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Water and Wastewater Commission votes to recommend Bradley Settlement

Thursday, March 2, 2000 by

Majority persuaded agreement is better than the risks without it

The Water and Wastewater Commission last night voted to recommend the City Council approve the Bradley Settlement, which would end litigation with developer Gary Bradley and settle development rights for more than 3,000 acres of land. The vote was 5-1 with three commissioners absent. Voting for the recommendation were Chair Darwin McKee and Commissioners Aida Douglas, Jim Haley, Chien Lee and Dacio Marin. Commissioner Harriet Harris voted no. Commissioner Lanetta Cooper had asked many questions about the agreement but left the meeting before the vote. Commissioners Kim McPherson and Michael Wilson were absent.

"There's a lot of information in here we don't know," Harris said before the vote. She expressed concern about putting development in the Drinking Water Protection Zone (DWPZ) and putting sewer lines and lift stations in the DWPZ to serve that development. "Yes, there's been a lot of progress but a lot of work still needs to be done and I don't think it's ready to recommend to the council," she said.

The motion to recommend approval was made by Haley, an attorney and former deputy executive director of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC). He said he was at the agency when the Texas Legislature passed the law that allowed the creation of Water Quality Protection Zones (WQPZ). "The jeopardy of the city on WQPZs in court is very high," he said. Having been at the TNRCC when WQPZs were being implemented, he said, "there's nothing for environmental protection. Taking a deal like this where the city has gotten Bradley so close to SOS ( Save Our Springs Ordinance compliance) makes a case in my mind that's extremely compelling."

The vote came after a briefing by attorney Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, Water and Wastewater Department Director Randy Goss, Assistant Director Reynaldo Cantu, Environmental Services Manager Les Tull, and hydrogeologist David Johns.

Some issues surfaced at the Water and Wastewater Commission regarding the Bradley Settlement that have not been previously reported by In Fact Daily. For example, Dobson said the agreement includes a provision to "right size roads for local needs, not multi-lane freeways, to serve development on the land." He said that the right of way for such roadways would be inadequate for building bigger roads later. However, Commissioner Harris asked how it could be guaranteed that other entities would not size up the roads. "You're absolutely right," replied Tull. "Through this agreement between the city and private land owners we can't prevent the state or federal government from condemning land and doing what they want with it." County government would have the same right.

Cantu said the city was waiving Capital Recovery Fees of $7 million for water and wastewater service to serve all residential development and all commercial development of less than 50,000 square feet gross area. The fees will not be waived on the hotel and golf course development, he said. None of the water and wastewater improvements needed to serve these properties will be constructed by the city or at the city's expense, but they will be constructed to meet city standards, Cantu said.

Goss said the city is agreeing under the Bradley Settlement to provide retail water and wastewater service to commercial tracts at the intersection of MoPac Expressway and State Highway 45, including Slaughter 100 and Edwards Crossing.

Negotiations are underway with Mid-Tex Utility to be a wholesale customer of the city for both water and wastewater service. Such service will meet city standards north of Bear Creek and state standards south of Bear Creek. Goss clarified that for In Fact Daily after the meeting. He said state rules for the Edwards Aquifer specify construction methods and materials that are more stringent than typical rural standards. "The biggest impact is fire protection," Goss said. The area meeting city standards will have fire flows for adequate fire protection. Parts of the system meeting state standards will have less water pressure, and will be serving rural lots of five to 40 acres, he said. Those areas will have on-site sewage systems as well, he said.

Cooper asked what debt Mid-Tex Utility would incur to build the water and wastewater infrastructure needed to serve the Spillar and Pfluger tracts–debt the city might have to assume if it annexed the land for full purposes. Goss said if the land were annexed the city would not have to take over Mid-Tex because its certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) gives Mid-Tex the right to continue service, although the city possibly could negotiate an agreement to purchase Mid-Tex.

As to the concern expressed by the Save Our Springs Alliance that utilities might be extended beyond the Spillar and Pfluger tracts, Goss told In Fact Daily that to ensure adequate water pressure for fire flows the system must be designed for worst-case and could theoretically serve more development. However, for Mid-Tex to extend service beyond the Spillar and Pfluger tracts Mid-Tex would have to seek state approval for expansion of the service area specified in its CCN, and would need City Council approval as well.

Goss said some neighborhoods east of the Pfluger tract that rely upon wells have requested access to city water, either from the Edwards Crossing tract or from Mid-Tex, Goss said. "That's still being discussed," Goss said.

Cooper asked what protection there would be for environmental features that are major sources for recharging the aquifer. Johns said that Bradley had agreed to follow all setbacks from such features. "All features we find we'll evaluate and if critical we'll put a buffer on (them) and they'll have to go around."

