Plan for concrete plant near school concerns Fort Worth neighborhood

For residents who live near Tidwell Middle School in far north Fort Worth, a proposal to build a concrete batch plant nearby has stirred up fears of poor air and increased truck traffic throughout their neighborhood.

If the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality grants a permit, the concrete batch plant will be built at 4000 Haslet-Roanoke Road in unincorporated Tarrant County, just outside Fort Worth. The commission's executive director, Mark Vickery, has made "a preliminary decision to approve" the permit since it meets all rules, according to a notice from the agency.

But residents like Shannon Barkett can't understand who would allow this to happen.

"The big thing is, How can it possibly be set up in front of a middle school?" Barkett said. "If you were within the city limits, he wouldn't be able to do this because of zoning restrictions."

Perry Rupp, owner of P&L Cast Stone, said residents' fears are unfounded. He envisions the plant being used only for future development on his 30-acre property that already includes his cast stone business and a building that houses small businesses. With the slow economy, Rupp said, he doesn't know how soon he would use the plant. But it would likely be used to build another warehouse for small businesses.

"I have been a good neighbor, and I intend for it to stay that way," Rupp said. "I was here before the school was built, and clearly they didn't have a problem building near my cast stone business. I don't see that changing."

The plant will have filtration devices, Rupp said, so concerns over air quality are unfounded. And having the plant on site means trucks won't be rumbling through the neighborhood, he said.

"I am not going to be building a ready-mix concrete plant where I am selling it to others," Rupp said. "I'll let others in the concrete business who are losing money do that."

Rupp, 51, said the batch plant could occasionally be used for his business, which makes cast stone fireplaces, columns and other custom features. But he said that wouldn't be cost-effective for most jobs.

Despite those assurances, a public meeting was held last week at the school, 3937 Haslet-Roanoke Road. State Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, said she would contact the environmental agency about the matter. Her only option may be to appeal to agency commissioners to overturn the executive director's preliminary decision.

Issues involving development in unincorporated parts of the county, where there are no zoning restrictions, are a common complaint in her district, she said.

"I think the fact it is in the county makes it easier to get permitted," Truitt said. "They may be following the law, but is it the right thing? I don't know. ... I certainly understand those parents' concerns."

The state agency said the permit is designed to "protect public health, including the health of 'sensitive' populations such as asthmatics, children and the elderly. Secondary standards set limits to protect public welfare, including protection against decreased visibility, damage to animals, crops, vegetation and buildings."

The school shouldn't be affected by the plant, agency spokesman Terry Clawson said. He added that batch plants do not produce anything considered harmful to human health.

"There are no emissions of particulate matter from concrete batch plants that are on EPA's list of hazardous air pollutants," Clawson said. The plant would be more than 900 feet from the school, so it meets distance requirements.

But a Northwest school district official is also troubled about the batch plant and said the district is frustrated that the state agency is not recognizing the district as a party to the issue.

The district, which shares residents' concerns about air quality and truck traffic, had trouble voicing its concerns to the agency, said Dennis McCreary, assistant superintendent for facilities, planning and construction. Since the nearest air monitoring station is in Denton, the district offered the campus as a location for portable monitoring equipment for an air quality study, he said.

"At this point, there appears to be nothing more that NISD can do to stop the construction of the batch plant," McCreary said in an e-mail. "According to the TCEQ, NISD is not even classified as a resident. The city's hands appear to be tied, and Tarrant County has reported that they have no jurisdiction. However, NISD will pursue the baseline air quality study as well as future air monitoring by the TCEQ."

The state agency's assurances have done little to alleviate residents' concerns, said Scott Taylor, chairman of the Henrietta Creek Neighborhood Association.

"We had lots of parents that have kids with lung issues," Taylor said. "Not only is it across from the school, it is south of the school and you know those southern winds of Texas are going to carry the dust right up to the school."

Forty-one residents have written comments to the commission on the issue. A sampling of those comments found that most were concerned about the proximity to the school and truck traffic throughout the day.

Fort Worth City Councilman Sal Espino, whose district includes many of the neighborhoods near the school, appealed to the agency's commissioners to vote down the permit.

"Obviously, the location of that plant is an incompatible land use," Espino said. "If there is any discretion, the commissioners need to turn down that permit."

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698