Kerr County, Texas, recently made a rather outside-the-box move that is raising eyebrows across the state and beyond – in a good way.
Naturally, mining operations and quarries must go into the areas where the natural resources are, but they have a storied and sordid history of doing so in such a way that often kicks up dust and raises the hackles of neighboring business owners and residents – sometimes leading to public protests, lawsuits and other adversarial fallouts over air quality, noise pollution, impact on water sources and more.
There are currently several aggregate production companies east of Kerrville, so Kerr County leaders decided to take a different, more positive approach for all parties concerned.
Earlier this summer, the county commissioners’ court formed the Kerr County APO (Aggregate Production Operators) Community Advisory Council. Word of that action is quickly spreading, since that first-of-its-kind committee brings aggregate production operators, businesses, residents and local governing agencies together to the same table so that they can work toward common solutions and better outcomes for all.
Why It’s a Big Deal
“The idea behind forming this group is: ‘Let’s work through any issues; not litigate them’,” said Jill Shackelford, the county’s consultant who has been key in involving the relevant parties and bringing them onto common ground.
Shackelford who, herself, has a background in aggregate production and who knows the pitfalls that can belabor the industry, said, “While there have been other committees formed, they were quarry-specific. This one is very innovative and different. This is the first one where you’ve got a group of operators set up in the same county working alongside their neighbors and civic leaders – which, I think, is so much better.
“I cannot put enough emphasis on just how unique and really innovative this is, and how Kerr County is really ahead of the game in this industry,” she said, adding that the council is already being discussed as a model for other communities where APOs exist.
The council, which will feature a cross-section of members, will have a goal of eliminating any surprises that may arise, and will educate nearby businesses and residents so that information is transparent and the lines of communication are kept clear between all parties. “It adds a layer of accountability,” Shackelford added.
“Kerr County commissioners have really stepped out to do something no one else has before,” Shackelford continued, “And the end result is that a lot of things can be dealt with at the local level, without ever having to escalate to the next level (by filing complaints with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which oversees aggregate production businesses.)”
‘Handling things locally keeps issues from clogging up the (TCEQ) system,” she said.
Former Kerr County Commissioner (Pct. 2) Tom Moser, who just recently retired, is credited for taking citizens’ concerns about local mining seriously in years past and often hosted town-hall type meetings where citizens could join the representative from APOs for a clear exchange of information. He also was instrumental in bringing Shackelford on board as the county’s consultant and putting her in touch with the neighboring businesses and residents, as well as the operators in eastern Kerr County.
All this led to the formation of the council that has since gained exposure in a national industrywide publication, Rock Products, for its uniqueness and positive approach.
“This is just a real innovative move. Kerr County, Texas, has stepped out of its comfort zone to ensure best management practices and transparent communication between the county, city, operators, other businesses and residents,” Shackelford said. “I’m proud of the county leaders.”
Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly is pleased with the development as well. “I’m very excited about the direction we’re going,” he said. “What could be better than neighbors with very diverse interests, getting to know one another on a personal and professional basis to discuss issues of mutual interest and forging best management practices together?
“That sort of community buy-in to sit down and civilly exchange concerns, ideas and possible solutions, or at least mitigate onerous conditions, and try to accommodate all parties’ interests, instead of, pardon the expression, ‘throwing stones at one another’ is truly a win-win situation,” Kelly said.
“I’m very proud of all the stakeholders’ willingness to come together for the common good of all the citizens of Kerr County,” he added.
Who is on the board?
The county judge has an extensive background in mediation and will draw upon that expertise to serve as chairman of the Kerr County APO (Aggregate Production Operators) Community Advisory Council. He will be joined by 10 other members.
Kelly will be the representative from Kerr County, while also joining the effort will be one representative from the City of Kerrville, one from the Kerrville/Kerr County Airport Board, three local aggregate production operators, three local residents and two local businesses who are affected by area operations. Ex-officio members will include the county’s consultant, Shackelford, well as a representative from the TRAM (Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining) and representatives from the offices of both Rep. Andrew Murr and Sen. Dawn Buckingham.
So far, agreeing to serve two-year terms on the council are aggregate production operators Ken Early, district production manager of Martin Marietta Materials; Curtis Wheatcraft, owner of Wheatcraft Materials in Center Point and Earl Ingram, president of Ingram Readymix, Inc.
“Wheatcraft, Martin Marietta and Ingram Readymix – those 3 have been super-cooperative and vocal and are just really wanting to open the door of communication,” Shackelford commended.
Area residents who have agreed to serve are Frances Lovett, Mike Russ and Al Dingman, while the airport board and the City of Kerrville have yet to designate their representatives and area business leaders are still being sought to serve.
What It Means for
Forming the committee is a smart move in that it helps operators not only gain acceptance from the communities in which they operate, but it also helps them to know what expectations are and solutions that can help them operate in a way that is best for all.
The Kerr County APO Community Advisory Council “is a great effort by Kerr County to show support for these operators,” Shackelford said, adding that it creates a cooperative and welcoming business environment, while remaining responsive and true to residents.
“The local citizens I’ve met with and talked to are just great people who are concerned about what the APOs will do,” Shackelford said. They aren’t hostile, but rather, “they just really want to ensure we have responsible business happening.”
“Everyone here is coming together for a common goal – taking care of Kerr County,” she said.
When can the public get a look?
The Kerr County APO Community Advisory Council will hold its first organizational meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 6 p.m. at the Hill County Youth Event Center, 3785 Hwy 27 in Kerrville. The public is invited to attend.
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