Kambrah Garland Rodriguez stood in the middle of 35 acres of grapevines on a recent afternoon and pointed west to a hill on the outskirts of Florence.
That is where an asphalt plant and quarry is proposed to be built, said Rodriguez, one of the owners and partners in a winery called the Vineyard at Florence. The plant has drawn intense opposition from neighbors and officials who say it would use too much water and cause other wells in the area that draw from the Trinity Aquifer to run dry, including the well at the winery.
“Between no water and the smell of asphalt in the air, which greatly affects flavor and wine production, this is a total disaster for us,” said Rodriguez, whose award-winning winery also has a tasting room, a café, a spa and suites for rent in Tuscan-style villas for weekend getaways as well as land for people to build their own homes.
Neighbors have formed their own nonprofit called “No Florence Asphalt,” hired a lawyer and paid a hydrologist to do an independent water study. A Facebook group against the plant has more than 500 members and more than 100 people have posted their comments against the proposed quarry on a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality website.
A company called Asphalt Inc. wants to open the quarry at 10957 FM 487, about one mile east of Florence. It has submitted an application to the environmental commission for an air quality permit for the rock crusher for the quarry. The commission already has approved a permit for the company’s asphalt plant.
Troy Carter, the operations manager of Lone Star Aggregate, whose parent company is Asphalt Inc., said he estimated the company will drill two wells capable of pumping 4,800 gallons of water per hour. He said the company would limit its water usage at the quarry by recycling 92 percent of the water it uses.
“We understand the shortage of water in that area and will do everything we can to conserve water,” Carter said. He said agriculture uses as much water as the quarry would and any growth in the area — including residential development — also will be faced with a water supply problem.
The environmental commission is accepting public comments on the air permit application until Dec. 21, and it then has up to 30 days to decide whether to approve it. Hydrology and water-use studies are not required to be conducted for the permit application, said Brian McGovern, a commission spokesman.
To qualify for an air permit for a rock crusher, a company cannot operate more than 2,640 hours in any 12-month period, must be at least 200 feet from a property line and cannot produce more than 200 tons per hour, according to the commission’s regulations. It also, with certain exceptions, has to be at least 440 yards from any residence, school or place of worship.
J.D. Head, the Austin environmental lawyer hired by “No Florence Asphalt,” declined to comment specifically on the situation but said the commission has no “real” regulation over quarries, except for runoff. The lack of regulation leaves “very little opportunity for landowner meaningful involvement,” Head said.
Florence Mayor Mary Condon said the proposed quarry and plant could threaten the town’s water supply.
The city has three wells that draw from the Trinity Aquifer and also has a contract with the Georgetown water utility system, said Condon. Without its well water, it cannot operate the city’s water system, she said.
“We have wells that went dry in the drought of 2011,” Condon said. She estimated the population of Florence at 1,200.
A 2016 regional water plan for the Brazos G Area, one of the state’s 16 planning regions established by the Texas Water Development Board, mentioned a water problem in Florence. “Based on the city’s available groundwater supply, the city of Florence is projected to have a shortage through the year 2070,” the plan said.
The City Council has passed a resolution opposing the air permit for the asphalt plant but cannot block it because it would be outside city limits.
Thomas Burdett, whose ranch borders the proposed asphalt plant site, said it would affect his chances to develop his property.
“Our long-term view is that this property would make an excellent first-class subdivision,” he said. “To have a quarry and asphalt plant between my place and the Vineyard at Florence will destroy those possibilities.”
Carter said the proposed Lone Star Aggregate site would sit on 854 acres of land with 10 acres devoted to the quarry and 12 acres for the asphalt plant. A little less than 600 acres would initially be set aside for wildlife, he said. The rest of the land would be used for other operation requirements, including roads and retention ponds for stormwater runoff.
The quarry needs water to spray off dirt and dust from the rock it mines, to soak the rock to remove clay particles and for dust suppression, Carter said. The location near Florence was chosen because growth in the area is headed in that direction, Carter said.
“I’m not oblivious to the fact that we are not the prettiest of neighbors,” he said. “We get into these battles and it goes on for about a year and once we get to running, people almost forget about us.”
In October, residents in Burnet, Blanco and Llano counties packed a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality meeting to oppose a permit Asphalt Inc. has applied for to open a quarry near Marble Falls. That permit is pending, Carter said.
State Rep. Terry Wilson, a Republican whose district includes the Florence area, has objections to the proposed plant, said his spokesman, Jeff Frazier. “It’s about making sure industry is a good neighbor in the area where it’s moving into and we’re not sure there’s enough water to handle an asphalt plant near Florence,” Frazier said.
Putting a quarry in the area would be disruptive to the businesses already in the area, including the winery as well as growth planned to come, he said.
An environmental commission meeting on the permit for the proposed quarry will be held 7 p.m. Monday at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center at 1101 Woodlawn Ave. in Georgetown.