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Randy Goss leaving city's water and wastewater utility for LCRA

Wednesday, February 16, 2000 by

Eleven years at the helm and 26 years in the industry

The Lower Colorado River Authority has stolen another of Austin's top utility managers. This time it's Randy Goss, who has been director of Austin's Water and Wastewater Department since 1989. Goss has taken the job of director of the LCRA's water and wastewater utility. Goss tells In Fact Daily that the LCRA position was created in a reorganization engineered by Joe Beal, who succeeded Mark Rose as general manager of the agency effective Jan. 19.

The news came late yesterday as Goss informed his senior staff members. When In Fact Daily sought comment late last night, City Manager Jesus Garza and Assistant City Manager Toby Futrell could not be reached. Those who were available were momentarily stunned into silence by the news. None of them suspected Goss was leaving.

"I think it's a big loss for the city," says Darwin McKee, chair of the Water and Wastewater Commission. "I'm saddened for the City of Austin but happy if it's a positive move for him. I'm unaware of any dissatisfaction about his work. He's been straightforward with the commission and I've enjoyed working with him."

As Goss' major accomplishments McKee cites the $100 million LCRA water deal that secured Austin's raw water supplies for the next half century, planning sewer service for the southwest quadrant of the city in the wake of the 1994 cancellation of the South Austin Outfall Relief Main Project, and overseeing the initiation of reclaimed water projects and alternative wastewater systems.

Environmental opposition to the South Austin Outfall forced its cancellation and set the utility on a new path of heavy public involvement. A mediated consensus-building process took some six months of stakeholder meetings, followed by heavy negotiations, and finally resulted in wholesale wastewater service for the cities of Rollingwood and West Lake Hill s.

Commission Vice Chair Lanetta Cooper was likewise complimentary, saying, "He did a good job of running a public utility." She credits the utility for seeking outside scrutiny (a program actually initiated by former Council Member Ronney Reynolds in the wake of the management studies done for the city's electric utility). "It takes a lot of courage to ask someone to criticize what you're doing but it's also the mark of a good leader to realize you need others to look and comment, and be responsive to criticism." Overall, though Goss resisted some initiatives from the Water and Wastewater Commission, such as spending more money for public education on alternative wastewater treatment, Cooper compliments Goss' political savvy. "He was able to be sensitive to the concerns of the council and incorporate those concerns into his policy," she says.

Robin Rather, chair of the Save Our Springs Alliance, wondered about the strategic possibilities of taking secrets to a competitor. "In high-tech (companies) this would be 'oh shit,'" she said. On the other hand, Rather says, "We need all the help we can get at the LCRA and Randy certainly understands the issues and knows all the players."

Jack Goodman, a board member of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and a former LCRA employee, commented on the irony of Goss being in charge of the LCRA's water utility that plans to build a pipeline to send treated surface water to Dripping Springs, a project that all environmental organizations have opposed because it would trigger growth over the aquifer. "It will be interesting since Randy was fighting for the city and now he's going to be on the other side," Goodman said.

Goss downplays his future role in the Dripping Springs water line, noting that the agency is currently working to begin an Environmental Impact Statement for the project. He said he doubts he'll be involved "till I get my feet on the ground and get used to the culture. Maybe it will all be solved by then."

Goss follows the path to the LCRA blazed by two men who headed Austin's electric utility. John Moore retired from the city payroll in November 1997 to become manager of business development for the LCRA's Tensco (Transmission and Energy Services Co.). Moore's successor, Milton Lee, was promoted to general manager of Austin Energy in June 1997 as Moore stepped aside to aid in Lee's transition. Lee resigned from Austin Energy in September 1998 to work in business development for the LCRA's GenCo (Generation Co.).

The LCRA will be Goss' third utility employer. Goss, 48 years of age, worked for the City of Dallas water and wastewater utility for 15 years, rising to deputy director of wastewater operations before he was hired to head Austin's utility. "I've been here almost 11 years and I wanted to see what opportunities are out there," Goss tells In Fact Daily. Although he will make a bit more money, Goss says, "Money's not the reason I'm leaving, but for my own career and future opportunities. It's time for me to move on."

"I've been thoroughly satisfied with my experience at the city," Goss adds. "I have a philosophical difference with staying in a job too long."

Goss was point man for the city in the $100 million water deal the city closed last October, securing most of the raw water supplies the city is projected to need through the next half century. When the Save Our Springs Alliance rallied opposition to the deal and the City Council delayed it for a series of weekly public meetings, it was Goss who was at the forefront, patiently answering questions. Under his leadership, major infrastructure improvements were initiated, such as the project to boost the capacity of the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant and increase the plant's ability to pump water into the city's main distribution channels.

Goss says his last day of work with the city will be March 10 but he'll remain on the payroll in a leave status through April 2. He reports to work with the LCRA April 3. Concerning his departure from the city, Goss says, "I was just doing my job and moving on. I hope there's not a lot of fanfare."

