Dallas concrete recycler can't find site to expand

Print
Email
|

by By RUDOLPH BUSH / The Dallas Morning News rbush@dallasnews.com

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:44 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 12:33 PM

Mason Brown's business has one of the best views in Dallas, a sweeping vista of the city and its river basin from a towering hill of concrete just south of downtown.

REX C. CURRY/Special Contributor
Big City Crushed Concrete has operated south of downtown since the late '80s. Its concrete waste pile has nearly reached the maximum height allowed by its permit, but the dusty, noisy operation's long quest for zoning for an additional site has been in vain.

Chances are that you'll never see that view, unless you happen to drive one of the trucks that haul tons of construction debris to his recycling company, Big City Crushed Concrete, each day.

Now, Mr. Brown has a problem. His view keeps getting better, because his pile of concrete keeps getting bigger - so big it soon will have to stop growing under his current permit.

Then, Mr. Brown wonders, where will the concrete go?

Despite two years of looking and repeated requests for new permits and zoning for an additional site, the only answer he hears is no.

"None of the suburban cities want us," he said.

And Dallas doesn't want him either, at least not at a southeast Oak Cliff site he had hoped to expand to, south of Youngblood Road adjacent to the McCommas Bluff landfill.

"It is increasingly difficult to accommodate undesirable uses in a redeveloping city," said Theresa O'Donnell, director of the city's development services department.

Ms. O'Donnell acknowledged that Mr. Brown's problem is a serious one, not just for him but for the city.

Waste concrete needs to be recycled, and Mr. Brown provides a good service, taking it in for free and crushing it to an aggregate that can be sold for road base, she said.

But Dallas is a changing city, and there is less land than there used to be for businesses like his.

"We want to help him grapple with those issues, but we still need to respect our land-use plan," she said.

Mr. Brown will be the first to say that his business, one of the largest concrete crushing operations in the nation, is undesirable.

There's a good deal of noise from his huge crusher, a Rube Goldberg device of conveyor belts, magnets and a giant crushing jaw that chews up concrete from dawn 'til dusk.

Then there's the dust. All day it plumes and blows across his operation, settling in a fine sediment and coloring to a light gray everything it touches, from the leaves on trees to the hair of the men who tend the machines.

And of course there are trucks, pulling in and out all day to dump and load.

"We're not a good neighbor to anyone but ourselves, but we've got to be somewhere," he said.

Michael Jung, an attorney who frequently represents homeowner groups at City Hall, said Big City's problem isn't unique.

It's rooted in Dallas' indecision over how to deal with the heavy industries the city needs in order to redevelop, but doesn't particularly want in the city limits, he said.

"I think the city needs to either find a place where it wants to allow such uses or make the decision that there is no such place in the city of Dallas," Mr. Jung said.

As it is, there is no coherent policy, he said.

The city does have an industrial corridor near the Trinity River Corridor at Lamar Street and in the northwest section of the city at Interstate 35E and Walnut Hill Lane, around the site of Mr. Brown's second crushing operation at Goodnight Lane.

There are also a number of industrial sites across the southern sector and in smaller areas scattered around Dallas.

But getting a permit to operate in any one of them isn't easy. No council member wants to face a roomful of residents angry over the new concrete-batch plant in the neighborhood.

"It's a hodgepodge. Each council member is deciding on an ad hoc basis whether they want it in their district and are tending to decide they don't," Mr. Jung said.

The way Mr. Brown sees it, City Hall has a responsibility to help him find a site.

"This is Dallas' problem. Dallas is generating this junk, and Dallas is going to have to deal with it because nobody else wants it," he said.

As the city redevelops its core, hundreds of tons of concrete waste are produced each day.

Mr. Brown can track the city's success by the number of trucks that pull up his hill each day.

In his first year of operation in the late 1980s, he took in about 60,000 tons of concrete. This year, he estimates he'll take in 2.6 million tons at his two sites.

And though the Goodnight Lane site could be expanded, it would force more heavy-truck traffic through downtown from construction sites in South Dallas and downtown, Mr. Brown said.

That's not a solution the city wants.

Meanwhile, the concrete pile on Forest Avenue stands around 63 feet high. Under the current state permit, it can't get bigger than 65 feet.

"We're nearly full," Mr. Brown said. "We can't handle any more. We're running two shifts and its coming in faster than we can crush it."

One possible solution considered by the city is to use the McCommas Bluff landfill as an expansion site.

Those plans are preliminary, however, and the timing and location of such a site remain unknown.

If no new site is found, and the waste continues to be produced at its current rate, Mr. Brown said he will stop accepting it at his Forest Avenue plant until his crusher works through the pile he's got now.

Where the waste he doesn't take in will go, he doesn't know. His guess is somewhere it isn't supposed to be, in some slice of the Trinity riverbed that was never intended as a concrete dump.

Print
Email
|