Residents & supporters

East Aldine residents who had launched verbal fireworks against the proposed expansion of a concrete batch plant in their neighborhood had plenty extra to celebrate on July 4.

A day earlier, residents received a letter from the plant operator, Yellow Jacket Readymix LLC, that it was withdrawing a request to add a second concrete silo to the facility.

On June 12, more than 75 local residents, including members of the Green Forest Civic Club, noisily protested the proposed expansion at a hearing conducted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which considers such permits. The residents had also conducted a block walk to inform their neighbors of the issues

The company had sought TCEQ permission to add the silo at 2219 Hartwick, between Aldine Westfield Road and Halls Bayou. The facility sits close to several private homes.

Selina Valdez, president of the civic club, said the company’s withdrawal of its expansion plan was great news for East Aldine.

“I am just delighted. We are just thrilled,” Valdez said. “This is a testament to what the community can do together, when our voices can be heard.”

As concerns about air pollution forced some major cities to scale back Independence Day fireworks displays in favor of drones or laser shows, residents of north Harris County and other parts of Texas are fighting a different source of air pollution: the proliferation of concrete batch plants near where people live. The plants are a source of air pollution, dust and noise. Truck traffic in and out of the industrial facilities often adds to the problems.

The plants, often located in predominantly minority and/or or poorer communities, became an issue during the recent regular session of the Texas Legislature.

The staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews state agencies’ performance, criticized the TCEQ’s oversight of air, land, and water pollution.

Many residents of the East Aldine area and members of Air Alliance Houston testified in Austin to the Sunset Commission, playing a significant role in the review process.

“I am very grateful to all the residents who participated in the public hearing,” Valdez said of the permit hearing. “The Green Forest Civic Club and its members have performed a real service to everybody in East Aldine.”

She said residents will continue to monitor air pollution issues in East Aldine.

Valdez also thanked public officials, including State Rep. Armando Walle and State Sen. Carol Alvarado, as well as Harris County Attorney Chris Menefee, for being partners in the effort to make TCEQ more accountable to neighborhoods potentially affected by proposed projects by private industries.

During the legislative session, lawmakers decided to require the agency to notify state legislators when new permits are being sought within their districts. That way, state representatives and senators can notify their constituents about proposed new facilities.

In many cases, permit requests had been filed at the TCEQ without any notice to surrounding neighborhoods.

“The TCEQ’s authority must be expanded to allow it to block companies from putting multiple polluting facilities in the same neighborhoods,” Menefee told the Texas Tribune.

— by Anne Marie Kilday