Developers seek voter approval for golf course, resort on park land

Lake Walter Long under scrutiny by Larry Beard and California partner

A developer and local golfers who want a hotel, golf resort and conference center on dedicated park land at Lake Walter E. Long are hoping to get the proposal on the May 6 ballot. Jay Hailey of Locke Liddell & Sapp, attorney for the developers, told a committee of the Parks Board Tuesday that he envisions a "high-dollar golf course" for the unutilized park land off FM 973. Voters must authorize release of park land once it has been dedicated to that purpose.

Hailey said revenues generated by the golf course and resort could be used, in part, to buy two or three more golf courses for the city. Larry Beard of Austin said he and partner Mark Levy of California, would team up with developer Pierre Gagne. Gagne recently won a 35-year lease to build and operate a golf course on a former landfill in New York City, according to The New York Times.

According to written information provided to Parks Board committee members, Gagne Development Inc. and its partners will provide a 250-room hotel, conference center and banquet facilities, swimming pool, tennis courts, a 36-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and clubhouse facilities. The developers estimate that approximately $65 million would be invested in development and construction for the project. Gagne and partners project payments to the city of $92 million during the first 20 years of the lease. The money would be generated by the lease, green fees, property taxes, bed taxes and sales taxes. Another benefit touted by the developers would be new water, wastewater and roadway infrastructure in the Desired Development Zone.

Hailey said he and other proponents of the development understand that use of dedicated park land for private purposes may be controversial. "We think this is a unique situation," Hailey said. "Not a single Austinite has been able to use the park for 31 years." Lake Long was constructed to hold water from the Colorado River to provide cooling for the city's Decker Power Plant.

Howard Falkenberg, spokesman for the developers, told In Fact Daily, "We don't see it as creating any precedent that's not already been created. This is very unusual park land. It's just left over land that's tied to that lake and not used for any purpose. Other pieces (of the same park land) have been leased to private entities, including the Heritage and Exposition Center, which was taken over by Travis County in the mid '80s." Also, Falkenberg said, the city allowed Aquafest to lease some of the property.

Does this mean the next hotel is on Town Lake? Not at all, Falkenberg said. "This is a unique situation that doesn't present an opening of the gates for development on other park properties."

However, the Parks Board committee had so many questions for developers they asked the group to return for another meeting at noon Feb. 22. That means the matter cannot be placed on the agenda for the full Parks Board until March 14, said Parks Board Chair Rosemary Castleberry.

Hailey wants the item to be heard by City Council on March 2, so that the matter can be placed on the May 6 ballot. Falkenberg said the last day for putting items on the ballot would be March 22 and there is no council meeting on March 16. Castleberry told In Fact Daily, "The golf course is fine. Nobody has any problems with the golf course." But putting a hotel on park land would be "the camel's nose under the tent," she said. If the project is approved, she said, the city would have to fight off a lot of other developers who want to put hotels and other similar facilities on park land. "It sounds like Smart Growth," she said, "but I don't see this particular Parks Board making a positive recommendation."

Dick Kemp, chair of the city's Golf Advisory Board, said the city has four and one-half golf courses, which allow for about 300,000 rounds of golf per year. Those courses are already at capacity, Kemp said. "We can't fit any more golfers into the system." The advisory board has given the project a tentative approval, he said.

Roy Bechtol of Planned Environments Inc. told Parks Board members he designed the Decker Lake (Lake Walter Long) Master Plan 31 years ago as an architecture student. He's now hoping the park, which is fenced off from the public, can become a golf course and conference center.

The developers think Lake Long is an ideal location for a conference center because of its proximity to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Motorola, Tracor, Applied Materials and Samsung. Hailey told the Parks Board committee Lake Long would become a resort destination between the tech centers and the airport.

Falkenberg said Austin's large companies are having trouble finding meeting space in Austin. The Austin Convention Center caters to much larger groups, he said. Marriott International Inc. has expressed interest in building the resort hotel with a 22,000-square-foot conference center, Falkenberg said. About 400 acres of park land would be used for the hotel, golf course, restaurant, swimming pool and conference center, while the remaining 400 acres would be undeveloped, he said.

Falkenberg said golf boosters have been making the rounds of City Council offices. However, Council Member Gus Garcia said he had not received enough information about the project to comment, except to say that he thought getting the proposition on the May ballot would be difficult. Other than that, Garcia said, laughing, "I can't comment intelligently; I can't even comment dumbly."

Barry to run for council… Clare Barry says she has definitely decided to run for the Place 5 seat being vacated by Council Member Bill Spelman. Barry, who works for the Texas Department of Transportation, said her request for a leave of absence has been approved, but she has not decided when she will begin campaigning full-time; it might be as late as March 21. Will Wynn, former chair of the Downtown Austin Alliance, has also announced he will run to succeed Spelman ( In Fact Daily Feb. 14 and Feb. 15). Also running are bicycling advocate Amy Babich, the formerly homeless Stephen "Twig" Meeks, and possibly businessman Manuel Zuniga… City Hall input sought…Space planners for the new City Hall will be holding three stakeholders' meetings later today. All meetings are in the 3rd Floor Training Room at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road. Government stakeholders are invited to attend 3-5 p.m. Business stakeholders will meet 5-7 p.m. Community stakeholders are invited to participate 7-9 p.m. For more information, call Group Solutions RJW at 448-4459.

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