A permit application. A community opposed. A legal battle on the horizon.
The formula is familiar to southern Tarrant County residents. In 2021, a group of homeowners on the outskirts of Mansfield became the first in Texas history to successfully stop a concrete batch plant from being approved by state environmental commissioners.
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Two years later and 4.5 miles away, residents in Rendon — an unincorporated community sandwiched between Burleson and Mansfield — are preparing for a similar showdown. Facing the prospect of increased air pollution from a proposed site near the intersection of FM 1187 and Oak Trail Drive, a group of concerned residents has raised upward of $30,000 to fund an expected legal battle against J7 Ready Mix, LLC.
Within days of hearing about J7 Ready Mix’s application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, small business owner Brandon McElroy and his neighbors went door to door and created a Facebook page to encourage people to request a public meeting with the agency. Their chief concerns include the potential negative impact on public health from pollutants generated at cement plant sites, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.
“We’re not trying to say concrete is the worst thing ever,” McElroy said. “We’re just asking it to be set in places where they should be — in an industrial neck of the woods, not in our neighborhoods. It’s not that we’re against concrete plants. We’re against them in our yards.”
Many residents who live within 440 yards of the proposed batch plant are over 55 and have pre-existing health conditions, McElroy said. They also worry about the ability to sell their homes if the plant causes a dip in property values.
Donna Montgomery, one of McElroy’s neighbors, is a full-time caretaker for her adult son Hunter, who uses a wheelchair and is on a ventilator at night because of complications from a chronic disease. Any increase in environmental pollution would exacerbate his breathing problems and force the family to move, she said.
Where is the proposed concrete batch plant site located?
The site doesn’t have an exact address, but the land is behind Bella’s Ballroom at 5428 FM 1187, Burleson, TX 76028.
“This is the only home he’s ever known,” Montgomery said. “This is where we’ve been for 29 years. We don’t want to leave here, but if it comes down to it and we have to leave, what are we going to do? The value of our home is not going to be there.”
J7 Ready Mix project manager Chad Nerren said the company had no other comment beyond what was included on its application. Victoria Cann, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the agency received 31 requests for a public meeting, including from state Rep. David Cook, who represents the area.
In a statement, Cook said he believes J7 Ready Mix acted in bad faith by failing to comply with the notice and posting requirements for concrete batch plant permit applications. Residents have complained that the permit notice was placed in Fort Worth Weekly rather than the more widely read Fort Worth Star-Telegram and that the notice included an address that does not align with the proposed site’s actual location.
“I have heard from hundreds of my constituents regarding their grave concerns related to the negative impacts to air and environmental quality in the Rendon community, which would directly affect the community’s public health, as well as impacts to surrounding road infrastructure,” Cook said.
A public meeting is set for Dec. 11, though a location and time have not been determined. Cook said he intends to express his vehement opposition to the permit during the meeting, and encouraged residents to check his social media pages for further details as they become available.
The public comment period will officially end at the close of the public meeting that night, and TCEQ’s executive director will issue a formal response to all comments at a later date, Cann said.
The agency also will consider any requests for a contested case hearing after that formal response is issued, she said. The hearing is similar to a civil trial in state district court and is the only venue for Texans to challenge TCEQ permit applications in court. If TCEQ staff grant the hearing, they will specify the scope of issues that a judge is allowed to consider, Cann said.
“If a request for contested case hearing is not granted, the commission will issue the registration [to J7 Ready Mix] if all rules and regulations are determined to be met,” Cann wrote by email.
Nearly 300 demonstrate opposition at community meeting
Community members opposed to the plant are determined to prevent the application from moving forward. Soon after filing their complaints with the TCEQ in late September, McElroy began researching concrete batch plant cases and potential legal costs. His neighbors recognized the need to create an organization to fundraise and communicate with the public.
Nonprofit Green Air Solutions was born. To kick off fundraising, the group sent out flyers to nearby neighborhoods for an Oct. 8 meeting at Skyvue Funeral Home. McElroy expected 75 people to show.
More than 280 filled the pews to overflowing, eager to ask questions and know where their money was headed. Local real estate brokers Angela Hornburg and Michelle Stuart co-led the meeting alongside McElroy. While she doesn’t live next door to the proposed site, Hornburg felt compelled to get involved after learning about the permit application through social media.
“For most of us that live out here, this is our dream,” Hornburg said. “It is the American dream to live on land and have our animals. It doesn’t affect just my kids and my health. It’s the trees, it’s the animals, it’s the community.”
During the meeting, McElroy explained the group’s plans to retain attorney Adam Friedman for their case — the same lawyer who successfully defeated the Bosque Solutions concrete batch plant near Mansfield in 2021. That legal fight cost community members upward of $165,000.
Friedman convinced a judge and a majority of environmental commissioners that the company would not meet particulate matter pollution limits set by the agency, especially when it came to crystalline silica. Sand is used at all concrete batch plants and creates emissions of minerals such as crystalline silica, which can cause lung diseases after long-term exposure, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Under current regulations, only residents who live within 440 yards of a proposed concrete batch plant qualify for a contested case hearing from the TCEQ. Several legislators, including state Rep. Nicole Collier of Fort Worth, have previously introduced bills to increase the distance to 880 yards and require stricter permits. Collier’s proposal would have allowed other people to request a public hearing, including representatives of schools, hospitals and churches.
Although McElroy and Montgomery live in the 440-yard range, most residents opposed to the plant do not. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a role to play, Stuart said.
“We cannot ask 26 homes to fund a $100,000 fight on our behalf,” she told the audience. “It’s not fair to our community. It’ss not fair to those 26 homeowners.”
Stuart is leading the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts, which have already included the sales of hot sauce donated by a local retailer and raffles for a Yeti cooler. The organization will likely host in-person events that will double as education for residents who want to learn more about the proposal, McElroy said.
‘We want to keep fighting for this community’
The campaign has offered residents a crash course in community organizing and nonprofit management. McElroy’s neighbor, retiree David Smith, has inadvertently become one of the organization’s lead canvassers.
“I have gone door to door to the point where I don’t want to be the door-to-door guy anymore, but at least we’ve raised some awareness,” Smith said. “Neighbors talk to neighbors. Now the neighbors that wouldn’t answer the door are talking to other neighbors and saying, ‘Oh, my Lord, we don’t want this.’”
Judging from recent history, McElroy knows the group has a winding road ahead. The Bosque Solutions case started with a public meeting in late 2018, but court hearings and commissioner votes stretched into mid-2021.
Despite the long odds, McElroy is confident Friedman can help him and his neighbors successfully defeat the permit. Even if this case is resolved, he sees room for Green Air Solutions to support other residents opposed to industrial activity near homes.
“We have a lot of concrete plants that look at us as an easy target. We’re not saying it’s just going to be concrete batch plants, but we’re able to have something already in place that we can fight with,” McElroy said. “We want to keep fighting for the community.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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