure about the acronym though). This new citizen group has joined a new statewide organization named “Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining” (web link) or TRAM.

Michael and his group have had good discussions with some of our local state officials, including State Representative Terry Wilson and State Senator Charles Schwertner. Terry Wilson is chairing the Texas House of Representatives’ “Aggregate Production Operations, Interim Study Committee”.  I’m really glad to see his involvement and applaud his efforts.

It also turns out that the Georgetown Neighborhood Alliance (web link), in partnership with CREAM, has organized a virtual “Community Discussion on Quarries in Wilco” for this Wednesday night (September 23rd) from 7 – 8 PM. I encourage everyone to join this virtual community discussion. I certainly plan to be there.

While researching this blog post, I learned a lot more about the quarries in Williamson County and around Texas. According to a 2019 KVUE Defender story, there were 52 rock mining operations around the State in 2012. Today, there are over 900 operating quarries. Seems like Williamson County is #1 in the State with 34 rock mining operations. Don’t you love it when you are number one in the State?

According to an Austin American Statesman article, “Quarries here generally face no extensive application process. The state hasn’t examined the environmental impact of the proliferating operations, despite mounting concerns from neighbors and the medical community. And Texas has no process to ensure restoration of mined lands in most parts of the state, allowing operators to simply walk away from massive pockmarked properties.”

One of the many quarries located across 195 from Sun City blasts the limestone rock in their open pits and then transports their blasted rock to their crushing facility in Round Rock. According to the company, over 100 trucks make that daily trip down 195 and then Interstate 35. I’m sure you have seen these trucks before…they are really large and very heavy. Just think what effect those heavy trucks loaded with rock are having on our roads…that’s over 20,000 trips annually on 195 and 35.

It gets better. According to the Wilco Appraisal District website, that company only pays $466.52 in county road taxes each year. I know that $466.52 doesn’t go very far in repairing roads, so guess who’s really paying for the road repairs due to those 20,000 truck trips/year? Yep, you got it…we’re paying.

Let’s see,  we get to hear their loud blasts and we get to pay for repairing the roads that their heavy rock trucks travel on…is that the end of the story?

Not quite.  These quarries also use a lot of “well” water to keep the dust down and to wash dirt off the gravel they use to make asphalt. According to TRAM, a large rock quarry that crushes stone uses 32,000 gallons of water per day to control that dust. On an annual basis, that same rock crushing quarry would use 280,320,000 gallons of water…about the same amount of water 1,920 homes would use per year. I realize not all quarries are that large, but I really find it scary.

It gets worse.  The quarries in Williamson County use well water from the Trinity Aquifer. According to a 2019 Texas Monthly article (web link), the Trinity Aquifer water level has dropped 200 feet down some residential wells in northeast Williamson County over the past 12 years, leaving as little as ten feet of water in some places.

In 2011, the City of Florence used the Trinity Aquifer exclusively for the town’s water supply. That year, one of its 3 wells dried up. Luckily, Florence was finally able to obtain the rights to five hundred acre-feet of surface water from the Brazos River Authority.  Now, 10 years later, access to extra surface water is getting much harder to find.

I keep thinking that the City of Georgetown and Williamson County could actually do something, even though they don’t have regulatory authority over the quarries in the City’s ETJ or around the County.

I remember that City Council passed a great resolution describing Suddenlink’s poor service and high costs, even though the City has no regulatory authority over Suddenlink….sound familiar?  The City Council then sent their resolution to elected State officials from Williamson County and the Texas Public Utility Commission in Austin.

If they can do it with Suddenlink, why can’t our City Council and County Commissioners approve a joint resolution that requests the State of Texas consider legislation in next year’s session to regulate the blasting and well/groundwater use by quarries located near established residential communities?  Why not?

Take Care & Stay Safe!