Kashmere Gardens community, churches protest another polluting company

March 12, 2024

Archdiocesan director of Social Concerns, Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, speaks during a podium protests at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Houston with other Church and community leaders, including Auxiliary Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, CRS, as the TCEQ in January permitted Texas Coastal Materials to build a proposed concrete crusher mere yards from the busy Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital public hospital and Kashmere Gardens. The leaders joined in urging the public to join in a letter-writing campaign to the governor to reverse the decision to allow yet another polluting development in the neighborhood already besieged by a dozen industries. (Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Organization)

HOUSTON — With a dozen industrial companies already surrounding Kashmere Gardens, residents and medical staff of nearby Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital say they have enough air pollution and are protesting a proposed concrete crusher.

The historically African-American neighborhood inside Houston’s northern 610 Loop has held townhall meetings and protests since last year to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). But its Director approved a permit this past January for Texas Coastal Materials to build a concrete and rock crusher across the street mere yards away from the busy public hospital.

Now residents, state representatives and Church leaders hope a letter-writing campaign gathering thousands of signatures to Gov. Greg Abbott will help him to overturn the Standard Air Quality Permit 173296 given to the company.

Father Martin Eke, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in that neighborhood, said, “The company tells us it will not be a problem. But my parishioners and I live here in the community. The crushed gravel with its particulates will only add to the air pollution here.”

Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, Archdiocesan director of Social Concerns, who has joined the community protests, said, “I think the letter writing is important not because the governor may or may not read them, but because it provides citizens the data regarding the lack of investment of our state leadership in local issues.”

She added, “The letters reflect the commitment of the people of God and their desire to live and thrive in an environment that promotes the common good.”

Sister O’Connell said the TCEQ admitted to not reviewing that neighborhood’s air quality standards since 2008.

The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), a nonprofit that works with communities and churches, is spearheading the call to action for the letter-writing campaign at www.tmohouston.org.

“TMO will collect all letters by April 1,” its website stated. “We only have until April 8 to change the decision” because of the appeals process.

Pastor Charles Turner of New Pleasant Grove Baptist and Pastor Tracy Philips of New Hope Baptist Church, along with State Senator Borris Miles and State Representative Harold Dutton, have also spoken publicly against the concrete and rock crusher to be developed next to the hospital.

After voters overwhelmingly approved a $2.5 billion long-term bond issue last year, there were plans to expand the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital to a needed Level I trauma center, the third in the county and its first outside of the Texas Medical Center, according to Harris Health System.

Currently, Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital is the state’s busiest Level 3 trauma center, serving more than 80,000 emergency patients annually. State law also prohibits a crusher from being located within 440 yards of a school or place of worship.

The hospital, which contains both a school and a working chapel that holds regular services, is within 440 yards of the proposed crusher. The TCEQ director, in approving the permit, did not address how the development would violate the issue of the nearby school and church inside the hospital.

St. Francis parishioner and TMO member Sherry Dunlap said, “I think this is a horrible decision by the TCEQ, and it needs to be reversed. This is a lower socio-economic minority neighborhood, and companies feel like they can dump on the poor people, putting their lives even more at risk with noise and air pollution.”

“I love St. Francis,” said Dunlap, a retired principal from Spring Independent School District. “The state would not allow this plant in River Oaks.”

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee has stated his office would take legal action after the state agency approved the permit.