This is an update on the available public information about Steel Dynamics Inc.’s plan to build a large new steel manufacturing plant in San Patricio County northeast of Sinton, and to discharge 1.56 MILLION GALLONS PER DAY of  “treated” industrial waste water from steel making operations into Chiltipin Creek, which flows into the Aransas Tidal River and then our own Copano Bay.

The steel manufacturing plant in San Patricio County would be owned by a newly created subsidiary of Steel Dynamics, Inc. called “Steel Dynamics Southwest LLC”.  Lawyers for large industrial corporations create stand alone LLC’s for one particular purpose: To take advantage of state laws which provide that the member/owners of properly funded limited liability companies do not have any obligation to pay money judgments to third parties who are harmed by the operations of the LLC.

It must always be remembered that Steel Dynamics is very secretive about the sources of financing for its operations, let alone where it is going to find $1.9 billion in financing to build their large, complex steel plant in San Patricio County.  Steel Dynamics’ press releases state the steel manufacturing equipment for their new plant is coming from Europe, and not made in the USA.

Steel Dynamics has applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for two types of Federal permits for the steel manufacturing plant, issued by TCEQ under a delegation of permit-issuing authority by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

(1) Permit(s) to discharge air toxins from the steel manufacturing operations and

(2) Permit(s) to discharge “treated” industrial wastewater into the Waters of the United States, which include the creek, river and Copano Bay.

Failure to give Aransas County notice

Neither TCEQ nor Steel Dynamics published any notice in Aransas County of the applications for those two types of Federal permits.

TCEQ didn’t bother to notify our County Judge or County commissioners of the pendency of the applications, which will affect Aransas County’s air and a big body of water on which Aransas County’s economy is based, Copano Bay.  (That’s standard operating procedure for TCEQ.  They’ve failed to give our county elected officials notice about at least three other recent, major projects which do/will affect Aransas County, its property owners, taxpayers and residents.)

In the case of this proposed steel manufacturing plant, allegedly TCEQ published notices of both types of permit applications in an obscure occasional publication printed in San Patricio County, which is not distributed here in Aransas County.  No notices were issued to Aransas County elected officials despite Steel Dynamics’ proposed steel plant’s waste substantially affecting Copano Bay.

Air Toxins Permit already issued with no comment from anyone in either county

As a result of the failure to give notice to Aransas County elected officials or residents, TCEQ has informed us, through the Chief of Staff of Aransas County’s representative to our State Legislature, that TCEQ has already issued the “air quality toxin permit” for the steel manufacturing plant because no one from San Patricio County or Aransas County made any written objections to TCEQ.  That fact illustrates the devious game-playing by TCEQ and its public employees in NOT giving notice to the affected public, as a state agency which has been “captured” by the industries it regulates.

In the Steel Dynamics case, it’s also interesting that TCEQ issued the air toxins permit to Buffalo LLC, an entity, which doesn’t have the word “Steel” in its name.  Only after that permit was issued did the Texas steel plant owning entity change its name on TCEQ’s records to Steel Dynamics Southwest LLC.

Steel Dynamics application for Industrial Wastewater Discharge Permit

We’re informed that TCEQ is still “evaluating” Steel Dynamics’ application for the permit to discharge its 1.56 million gallons per day of “treated” industrial waste water into Chiltipin Creek, which intensely bends and meanders (like the Mississippi River) before discharging into the Aransas Tidal River and Copano Bay.  Chiltipin is a real creek with a significant amount of water flowing across many people’s land.  It’s not a “dry arroyo” or ditch.

Steel Dynamics has a narrow focus in its wastewater discharge application; only giving limited amounts of unsubstantiated information to TCEQ about the effects of the industrial wastewater discharges in a three-mile radius around the proposed plant.

That’s the big lie in terms of TCEQ’s evaluation of Steel Dynamics application.

TCEQ has not received a shred of information concerning the 1.56 million gallons per day of “treated” industrial waste water discharge by Steel Dynamics ending up in Copano Bay, or the effects of that huge industrial wastewater discharge on Aransas County’s oysters, crabs and sports fish in the Copano Bay system, which includes Mission Bay, Port Bay, St. Charles Bay and Aransas Bay.

Steel Dynamics application, more fully described below, has at least a 1” stack of pages of Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the chemicals it uses in its operations, all of which say that there is no information on “bioaccumulation potential” of those chemicals, anywhere, let alone in the waters and aquatic life of the Aransas Tidal River and Copano Bay.

None of the chemical data provided to TCEQ by Steel Dynamics or by its civil engineer Hanson Professional Services has any provable evidentiary foundation, saying only that the data is from an unnamed “similar facility” whose age, location, ownership and operating history is undisclosed.

Reminiscent of Voestalpine’s public statement that they located their pig iron manufacturing plant in San Patricio County because the Austrian government wouldn’t allow them to operate one like it in their own country, Steel Dynamics’ press releases tell us that all of the equipment they intend to install to make steel and process their industrial waste water comes from a German manufacturer, whose press releases say that they are delighted to have the opportunity to set up their equipment in Texas.

Residential neighbors of Voestalpine have been intensely griping about massive quantities of iron and other materials blowing on their yards and homes from gigantic outside stockpiles on the pig iron plant’s property.  In Steel Dynamics application to TCEQ, they say they anticipate the same thing “Since raw and finished products may be stored outside, all materials have a potential for exposure to storm water … Materials that will be used for processing of the steel coatings, sealants and waste water treatment.”  San Patricio County is utterly lacking in a stormwater management plan, let alone one, which diverts industrial mineral/chemical contaminated storm water generated by Steel Dynamics, away from the Aransas Tidal River and Copano Bay.

Steel Dynamics’ press releases say they will be making the majority of their steel out of scrap metal purchased in bulk from Mexico and other places in the American southwest.  The simplistic land use plan filed by them with TCEQ shows that some day they might build a rail line to their plant, to haul the scrap metal in by the train car load.  However, for some undisclosed period of time, the scrap metal will be hauled to the Sinton area by truck on public roads in San Patricio and Aransas Counties.  Our assumption here in Aransas County is that the scrap metal hauling trucks will put additional wear-and-tear on our roads with no payment by Steel Dynamics to repair them, and that loose scrap metal will fall from the trucks, littering our roadsides and puncturing our residents’ tires.

It’s also very important to note that in their press releases Steel Dynamics describes their new steel plant as being built on roughly 800 acres.  However, they also note that they’ve gained ownership/control of 2,500 contiguous acres in total, so that their steel-buying industrial customers can “co-locate” manufacturing plants around them.  The wastewater and storm water discharges from those other manufacturing plants will be routed into the Aransas Tidal River and Copano Bay, as well, based on the precedent by the issuance of the industrial wastewater and storm water discharge permit(s) to Steel Dynamics.

In fact, factory-building-contractor websites report that in addition to Steel Dynamics and its customers that 12 other large industrial manufacturers are scouting the fields of San Patricio County, given TCEQ’s and San Patricio County’s willingness to facilitate new industrial building and manufacturing with no muss or fuss.  In fact, in Steel Dynamics application to TCEQ for a permit to discharge 1.56 million gallons of industrial wastewater into the Copano Bay system, Steel Dynamics and Hanson state “The San Patricio County Drainage District has no formal approval process of the discharge of treated wastewater to Chiltipin Creek”.

One of our Aransas County Commissioners bluntly said to me “San Patricio County is going to gain all of the economic benefits of these new industrial plants.  As a result they should pay to build a wastewater discharge pipeline to bays in their own county, Nueces Bay and Corpus Christi Bay and leave Copano Bay, which is NOT in their county, untouched.”

Very clearly San Patricio County, TCEQ and Steel Dynamics are NOT good neighbors, planning to dispose of their waste in our county’s bays rather than in San Patricio’s own bays.

Bottom line, Steel Dynamics application for TCEQ approval of its industrial wastewater discharges into the Copano Bay system utterly fail to disclose, in plain English, exactly what industrial and toxic chemicals and how much of each of them they plan to dispose of in OUR bay each day.

And of course Steel Dynamics fails to disclose what industrial chemical waste it expects its manufacturer-customers, who locate on Steel Dynamics’ spare 1,600+ acres, will dispose of into Copano Bay.

TCEQ’s repeated refusal to make reasonable arrangements to let Aransas County residents see the Steel Dynamics applications

Despite repeated requests by me, other Aransas County residents and elected officials representing Aransas County, that TCEQ send a full copy of Steel Dynamics’ waste water and storm water discharge permit applications to Aransas County Library, so all of us could see those documents.  TCEQ has continuously refused.

I’ve received both a paper letter and an email, telling me I have to travel to Sinton to see that application.  I note, in passing, that under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Title II, TCEQ is obligated to make reasonable accommodations to physically disabled people in dealing with their state government.  Aransas County is full of physically disabled but intellectually competent senior citizens, including me, but TCEQ persists in refusing to send a copy of Steel Dynamics application materials to the Aransas County Library, where our county’s physically disabled residents could easily visit and read it.

On Feb. 20, 2020 I went to the Aransas County Library and spoke with the librarian in charge that day.  She told me she had received NOTHING from TCEQ this year.  She said that on the rare occasion when TCEQ sends her documents, she date stamps them and puts them in a secure work room not accessible to the general public, so they won’t be “lost”.  She showed me the only two documents the Aransas County Library received from TCEQ in 2019 and 2018.  Neither of them related to the proposed industrial wastewater or storm water discharge permits for Steel Dynamics.  (On the rare occasions when you read a TCEQ notice published in the Rockport Pilot which says that you can look at the permit application at the Aransas County Library, be aware that’s simply disinformation.)

As a result of TCEQ’s unlawful intransigence, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, I got a ride for the 60+ mile round trip to read Steel Dynamics industrial waste water discharge permit application at the Thomas Library in Sinton.  (It’s worth noting in passing that TCEQ’s letters and emails didn’t even have the right library name on them.)

The librarian on duty located the 4” thick three ring binder constituting the Steel Dynamics’ TCEQ industrial wastewater discharge permit application for me.  While photocopying some pages, she happened to tell the man who gave me the ride that “No one has come in and looked at the application so far, except a person from Ingleside” and me.  Her comment illustrates the effectiveness of TCEQ’s hide-the-ball game playing in terms of allowing the public to educate itself about the details and impacts of a large steel manufacturing plant whose industrial wastewater will be discharged into the Copano Bay system.

The application I saw was entitled “TPDES Permit Application ... Wastewater Treatment Facility”.  It was prepared for Steel Dynamics by Hanson Professional Services, Inc. of Corpus Christi, who are also the private civil engineers Aransas County and its taxpayers pay to do the civil engineering designs for OUR county.  To me, Hanson taking the Steel Dynamics steel plant design job without having the courtesy or customer-loyalty to notify our County Judge and County Commissioners about the pendency of the steel plant permit applications is very troubling.

I was shocked by what was in Steel Dynamics’ application, to say the least, because in that application there is absolutely no analysis from any consultant to Steel Dynamics, on how the chemicals remaining in the treated industrial waste water from their massive steel making operation, or how their chemical laden storm water run-off, would affect oysters, crabs and game fish in Copano Bay.

There was no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is customarily prepared (and as required by Federal law) for large industrial projects requiring the issuance of Federal permits like this one.

All in all the application showed me that Aransas County is located in a banana republic, in which out-of-county politicians, out-of-state manufacturers, and wealthy investment funds expect to monetize their goals in an expedient way, based on unsubstantiated baloney, in this case at the expense of Aransas County’s tourist/fishing driven economy, its environment and its residents and taxpayers like you and me and their own investments in their homes and businesses.

This fight is not just about Steel Dynamics.  The fight is to keep outsiders trolling San Patricio County for new industrial locations from using our county’s bays as their watery industrial garbage dump, at our ultimate expense.

TCEQ still has not committed to setting a date and time for an informational meeting on the Steel Dynamics project and application.  In essence they intend to leave us in the dark while TCEQ’s employees “do their own analysis of the application”.

We Aransans need to have our own meeting, without TCEQ, to look at the scant and sketchy information Steel Dynamics, Hanson, and TCEQ are moving heaven and earth to hide from us, so that we are not sand-bagged at the last minute, which is TCEQ’s customary M.O.

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