In response to Cooper's questions about the feasibility of using treated wastewater effluent to irrigate the golf course instead of well water supplemented by the city's potable water, Goss said while the city's treated effluent meets Type 1 standards for irrigation and is safe for human contact, there is a concern in the environmental community that it could enter the aquifer through a sinkhole and possibly contaminate private wells. Tull said stormwater could be captured and used to irrigate the golf course as well.

Slusher writes letter to citizens seeking guidance on Bradley deal

Council member disappointed in lack of citizen input

Council Member Daryl Slusher, who as a journalist avidly followed the city's battles with developer Gary Bradley, has written an open letter to Austin citizens, some of whom received it by e-mail Wednesday. Slusher says he hopes for constructive comments and guidance from his constituents on this decision, which he calls "one of the hardest and most important decisions that this council will make." He also says he has been disappointed that so few citizens have shown up for public hearings on this crucial matter, noting that a total of five people have spoken at the council's two public hearings. A few more than that showed up for Tuesday night's Planning Commission hearing, but several of them only wanted to discuss zoning issues ( In Fact Daily Feb. 29).

Slusher writes, "As you probably realize I have a long history of involvement in the efforts to preserve the aquifer and in the battle over Circle C–which is located atop a very sensitive portion of the aquifer. I have written extensively about these issues as a journalist and made them a priority as a council member. In fact, I believe I have written more about Circle C than any person alive or dead."

Slusher continues, "I do not mean this letter as a persuasion piece in any direction. I offer it in the spirit of detailed analysis sketched in its historical context." One of the council member's reasons for writing the letter is to give him a better understanding of a complex deal. Also, Slusher says, he hopes to provide an "understanding of the current situation for those of us here and those who might care to look back from the future." In fact, the piece does not argue for accepting or rejecting an agreement, but recites many of the facets of the deal that have been described by the city's attorney, Casey Dobson, each time the lawyer is called upon to explain the proposal.

In addition, Slusher outlines the history of Bradley's fights with the city, legislative interference with Austin's attempts at self-determination, and a description of the decades-long argument between those who believe that utility extensions should be denied in order to prevent growth over the sensitive Edwards Aquifer. "Some argue that attempts to limit and guide development through denial of utilities have been unsuccessful, even disastrous. Others maintain that growth follows roads and utility service. There is evidence for both points of view," he writes. But Slusher states his own view that land-use planning and environmental regulations are better methods of protecting the environment than utility controls.

As promised, Slusher does not argue for or against the agreement, but ends with a list of safeguards the city has built into the proposal and a request for input from citizens.

You can find links to Slusher's comments, as well as those by Mayor Kirk Watson, at the city's web site, Watson's comments were given as a speech when details of the proposal were first revealed at a council meeting on Feb. 3. The mayor's comments clearly indicate that Watson believes the city should seize "an historic opportunity to protect water quality while at the same time serving our Smart Growth and anti-sprawl policy goals."

Linder's on the ballot…Place 6 challenger Nelson Linder filed yesterday for a place on the City Council ballot for the May 6 election. The 41-year-old insurance agent is taking on incumbent Council Member Willie Lewis. Also expected to run is Austin police officer Danny Thomas… Candidates on parade…Candidates for Travis County Precinct 1 constable, District 50 state representative, and president of the United States have been invited to a Tuesday, March 7, forum sponsored by the Baptist Ministers' Union of Austin and Vicinity. The event will be held at 1701 Chestnut St. beginning at 7 p.m. For more info, call Minister Emanuel Limuel at 451-0808 or Doctor Sterling Lands at 454-6170…An information session on schematic designs for the Long Center for the Performing Arts will be held Wednesday, March 8, at 5:30 p.m. at Team Haas Architects, 1011 San Jacinto, Suite 411. Sponsored by ARTS Center Stage, the meeting will be open to all potential users of the new facility to be retrofitted at Palmer Auditorium. The lead design firm, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, will present schematic designs based on the approved facility program. RSVP to Letty Chavarria at 482-0800. The full program for the Long Center can be viewed at… Mystery man…The campaign of Gus Garcia Jr., candidate for judge of County Court at Law No. 5, continues to issue press releases that leave recipients scratching their heads. One faxed last night announced a fish fry at Rabbit's Lounge, 1816 E. 5th St., but did not give a date or time. If interested, you'll need to call 457-0089. Garcia is to discuss the status of the campaign and his strategy for the days leading up to the primary election…Performing arts news… He's outta here…Last night's meeting of the Water and Wastewater Commission was the last for Randy Goss, who for nearly 11 years has been director of the Water and Wastewater Department. As reported by In Fact Daily Feb. 16, Goss has taken a job with the Lower Colorado River Authority as director of its water and wastewater utility. His last day of work with the city will be March 10. "We've enjoyed working with you," said Commission Chair Darwin McKee. "It seems like we're having brain drain here."

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