Environment

In McKinney, Concerns Over Concrete Batch Plant Near Wildlife Sanctuary, Special Needs Facility and Soccer Club

In Dallas, city staff are drawing up plans to make the process of opposing batch plants easier and address the effects these plants have on local air quality and public health.
In Dallas, city staff are drawing up plans to make the process of opposing batch plants easier and address the effects these plants have on local air quality and public health. Jacob Vaughn
The Fairview Soccer Park in McKinney has been around for about 14 years. Sammy Olali developed the facility, where some 500 kids practice as part of the Ayses Soccer Club. The soccer park is near the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary as well as Cornerstone Ranch, a home for special needs adults.

Now, a company called TXI Operations wants to build a concrete batch plant a little more than a mile away, a move that's sparking public health concerns among local activists and residents.

TXI Operations applied for permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that would allow the company to build the plant at 1825 FM 546, southeast of the city's airport. The plant would primarily be used to manufacture concrete by mixing together sand, aggregate, cement, water and other materials. The Dallas Sierra Club is organizing people in the area to oppose the permit at a TCEQ hearing at 6 p.m. Monday.

The McKinney City Council recently annexed another piece of land in the area for another concrete company, North Texas Natural Select Materials, which plans to build a concrete recycling facility.

This means that there will be two concrete plants operating in the same vicinity “unless we take action,” said Victoria Howard, conservation/eco action chair of the Dallas Sierra Club. She said they’re worried about byproducts of the plant, like particulate matter, concrete dust in the air, polluted water runoff and diesel fumes.

Concrete manufacturing plants are the third-largest industrial sources of pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The health impact is what worries us." – Sammy Olali, Fairview Soccer Park

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Olali, the owner of the soccer club, spoke out against the North Texas Natural Select Materials plant in front of the City Council last year. Now, he’s opposing TXI’s proposed plant. "The health impact is what worries us," Olali said, according to WFAA. “We'd have to find somewhere else to go, and fields are already hard to come by.”

TXI didn’t respond to requests for comment.

But Josh Leftwich, president and CEO of Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association, said, “Concrete is one of the oldest and most utilized building materials in the world and one of the essential materials that supports Texas’ tremendous growth, including the Dallas metroplex.”

Many concrete, cement and aggregate companies in the state are members of this association, including TXI.

“Concrete batch plant operators must undergo a robust permitting process by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which includes a rigorous environmental review and public comment period,” Leftwich said. “Concrete batch plants operate under a set of regulations that ensure the protection of the most sensitive surrounding populations.”

He added: “TACA members strive to be good community partners. In addition to adhering to myriad state and federal regulations, they voluntarily limit the environmental impact of their operations by incorporating best management practices to further mitigate airborne emissions, noise control and truck traffic, such as planting vegetation, modifying work practices and enhancing perimeter fencing.”

TXI is tied up in a legal battle with the city of McKinney over another batch plant the city has been trying to close down.

In early 2020, the city said it found that one of TXI’s plants was operating on land that had been rezoned for regional office use. The city’s board of adjustments gave the TXI plant until April 29 last year to close or come into compliance with the current zoning.

That plant, within 500 feet of the nearest homes, received noise citations from the city in 2018. In July 2019, 8,000 pounds of cement dust from the plant covered a nearby neighborhood, according to the Community Impact newspaper.

The company told state regulators at the time that equipment malfunctions had led to cement dust release. Since the city moved to close the plant, TXI has filed legal challenges, saying it was never told about the rezoning and that the McKinney officials are targeting the plant because they want the land it sits on.

While the city continues to fight that plant in court, there’s not much it can really do about the one TXI is proposing near the Fairview Soccer Park. “This property is unincorporated McKinney, so the city of McKinney cannot do anything about it,” Howard explained.

Over two decades ago, Cathy Dunne bought property on this unincorporated land in McKinney. She didn’t know exactly what that meant at the time: That she was essentially cut off from the rest of the city. She just knew the land was out in the country where she could have horses and she thought it was beautiful.

“It was just kind of an ideal situation,” she said.

“I did not know all the ins and outs about being unincorporated. I just know we don’t have much of a say,” Dunne said. “And I was very worried that they’d put something like a slaughterhouse around here once I learned what it meant, that basically anything goes.”

There’s no slaughter house, but there could be a concrete batch plant near Dunne’s land depending on how the TCEQ hearing goes Monday night. She’ll be speaking against it. Dunne, who takes care of her elderly parents at home, said she’s worried about potential pollutants from the plant and the damage the extra traffic will do to the roads in the area.

“I really don’t want that plant there,” she said.

This is why residents and activists are turning out to the TCEQ meeting Monday night. “The idea would be that the TCEQ would deny the permitting,” Howard said.

“I think if the permit is put through, the only other thing we could really have an impact on was any type of traffic, health or environmental study that they would do," Howard added. "But if they get a TCEQ permit it’s kind of the end of the road. It’s the last big gesture."
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn