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Monday, January 10, 2000 by

LCRA warns of drastic consequences from gasoline leak into water supplies

Pipeline opponents hoping for even bigger crowd at tonight's public hearing

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has written a letter urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require replacement pipe for additional portions of the Longhorn Partners Pipeline because a leak from the pipeline could "devastate the quality of significant water resources." The letter, dated Jan. 5, states the agency disagrees with the preliminary "Finding of No Significant Impact…primarily because the drinking water supply for several hundred thousand people is placed at risk if a large gasoline spill reaches Lake LBJ or Lake Travis." Such a spill would threaten "drinking water supplies for communities on the lakes as well as the City of Austin." The letter was signed by Dennis Daniel, LCRA manager for environmental and safety matters. Radian International, which did the Environmental Assessment for EPA, concluded its study with a Finding of No Significant Impact.

"Our concerns about the impacts of a gasoline spill also extend to groundwater," the letter says. "A gasoline leak or spill poses a substantial threat of contaminating groundwater supplies, especially if the gasoline contains MTBE." Don Martin of Don Martin Public Affairs, a spokesperson for the pipeline, says MTBE is a highly carcinogenic gasoline additive that has been banned in several states, but not in Texas. Longhorn Pipeline supports banning the chemical from gasoline, Martin said, but would have no choice about whether it transported MTBE-laden products because Longhorn is a "common carrier."

The LCRA letter also said the agency is most concerned about small leaks that occur below detection limits over long periods, which was not a focus of the Radian study. For example, a leak of 0.5 percent of 225,000 barrels per day equals 47,000 gallons per day, according to the letter. "At this rate, the worst-case-spill scenario of the (Environmental Assessment) would be exceeded in less than five days. The high reliance of many individuals and communities on groundwater, combined with the mobility of MTBE, makes this a particularly troublesome situation," the letter concludes.

LCRA Spokesman Bill McCann told In Fact Daily he does not expect anyone from his organization to speak at Monday's hearing. He said an LCRA representative, Environmental Policy Manager Ken Manning, has already testified at hearings held in Bastrop and Fredericksburg.

Meanwhile, other pipeline opponents are readying for battle. Mike Blizzard of Blizzard Fawal and Associates, complained that the site of tonight's hearing was "switched at the last minute" from the City Coliseum to Palmer Auditorium. Blizzard, spokesman for the PIPE Coalition (Protecting Individuals Protecting the Environment), said such a change is "typically a page out of the corporate public relations handbook." Although Palmer is a larger and more suitable location for the hearing, Blizzard said, "I think everything will be all right, but it did create a massive amount of confusion." Thousands of slick, glossy one-page fliers were mailed to residents of South Austin and selected residents in other parts of the city, Blizzard said. All of those say the hearing is at the Coliseum.

Ann Kitchen, a Democratic Party candidate for state representative in District 48, also sent a glossy one-page flier, with an anti-pipeline theme. Kitchen, who hopes to take over the seat State Representative Sherri Greenberg is vacating, has a "five-point pipeline protection plan for neighborhoods." Kitchen told In Fact Daily, "The state does have responsibility for issuing operating permits for pipelines. The current requirements for obtaining a permit are not very extensive. A one-page form has to be filled out." Kitchen said she would like to require state agencies to do local safety, environmental and economic impact statements before issuance of the operating permit. In addition, Kitchen wants to require buffer safety zones to keep pipelines away from densely populated areas and schools. The pipeline has already received its state operating permit from the Texas Railroad Commission, Kitchen said. All of Kitchen's fliers direct interested citizens to attend the Monday night hearing at the Coliseum.

Martin said EPA, not Longhorn, arranged for the location change. However, Martin knew about it on Wednesday, when he sent out notices to the media. Blizzard said he could not confirm the location until Friday. At any rate, the doors of Palmer are scheduled to open at 4 p.m. today, so a number of organizations and individuals, mostly opposing the pipeline, can set up tables and talk to anyone who has questions about the pipeline. The hearing is set for 6 p.m. Blizzard said he is hoping for "several hundred more" people than showed up at last month's hearing, where attendance was estimated at 800 people. The deadline for sending written comments to the EPA is Friday.

CAMPO executive group revises peer review plan for transportation

Full CAMPO Policy Advisory Committee to reconsider on Feb. 7

The executive committee of CAMPO's ( Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) agreed unanimously Friday to a revised description of the proposal for a peer review study rejected by the full committee last month. Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, chair of the group, warned that a less than unanimous vote among the executive committee would be divisive when the full group meets again. The full committee rejected plans for the study last month on a vote of 11-8 ( In Fact Daily Dec. 14).

Travis County Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Todd Baxter suggested many of the revisions. One change, which was also suggested by Dick Kallerman of the Sierra Club, was inclusion of the idea that Austin's air may be designated as nonattainment. Sonleitner said she and Baxter deleted the word "reasonableness" just about wherever they found it in the rejected document. For example, under the old draft, the consultant would have been asked to "review the reasonableness and consistency of use of the transportation assumptions" and also "review the reasonableness, consistency of use, and significance of the population and employment forecasts for transportation/mobility planning purposes." The word "reasonableness" was replaced by accuracy in the Sonleitner-Baxter version.

Barrientos, turning to Mayor Kirk Watson, asked the mayor, as a lawyer, to define reasonableness. Watson said, "The definition of reasonableness is acting in a prudent manner under same or similar circumstances–and it is always in the eye of the beholder. And that is why you have jury trials." After the meeting, Watson told In Fact Daily he supported the changed plan because to address the region's transportation problems, jurisdictional lines are irrelevant economically, environmentally and with regards to mobility.

Watson made the motion at the December meeting that directed a subcommittee of the PAC to work with community representatives to try to achieve peer review. Some of those community representatives showed up at Friday's meeting. Barrientos allowed them to address the committee briefly, but they did not get the full hearing they expected. Transportation activists Roger Baker and Dave Dobbs each stressed economic considerations.

Baker told the group he could tell them flaws in the current area transportation plan. "First of all, the financial assumptions of the current plan are questionable–like the billions of dollars of imaginary federal transit money assumed in the 1994 ATS ( Austin Transportation Study) plan." When Baker started to criticize the process as a scheme hatched by the Chamber of Commerce and the A ustin Area Research Organization (AARO), Barrientos interrupted him. In his written comments, however, Baker said, "the clincher in confirming my worst suspicions of the real agenda for the peer review process is the CAMPO staff recommendation for the makeup of what they call the Peer Review Project steering committee."

Baker noted that Pete Winstead, chair of the Texas Turnpike Authority, would be added to the steering committee, along with "a community leader," whom Baker assumed would be one of "those who lobbied for peer review in the first place like the Austin American-Statesman publisher ( Mike Laosa)." Laosa attended Friday's meeting. He said the fact that he, Neal Kocurek and Terry Bray were instrumental in forwarding the idea of the study had nothing to do with the fact that they are members of AARO.

The plan approved by the executive committee calls for three community representatives to sit on the project's steering committee. The original plan would have allowed only one citizen on the committee.

Kallerman said the study should include equitable consideration for people "for whom the automobile is not an option." Kallerman said he was representing Rethinking Our Urban Transportation Environment (ROUTE), Trans Texas Alliance, Austin Bicycle Advisory Council, WALK Austin, and the Texas Association for Public Transportation, in addition to Sierra Club. Kallerman asked that the study include consideration of funding for the next 25 years in three-year blocks; increasing the number of sub-areas for geographical projections of population and employment from the current 10 to 50, "so that neighborhoods can see how they will change." In addition, Kallerman asked that walking and bicycling projects receive 25 percent of federal STP 4C dollars, instead of the current 15 percent. The committee did not discuss any of those issues.

The full CAMPO PAC is scheduled to consider the revised plan Feb. 7. Michael Aulick, executive director of CAMPO, said the draft of the Austin area 2025 transportation plan will be ready on March 20, which is the date of the CAMPO PAC's March meeting.

Planning Commission approves site plan for South Austin Police Substation

Police promise relief from noise, dust, construction disruption

Planning Commissioners last week approved the police department's site plan for the South Austin Substation at 400 Ralph Ablanedo Drive. Assistant Police Chief Bruce Mills told commissioners the need for the substation, after eight years on the drawing board, is critical. Officers who work in the southern part of the city now commute from the East Austin Substation, Mills said, adding 20 to 30 minutes a day to their travel time. Mills said construction of the South Austin Substation must get underway quickly so that the East Austin Substation can be vacated by July 2001, when construction of a new forensics facility is scheduled to begin at the East Austin site.

Last month, the commission put off a decision on the site plan at the request of neighborhood activist Betty Edgemond. ( In Fact Daily Dec. 8) Last week, commissioners told Mills they wanted to make sure the city kept promises made to neighbors in letters from Mills and Eric Stockton, facilities manager for the department. Those letters include promises related to lighting, drainage, noise, prevention of dust and other disruptions during construction, and a commitment to be a good neighbor. Mills said, "Our plan is certainly to honor what's in the letters."

Craig Russell, project manager for the substation for the Public Works Department, said the site would include an Art in Public Places project consisting of a memorial to police, fire and EMS workers who have died in the line of duty. The project, as seen in an artist's rendering, includes a circle of trees around a sculpture. Russell said the memorial would be between the police building and an existing EMS Substation.

Barbara Simota of the Swanson Lane Homeowners Association told the commission that police department representatives working with her had been "unfailingly knowledgeable, courteous and patient with my many questions. We support this project."

The Planning Commission met in a cramped space at City Hall, Room 304. Nearly every seat was taken at the beginning of the meeting, even with no major controversy on the agenda. The commission postponed a hearing on the Gary Bradley settlement deal at the request of City Attorney Andy Martin.

Triana sworn in as judge of County Court at Law No. 5

Gisela Triana was sworn in as judge of Travis County Court at Law No. 5 in a packed courtroom Friday. State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos swore in Triana, who has served as Justice of the Peace for the past year. After the ceremony, Triana told In Fact Daily she had earlier feared a bomb scare in the courthouse annex might keep people from coming. That was clearly not the case, as lawyers, judges, politicos, Triana's family and friends filled the courtroom.

Travis County commissioners appointed Triana to the bench when Judge Wilfred Aguilar resigned. A former municipal court judge, Triana has also served as an officer in the Texas Women's Political Caucus and Austin Women's Political Caucus . Currently she serves as county vice president of the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees.

Opposing Triana in the Democratic primary is attorney Gus Garcia Jr. Attorney Grant Goodwin has filed for the position as a Republican.

He's outta here…After less than two years on the job, Austin Municipal Court Clerk Paul Martin will be leaving Austin behind for a higher-paying job in Tyler. Martin, who came to Austin from a federal court position in Atlanta, will become deputy clerk for Federal Courts in the Eastern District of Texas… Last call…The Urban Land Institute's Austin District Council presents Austin 2000: A National Perspective Wednesday, Jan. 12, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Omni Austin Hotel. The featured speaker is William H. Hudnut III, a four-term mayor of Indianapolis, Ind., 1976-1991. Today's the registration deadline. Call (800) 321-5011 for more info… Deep impact…No, it's not the movie. The Downtown Austin Alliance will make its 2000 Downtown Impact Awards at noon, Wednesday, Jan. 19, at the Austin Marriott at the Capitol. The Individual Impact Award goes to architect Sinclair Black. The Project Impact Award goes to the Driskill Hotel. The Design Impact Award goes to The Sutton Co. The Chair Emeritus Impact Award goes to the Save Our Springs Alliance. Tickets are $20. E-mail RSVPs to downtownaustin.com or call 469-1766.

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