Operators, Community Activists And The Local Government Are Working Together To Create A More Collaborative Environment Through A Focus On Voluntary Best Management Practices.
By Therese Dunphy
In Texas Hill Country, where there had been an acrimonious relationship between aggregate producers and local residents, the two groups came together – along with local government officials and business people – to develop a voluntary best management practice (BMP) guidance document, which was then adopted by Kerr County. The document was drafted by Jill Shackelford, a former aggregate producer working as a consultant for the county, and Tara Bushnoe, general manager of the Upper Guadalupe River Authority.
“It came about as the result of serious animosity in the neighborhood between the operators and the community,” Shackelford said. “We established the committee (the Kerr County APO Community Advisory Council) and had been working for about a year on all kinds of different issues. It was more of an educational forum.”
Throughout those meetings, Shackelford also preached about the use of best management practices, which served her well during her time as an operator. Last fall, a community member suggested developing a voluntary BMP guidance document, and the process took off from there.
Balancing Constituent Concerns
With many of the operators working along the Guadalupe River, Shackelford and Bushnoe teamed up to write guidance that the general public could understand and appreciate, without it being overly burdensome for the operators. A draft document was created and distributed among group members for comment. Afterward, it was unanimously adopted by all members of the advisory council and then by the county.
“There wasn’t any pushback, which was such a breath of fresh air,” Shackelford said, noting that the BMPs target broad categories such as water quality and consumption, traffic, dust and noise. “This is a helpful way to try to mitigate concerns, run a cleaner house, keep costs down, and keep the community from feeling invaded,” she said.
From an operational standpoint, items in the BMP guidance are standard business practices for many producers. These include items such as using berms and vegetative controls, as well as mitigating dust and noise. But the guidance also addresses reclamation, which is not mandated within Texas.
The guidance notes: “After mining activities conclude, the APO should initiate a post-mining stabilization stage to prevent wind or water erosion from causing on-site or off-site damage.”
Addressing Top Concerns
One particular concern for community members was noise, so the group invited a distributor to demonstrate some of the latest noise reduction technology. “Because these operators are clustered in an area, we can really reduce noise and have an impact on residents living along the river who are closest to these operations,” Shackelford said.
Another top area of concern related to the visibility of operations at night. The group had a dark sky lighting presentation to help operators understand how they could mitigate the impact of lighting on their Hill Country neighbors.
Cliff Kaplan, program director for Hill Country Alliance and a member of Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining, gave the presentation, which was based on recommended lighting practices developed through a collaboration between the McDonald Observatory and oil and gas operators in the Permian Basin. Best practices include make a lighting plan; use fully shielded lights so light doesn’t cross the horizontal plane; direct light properly and use perimeter barriers to eliminate skyglow, glare and light trespass; use amber light with a recommended wattage of 3,000 kelvin or below; and minimize duration of lighting being used.
Kaplan said that one-third of outdoor lighting shines where not intended. Using dark sky lighting can not only minimize night time impact on neighbors, but also improve safety through less glare and yield operational savings.
Dialogue among the Kerr County group is helping to change how residents view producers. “It’s likely that there are going to be some issues around which you may not reach total agreement,” Kaplan noted. “But there are certainly things where some agreement can be found, and improve things for all parties. I would encourage operators to extend a hand to their neighbors and I would encourage neighbors to extend a hand to the operator to sit down and talk.”
Therese Dunphy has covered the aggregates industry for nearly 30 years, while also serving multiple roles as a public official. As the owner of Stone Age Communications, she provides communications consulting services to help aggregate producers build stronger relationships within the communities they serve. She can be reached at [email protected].