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SBCA joins forces with SOSA

Tuesday, June 20, 2000 by

In suit against federal agencies

Second environmental group plans action to protect Barton Springs

The board of directors of the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) voted Monday night to join forces with the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) in a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The group asked attorney Amy Johnson to send a letter to the two agencies notifying them of SBCA’s intention to sue on the same basis that SOSA used in last week’s federal complaint. Johnson also represents SOSA. Johnson said the suit was filed because the EPA, in particular, is not doing its duty under federal law to protect the endangered Barton Springs salamander. The two federal agencies did an “informal consultation” about the effect of a general construction permit that gives the salamander no special protection. Under the resulting agreement, “all development that disturbs five acres or more (is) required to register (in) compliance with (the EPA’s) general permit before initiating construction,” according to the lawsuit. However, there is no enforcement once a developer has registered with EPA.(See In Fact Daily, June 16,2000) Johnson told the SBCA board that she believes SOSA has “a very strong lawsuit.” She said she hopes the lawsuit “will force everyone to sit down at the table together” as quickly as possible. She said the EPA has been recalcitrant about doing another consultation with the (FWS). David Frederick, head of the Austin office of (FWS), has complained that his efforts to get the EPA back to the table have not been successful. According to Johnson, representatives of a national homebuilders association have met with the Department of the Interior—of which the EPA is a part— in Washington D.C. to complain about “the Austin situation.” One of the most important results for environmentalists—provided they win—would be a federal court order that would eliminate grandfathering under HB 1704, Johnson said. Longtime environmentalist Tim Jones complained at length that no one is enforcing erosion controls and other measures designed to protect the salamander. When asked by Jones what effect a win by SOSA would have, Johnson responded, “The immediate answer is that there will be no new development until there is a permit. There will be no new development unless there is a consultation (between the EPA and FWS).” There was a brief discussion about how much money SBCA could contribute to the funding of the legal effort. Shudde Fath, treasurer of SBCA suggested $10,000. Jon Beall, president, said the amount could be decided at a later meeting. Johnson said SOSA had spent about $120,000 on a previous successful lawsuit against a federal agency.Johnson told the group she would have to give the federal agencies 60 days notice before filing SBCA's suit..

Murphy meets with environmentalists

On new impervious cover regulations

Luxury homes in Drinking Water Zone worst offenders

Patrick Murphy, deputy environmental services manager for the Watershed Protection Department, is trying to figure out the best way to enforce limitations on impervious cover without burdening future homeowners, or spending too much of the city’s money. “The worst case scenario is dealing with a homeowner who had nothing to do with the building of the subdivision, or with the development process of the city and (the developer) built more impervious cover than he should have within the subdivision. Then the city gets to fight it out with the homeowner on how to enforce that regulation. You can’t win—politically or legally,” Murphy said Monday. Murphy made his comments to a combined meeting of the Save Barton Creek Association and the Save Our Springs Alliance. He said he would like to arrive at a scenario that involved developers enforcing the city impervious cover regulations, rather than hiring additional city inspectors. The City Council asked Murphy to take on the task of revising the city’s regulations governing concrete on single family residential lots. Murphy said the city first started trying to regulate impervious cover in the early 1980’s. As a result of the agreement between developer Gary Bradley and the city, Council Member Beverly Griffith sponsored a resolution asking city staff to evaluate current regulations and propose new ones. Impervious cover is correlated with nonpoint source pollution in developed watersheds. Murphy said he has already met with representatives from Real Estate Council of Austin and the Texas Capitol Area Homebuilders Association. Murphy was asked whether the city could enforce different regulations in the Desired Development Zone and the Drinking Water Protection Zone (DWPZ). He replied that he would be consulting with the city’s attorneys on that very question. He said his research has found that single family homes in the DWPZ tend to be much larger than had previously been assumed. He said he has little doubt that such high dollar homes in many cases exceed impervious cover limitations. Murphy said he would like to meet with representatives from lenders and title companies, but does not know which organizations to contact to set up such a meeting. He said he hopes to finish drafting changes to impervious cover regulations for a City Council hearing on either August 3 or August 17.

Where are they now?… If you haven’t tried to visit new Council Members Danny Thomas or Will Wynn since they were sworn in, you may have a hard time finding them in City Hall. Several offices are being renovated, so Thomas and his staff, Executive Assistant Linda Daily and Office Manager Kimberly Phelon, are camped out in Room 300, close to the stairs. Wynn is temporarily sharing space with John Hrncir, the city's government relations officer, in Room 201. Frank Kopic is serving as Wynn's executive secretary. Wynn has not yet hired an executive assistant. Council Member Raul Alvarez is in Room 120. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman has been re-located temporarily in Room 109, formerly occupied by retired Council Member Gus Garcia. Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Members Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher are in familiar, perhaps noisy, surroundings. The estimated completion date for renovations is June 30, but skeptics in City Hall say that’s probably too optimistic.

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