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Bradley deal with city still pending, contractual documents not filed yet

Wednesday, April 26, 2000 by

Fish and Wildlife Service just got 1,700-page document last week

Deal, what deal? Developer Gary Bradley's scheduled to make a luncheon speech today to the Real Estate Council of Austin titled War & Peace, to talk about the deal he made with the City of Austin to settle litigation and fix development regulations for more than 3,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land. But, get this–the deal's not done yet, not to the extent that Bradley can go forward with development.

Yes the City Council did vote unanimously for the Bradley Settlement on March 23 (see In Fact Daily March 24) but right now the deal is in nevertheless in limbo. Attorney Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, who represented the City of Austin in months of negotiations with Bradley, told In Fact Daily the documents are signed and "sitting in escrow." "Bradley has not told the escrow agent to release the documents," he said. Dobson confirmed that the necessary documents had been signed by all parties, but added, "they have not recorded them yet in the deed records."

The practical effect is that the Bradley Interests can't proceed with development. "If Bradley came in today with a plat he would like pursuant to the Bradley Agreement we'd say no," Dobson said. While there may be good and sufficient reasons why the documents might sit in escrow, Dobson said, "I honestly don't know why the documents are not out of escrow yet."

City Attorney Andy Martin said, "It takes an instruction letter from both sides to release the documents from escrow," and he said the city is ready to provide the letter when Bradley's ready.

When In Fact Daily asked Mayor Kirk Watson why the documents were still being held, he replied, "I don't know," adding that any approvals Bradley needs from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are not part of the deal with the city.

Bradley could not be reached for comment on the matter. Bridgett Moffat, a spokesperson for Bradley Development, said, "Things are very tentative. We don't have any comment right now."

David Frederick, Austin field supervisor for the FWS, said yesterday his office has only been working on questions surrounding the Bradley properties for "three to four days." Frederick said about six months ago Bradley had advised FWS that he was negotiating with the city, but FWS did not hear back from Bradley until last week.

Frederick said FWS is mostly concerned about water quality issues because Bradley's property sits atop the Edwards Aquifer. In addition, Frederick said the agency is concerned about the impact on the Barton Springs Salamander, Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, all federally listed endangered species.

Frederick said he had no idea how long it would take for FWS to review the 1,700-page document just received by the agency. The agency must determine whether Bradley's proposed development would have an adverse impact on the water quality of Barton Springs and on the endangered species, he said.

Nancy McClintock, manager of the Environmental Resource Division of the Watershed Protection Department, told In Fact Daily, "We gave a presentation to Fish and Wildlife before the deal was done," but the federal agency has not asked the city for any more information since then. When city staff made its presentation, McClintock said, "We had a lot of discussion. They asked a lot of questions. (But) they didn't at that time express any single point of concern."

Hays County residents register objections to well drilling for 50 million gallons per year

Approval of application not a foregone conclusion, vote set for May 2

The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) board of directors held one of its largest public hearings ever Tuesday night, with more than 30 citizens of Hays County jamming the tiny district office. Directors heard numerous objections to an application by T.J. Higginbotham to drill a commercial water well on 48 acres of land west of Buda. Higginbotham has asked for permission to pump 50 million gallons of water per year from the aquifer.

The question many, including directors, asked is what does Higginbotham plan to do with 50 million gallons of water per year, if he's allowed to pump it? That question remains unanswered. Higginbotham stood at the back of the room with an unlit cigar firmly affixed in his mouth. When Precinct 5 Director Craig Smith asked Higginbotham directly what use he intends for the water, attorney Jimmy Allen Hall, said, "It's very difficult for Mr. Higginbotham or anybody else in a similar situation to know, until we know how much water is available."

Hall drew laughter from the audience when he said 50 million gallons would serve "12 to 13 households per year." Director Don Turner said 6.8 million gallons per year serves 44 homes in his community.

Smith, addressing Hall directly, said he didn't know how he would vote on the application. However, he said the law requires board members to make a determination that a well be a "beneficial use of water (that does) not contribute to waste." Without knowing what the water would be for, Smith said, he couldn't make that determination. Director Jack Goodman echoed Smith's sentiments.

Jack Bauer, from the Crosshouse subdivision, said he would oppose the permit if "this is to be used for urban development and urban sprawl." He also expressed concern that the proposed 50-million-gallon well would effect the southwest part of the aquifer.

