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Barton Creek Interceptor project slated for construction in October

Thursday, July 6, 2000 by

Will cause detours and temporary closing of Barton C reek Greenbelt

Nearly four years after Espey Huston & Associates completed a $435,000 study of the City of Austin's wastewater infrastructure in the close-in reaches of the Barton Creek Watershed ( In Fact No. 65, Oct. 16, 1996), the City of Austin is finally about ready to "rightsize" the Barton Creek Interceptor (BCI). The BCI is a major wastewater pipe that runs through the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The BCI winds along the path of Barton Creek from near Loop 360 all the way to the Barton Creek Lift Station, which lies underground at the eastern end of the parking lot adjacent to Barton Springs Pool.

The study showed, among other things, that sections of the BCI are overloaded, while other portions are too large. The too-large sections cause flows to move too slowly and give rise to odors and corrosion. In addition, interceptor joints are faulty, allowing massive inflow of groundwater during heavy rains. This inflow wastes the system's capacity as it runs into the lift station and is pumped to the South Austin Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. The BCI was built in the 1970s and extended later.

The BCI currently varies in diameter from 36 inches to 54 inches. When the project is completed, it will be 36 inches on the lower end and be no larger than 10 inches on the upstream end. No flows will extend beyond Loop 360. The project will extend about 8,691 linear feet to just below Barton Hill Drive and Dip Cove.

Construction is scheduled to start in October and be completed by late December, Mike Boyle of the Water and Wastewater Department told the Environmental Board last night. Construction will begin at a manhole located near the beginning of the greenbelt, just off the western edge of the pool parking lot. A hole about 10 feet wide by 25 feet in length will be dug there, at the trailhead. Other excavation will be limited to removal of manhole cone sections. No trenching will be done beyond Barton Skyway, Boyle said. The BCI is accessible only from the hike and bike trail. The trail detour plan calls for creating temporary trail detours around manholes, closing sections of the trail for brief periods when equipment and material are being moved along the trail, using a combination of signs and flaggers to inform and protect trail users, and giving advance notice to users as part of the public relations plan. The primary construction entrance will be at the trailhead and material and equipment will be stored there as well, with the exact location to be specified by the Parks and Recreation Department. Trees must be trimmed along the hike and bike trail to permit pickup trucks carrying materials to drive through without breaking tree limbs.

Upon completion of the project, the hike and bike trail will be restored, Boyle said, although he noted there is a controversy over how it should be done. "There is a competing interest in the trail," he said. "Some want it smoother, while some want it rougher to slow down bicycles." An area known as Columbus Meadow lies adjacent to the trailhead near the swimming pool parking lot and it is a major habitat area for butterflies, Boyle said. This area also will be revegetated in a matter prescribed by the Parks and Recreation Board. Boyle told In Fact Daily that retired University of Texas Professor Chris Durham of the Butterfly Forum is being consulted in this matter. A kiosk will be installed in the meadow to educate the public about butterflies.

The project is currently in the design and permitting phase. Before construction can proceed, the project needs approval of a city site development permit, a parkland-use agreement, and review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The motion to recommend approval of the plan was made by Tim Jones, who was a member of the Wastewater Consensus Building Group that met for some six months in 1997 and involved representatives of Austin, Rollingwood, West Lake Hills and Lost Creek. "I compliment the Water and Wastewater Department for exercising the maximum degree of environmental sensitivity on this project," Jones said. The motion, approved on a unanimous vote of 5-0, included a recommendation that the excavated area be surrounded by a double row of silt fences and that disturbed areas be revegetated as prescribed by the Parks and Recreation Board.

The implications of rightsizing the BCI are clear: Environmentalists won the war to stop the city from extending wastewater lines further into the sensitive Barton Creek Watershed. The Espey Huston study was ordered in 1993 when a new council majority–swept into office on the heels of voters approving the Save Our Springs Ordinance–abruptly halted a $3 million construction contract for Phase II of the South Austin Outfall Relief Main Project. That project would have laid a 48-inch pipe, taken the Barton Springs Lift Station out of service, and boosted the capacity of the entire sewer system in the watershed. The outfall project was authorized in December 1992 but had been slowed by a lawsuit brought by the Save Our Springs Legal Defense Fund and Save Barton Creek Association. The end result was that the Espey Huston study did not make recommendations but instead showed the engineering ramifications of extending wastewater service to close in communities on Austin's periphery in the Barton Springs Watershed. It took six months of weekly meetings by the consensus building group and years of negotiations afterwards before Rollingwood and West Lake Hills were authorized to get sewer service, and then only with strict limitations on total flows.

Council committee to explore ways to speed final tallies in city elections

Software glitches a major contributor to slow vote counting

By Nancy Love

Because of its discontent with the slow counting of ballots in the general and runoff elections of May 6 and June 3, the Austin City Council is looking at how to speed up the process. A committee of council members and staff is being formed to examine alternatives.

