“Dredged Areas” on Highland Lakes

The Lower Colorado River Authority has limited large-scale dredging on Highland Lakes to four areas where industrial operators can remove, process, store and resell lake bottom sediment.

Three are on LBJ Lake, a fourth on Buchanan Lake.

But the geographic boundaries have done little to allay the concerns of Hill Country residents, even those whose homes are not directly adjacent to the sites.

Phil Wilson, LCRA chief executive, selected the areas last month after the River Authority’s board of directors chose to open the sprawling region’s six lakes – Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis and Austin – to commercial dredging.

Industrial activity is now permitted for the first time since precious rivers were formed by dams nearly a century ago.

Last month, the San Antonio Express-News reported that the board’s vote in favor of commercial dredging was tilted by Governor Greg Abbott’s latest member: Matt Arthur, chief executive of a mining company that is already dredging. on the lower Colorado River basin about 100 miles southeast of the lakes.

The Lower Colorado River Authority will allow large-scale dredging for the first time on Lake LBJ, pictured here, and other Highland lakes. The LCRA recently designated the dredged areas.

William Luther / Staff

Commercial dredging uses noisy machinery which can lift pollutants and present hazards to people nearby and would require unsightly plants to process sediment on land. Proponents counter that large-scale dredging can help control flooding and restore seaworthiness to areas clogged with sand.

The LCRA has published maps online that show the four sections where commercial dredging can take place in water – at least for now. The LCRA general manager may “revise or terminate these designations from time to time”, according to the new ordinance of the river authority.

Wilson was not available for an interview, an LCRA spokeswoman said. It selected the areas “based on the need to address navigation, critical infrastructure, public safety and water supply,” she said in an email.

On Lake LBJ, the dredged areas include sections lined with dwellings.

In the past, the LCRA has issued permits for small-scale dredging on Highland Lakes for projects such as retaining walls, boat docks and marinas. The river authority’s new ordinance was sparked by a demand last year for something unprecedented: a large-scale commercial dredging operation on one of the lakes.

By this point, Collier Materials had already leased waterfront ranch land and invested around $ 8 million in equipment for a factory. The Marble Falls-based company planned to extract about 4,000 tonnes of sand per day from LBJ Lake for use in mortar, concrete and golf courses.

Before Wilson selected the dredged areas last month, residents of the Comache Rancherias Subdivision in Kingsland, an unincorporated community in Llano County, predicted that the plant would be built next to their homes.

From her backyard, Taylor Delz expected a close-up view of a conveyor belt system carrying sediment from the lake to be treated.

None of the four dredged areas selected by Wilson turned out to be adjacent to the Delz Subdivision. But it might not matter.

“Zone D” is upstream of the subdivision. Collier Materials could still mine sand in the approved area and transport it elsewhere for processing, an LCRA spokeswoman confirmed.

“They can’t dredge right in front of us, but that same ranch they’re planning to put this sand factory on is a big stretch,” Delz said. “They just can’t dredge over there, but they can barge sand back and forth.”

Kevin Collier, vice president of Collier Materials, declined to comment.

Prior to targeting the Llano arm of the lake, Collier attempted years ago to open a commercial dredging operation near Sandy Harbor, a waterfront community at the convergence of LBJ Lake and Sandy Creek.

Concerned about the environmental impacts of large-scale dredging, some residents of Sandy Harbor came together in 2018 to form a group called Save Sandy Creek.

Ultimately, Collier’s plans to mine Sandy Creek were thwarted by the licensing process. Now he might have another opening; LCRA’s “Zone B” encompasses the same area it sought to mine in 2018.

Fermín Ortiz, who owns a ranch nearby, has led the opposition to the Sandy Creek mining operation.

In a recent interview, Ortiz admitted that the water there “has to be dredged”. But it can happen without commercializing the business, he said.

“I am still adamantly opposed to any sort of industrialization along any of our lakes,” Ortiz said. “I’m not against dredging at all. I am totally opposed to industrialization and the installation of a sand factory on our properties.

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