Pete Stone, former mayor of Buda, said the City of Buda has a 12-inch water main in place directly across from Higginbotham's property. He requested that the board deny the application until Higginbotham tells them what he will do with the water. Stone also said the board should order "some kind of environmental impact statement."

Jim Camp, a candidate for the board from Precinct 1, where Higginbotham's well would be drilled, said the well could have impacts "all around the aquifer. I could be elected in three weeks. God help me."

John Dickey, a Hays County resident, told the directors they should be careful how they vote. "I will litigate if necessary," he said.

After the well is drilled, Higginbotham's consultants will determine what amount of water is available. However, he must have approval from the board before drilling. If the board grants permission, Higginbotham's consultants will perform hydrologic tests, said Stovy Bowlin, general manager of the BSEACD. Bowlin said district employees would watch the consultants and do some testing of their own to find out what happens to other wells in the area when so much water is pumped from the proposed location. Board Chairman Roy Dalton said approval of the permit to drill is "not a foregone conclusion."

The board is scheduled to vote on Higginbotham's application to drill the well Tuesday, May 2, at 9 a.m. Director Lois Franklin, whose precinct would be most effected by the well, said she may not attend that meeting. Franklin is retiring from the board. She said she is moving to Tallahassee, Fla. on Tuesday. Dalton said Higginbotham had agreed to a second public hearing after the board receives information from the tests, if he is given approval to drill the well.

Dalton thanked all the participants in the public hearing and asked that they be present again to help with the Legislature. The board chairman said he is sure the district will be asking for more regulatory authority during the next session.

Wild about Mitchell…The consultant for Council Member Willie Lewis' reelection campaign was thrilled to read In Fact Daily yesterday that former Council Member Eric Mitchell (whom Lewis rudely unseated from job in 1997) is on record in supporting Lewis' challenger Danny Thomas, a senior police officer with the Austin Police Department. Mike Blizzard of Blizzard Fawal & Associates said, "I'm really glad Eric Mitchell gave his support to Danny Thomas. I think Danny Thomas is forgetting the objective of the election is to get votes."… Check out the water…The city's Watershed Protection Department and the U.S. Geological Survey will conduct demonstrations of innovative techniques for water-quality sampling and monitoring during a field trip to Zilker Park Thursday, April 27. Demonstrations will be held at 1:30 and 5 p.m. for water scientists from across the nation. The field trip is part of the National Water Quality Monitoring Council Conference April 25-27 at the Hyatt Regency Town Lake. For more info, check the web site usgs.water.gov/wicp or call Dee Lurry at 927-3571 or Rebecca Giello at 499-3045… Clean water fund-raiser… Clean Water Action is hosting its annual Clean Water Fund's Spring for Water, Thursday, April 27, 6-9 p.m. at the Austin Children's Museum, 2nd and Colorado streets. For more info call 474-0605… Neighborhood Academy opening…The City of Austin's Office of Neighborhood Services in partnership with Austin Community College will celebrate the grand opening of the new Neighborhood Academy at 2 p.m. on Friday, April 28, at ACC's Eastview Campus, 3401 Webberville Road. The Neighborhood Academy will provide courses on a variety of topics relevant to building strong, sustainable communities, including neighborhood planning, zoning in Austin, land-use terms, effectively resolving complaints, code enforcement, public safety, assessing basic city services, and Smart Growth and how it effects our neighborhoods. Classes begin Saturday, April 29 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Eastview Campus. Thereafter, classes will be held Friday evenings and Saturdays, with more added if demand increases. Registration begins at the grand opening. For more info, call Donna Jackson at 707-3294 or e-mail her at donna.jackson@ci.austin.tx.us… New chamber VP…The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has taken on a seasoned veteran as vice president for communications and public relations. Saralee Tiede is a former press secretary and chief of staff for former Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby. Most recently the award-winning journalist served as chief of customer protection at the Texas Public Utility Commission. "We have been particularly diligent in taking the time necessary to find someone we felt could fulfill both the strategic and tactical needs of the chamber," said Chamber President and CEO Mark Hazelwood. The position was vacated by longtime VP Crispen Ruiz, who now works with mediator Robena Jackson at Group Solutions RJW.

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