Weatherford Democrat

Viewpoints

August 13, 2012

COLUMN: There goes the neighborhood -- again

— Just over a decade ago, residents along the Brazos River began to become greatly concerned about the environmental health of this beautiful river. The river was polluted, water quality was becoming deplorable, and a nasty buildup of sludge was ever-present. Life for residents along the river was also becoming intolerable because of blasting, air pollution, and the constant operation of noisy machinery by nearby rock quarry operators. Fortunately, the residents of southwest Parker County were able to enlist support from local and state officials and agencies to help ameliorate the appalling environmental conditions.

To open a dialogue between participants, residents of Brock, particularly those living in the Lazy Bend area, met in about 2003 with local elected officials and representatives of the major quarries. As a spokesman for our group, I explained that we had no intention of trying to shut down their operations. I explained that we need the rock materials they produce, but not badly enough to destroy the environment and lifestyle of local residents — many of whom had much of their life savings invested in their homes and property.

Representing the largest of these quarry operations, Mr. Tom Hill, vice president for Texas Southwest Division of Vulcan Materials, came up from San Antonio to attend our gathering. He listened attentively to our concerns and spoke reassuringly to the attendees. He stated that he appreciated our measured approach, and he further stated that Vulcan Materials was more than willing to work with local residents and officials to ease our concerns. He emphasized that Vulcan wanted to be a good neighbor.

Mr. Hill proved to be a man of his word. Almost immediately, Vulcan contracted with a company out of Austin to change procedures for blasting with high explosives. No longer did our houses shake on their foundations. They carefully monitored and controlled wastewater runoff into the river. They established procedures for dust control. In addition, probably the thing that added most to local resident’s quality of life was the fact that they ceased mining operations on the eastern side of the mountain across from Lazy Bend. No longer did we have to view the wanton destruction of our beautiful and idyllic vista. The rocky limestone bluffs with their cover of live oaks and flame-leaf sumac were again safe from the bulldozer.

A few weeks ago I received a visitor from the local Vulcan Materials plant. He drove up and said, “Larry, you’re not going to like what I’m going to tell you.” Sure enough, he was right. After almost 10 years of being good neighbors, Vulcan corporate has now decided to move back across the mountain and render our beautiful landscape into a sight more reminiscent of a nuclear holocaust. Gazillion candlepower floodlights glare each night, the piles of overburden and waste rock grows higher each day, and the incessant roar of machinery is deafening.

Searching for options, I find that as the result of a corporate reorganization of Vulcan, Mr. Hill has been recently promoted and transferred out of state. Apparently those currently in charge have again implemented shortsighted company policy, valuing quick profits over sensitivity to the environment and quality of life for an entire community. Why abandon a decade old “Good Neighbor Policy” that had worked so well? Why?

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to nowhearthis@pwhome.com.

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