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Texas attorney spins novel challenge to batch plant expansion

Sources: Office of Harris County (Texas) Attorney Vince Ryan, Houston; CP staff

A recently filed lawsuit to block placement of a second batch plant at the Concrete Pros Ready Mix Inc. site in southeast Houston has Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan testing for the first time the applicability of a Texas public nuisance law—often used to shut down illegal game rooms, massage parlors, smoke shops, and motels that permit prostitution—to construction materials production. 

“The Concrete Pros site is located in the middle of a residential neighborhood and permitted by the state to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he explains. “The current plant creates noise and truck traffic which pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of that community. It is inconceivable that the company would be allowed to create an even bigger public nuisance.”

Concrete Pros received its first Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Air Quality Standard permit in 2015, allowing up to 1.75 million yd. of ready mixed production annually on a 4.3-acre site. In December 2019, the producer applied for a permit covering a second batch plant adding 33 percent capacity, bringing total potential output to 2.6 million yd. Harris County cannot intervene in the application process because state law only allows persons residing within 440 yards of the proposed operation to address a hearing on permit issuance. 

Ryan contends that his office can take legal action, however, against facility owners who create certain types of public nuisances under state law. His suit seeks temporary and permanent injunctions to stop Concrete Pros from applying for a second plant permit, and dovetails work "with Harris County Pollution Control and the City of Houston to develop strategies to combat the proliferation of concrete batch plants in Harris County residential neighborhoods."

Harris County has at least 188 concrete batch plants, more than any Texas county, Ryan notes, adding that TCEQ received more than 100 air emission permit requests for such operations in Houston over the last five years—only two of which were denied. “This is not a typical environmental case,” he adds. “State law has rendered counties and cities virtually powerless to stop the expansion of these facilities. Our Office will continue to find innovative ways to protect residents.”