Five years ago, Denny and I bought a Hill Country house a ways from town, where the ambient noise is the call of birds, and the night sky is so dark the Milky Way glows a path.
A nice family lives next-door and a number of other neighbors have introduced themselves...fox, raccoon, skunk and deer among them.
Then late last year as we were driving a lane to the farm-to-market road to town, I noticed a sign on a fence. Cryptic, the letters TXI and a phone number.
We were surprised to learn that TXI is a cement producer and owns the property behind that sign and eastward for a number of miles. Property used not just for making cement but quarrying the rock that goes into it.
I knew that quarries mine rock by blasting. Boom, clouds of dust, falls of rock, sound and rebound and dirt.
Picture courtesy of TXI Industries.
Not the kind of neighbor I expected when we moved to the quiet of the Hill Country. We'd never heard TXI's blasting from our place but I was worried.
The plant manager came out to talk to our community. The first thing he said was that they wanted to be a good neighbor. I'm betting everyone in the room took that with a grain of salt. But over the next 40 minutes he laid out the schematic of their property, talked about their business and plans, answered our questions and said over and over that being a good neighbor is good business.
Then a few months later he invited us out to the plant to watch a blast. Thirty six of us took him up on it.
An engineer talked about safety precautions, the computer modeling that preceeds the blast, the parameters and calculations.
Each blast takes place in stages with multiple charges at delayed 1,000th of a second intervals, reducing vibration by creating canceling wave forms. Elegant idea. I wonder if political ideologues who shout at each other realize they're canceling each other out.
TXI takes some other practical measures--like not blasting on cloudy days, analogous to why a cough sounds loud in an auditorium. And they quarry on two levels to help direct noise and dust into the bowl.
They blast once a week, using the least amount necessary to do the job, creating vibrations they say are well below federal standards for structural damage to homes. Turns out they can break the rock with less force--costs less and there is less risk of damage.
We wore white hard hats and stood back from the edge of the crater. When the blast came, I was a little disappointed. A modest boom, less than some 4th of July fireworks or the jet afterburn from the fighter jets my father flew when I was growing up. A brief billow of orange dust hiding a fall of shattered rock next to the newly-exposed cliff face.
They have a plan for restoring the land after quarrying, by putting in topsoil and native plants. I don't know how well they'll do it or how long before it will look like land again. I hope in time it becomes habitat.
After the blast we all went back to the plant and ate enchiladas, like neighbors. The manager gave us all his e-mail address with an invitation to let him know if we have any questions or problems. TXI won't quarry near our community border for another 20 years, but it's good to know that this corporate neighbor believes good relationships are good business.
Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.