Although voter turnout in the June 3 runoff election was light at 4.68 percent, problems developed in the sorting and counting of ballots. City Clerk Shirley Brown, in a memo to Mayor Kirk Watson and the City Council, said, "Part of the frustration was the expectation that with the small number of ballots, the process would be much less time consuming."

Those with an expectation included members of the City Council, as reported by In Fact Daily June 5. A total of 20,303 of the 433,922 voters registered to cast ballots in the runoff election actually did so, and 5,358 of those ballots were cast early. Fewer than 15,000 ballots from the boxes brought in from the polls had to be counted on election night. Nevertheless, Raul Alvarez didn't get the news that he had won till about 10:15 p.m.

Brown's memo delineates the problems that slowed the counting of the ballots. Brown wrote on June 6, the ballot counting machines cannot be modified to accept a "zero" tally from a precinct, so the final count was delayed to address this problem. A software limitation exists in the current system used for counting votes that will not allow the closing of a precinct if it has reported early voting ballots, but no votes were cast on Election Day.

Further software limitation dictates that all 170 precincts be listed each time the report is run. No feature exists that allows for a "change release report," including only precincts that had come in since the last report. Election officials had to wait each time for the entire report to print, and then carefully examine the new report to determine which precinct results were most recently submitted.

Additional problems developed due to the fact that two voters placed ballots in the wrong precinct box at a combined precinct. The resulting discrepancy further delayed the release of turnout results as attempts were made to avoid counting the ballots twice in the overall tally, as well as to achieve agreement between the vote count and the poll list.

A 78-vote discrepancy occurred between the poll count and machine count in one precinct due to a recording error. Voters signing the Affidavit of Voter without Certificate were inadvertently left off the poll list. Votes were recounted twice before the problem was identified and those voters listed on the Affidavit were added to the final count.

Although election laws require that at least three precincts be manually counted as a check against machine count error, election officials estimate that they counted about a dozen precincts manually to address the large number of precincts in which some discrepancy occurred between the poll lists and the machine count. Ballots that stuck together due to atmospheric humidity caused a large number of these problems.

Approximately one-third of the individuals who had committed to working election night did not report for duty, which further slowed progress. (None of the absentees work in Brown's office.)

Yet another problem developed around the timing of the incremental reporting of the results. The contract employee sent by ES&S, the maker of the system in use, did not report results every 30 minutes as requested.

The Secretary of State's Office is studying the issue of Election Day tally problems in Texas counties, Brown told In Fact Daily. One consideration is that no jurisdiction in Texas currently has equipment that meets standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, particularly in the area of protecting the privacy rights of blind voters who currently must be assisted in casting votes at the polls. The matter is officially in a comment period, and when all input has been received the Secretary of State may rewrite and publish rules for tallying election results. At that point individual jurisdictions will be allowed to make alterations in voter count procedures or, if necessary, purchase new equipment.

Bigger electric bills coming…It's summer and electric demands are peaking–and so are electric bills. Now Austin Energy announces that prices will be even higher, as skyrocketing prices for natural gas have forced the utility to increase the fuel charge paid by customers. Beginning with August bills, the average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month will see an increase of about $2.63 in the electric bill, an increase of about 3.9 percent. Commercial customers will see an increase of 4 percent to 6 percent, depending on usage. Fuel costs are passed to customers without markup. The higher bills were triggered by natural gas prices that have gone up by about $2.25 per million British Thermal Units between Jan. 1 and mid-June to reach near-record prices. About 30 percent of Austin Energy's annual energy output is fueled by natural gas… Watershed master plan nearing completion…At last night's meeting of the Environmental Board, Jody Hamilton of the Watershed Protection Department said that the next meeting of the Citizens Advisory Group for the master plan for watershed protection will be held July 26. Tentative plans call for presenting the master plan to the City Council Aug. 24, she said… Impervious cover planning underway…At last night's meeting of the Environmental Board, Pat Murphy, deputy environmental services manager for the Watershed Protection Department, presented an update on single-family compliance with watershed impervious cover regulations. While the intent is to tighten restrictions on how to regulate impervious cover limits on single-family housing, the subject is fraught with complexity. He summarized the results of meetings with Texas Capitol Area Builders Association (they oppose the regulation) and a joint meeting of the Save Barton Creek Association and Save Our Springs Alliance (they favor such regulation). A meeting with the Real Estate Council of Austin is set for July 12, Murphy said. Recommendations are due to be finalized and presented to the City Council on Aug. 17. "We will present a buffet of suggestions to the council and get a sense of where they want to go," he said… Meeting on algae… Robert Hanson of the Watershed Protection Department and Carol Martinich, a manager at Barton Springs Pool, briefed the Environmental Board last night on work being done to reduce algae in Barton Springs Pool. Consultant Alan Plummer & Associates Inc. of Austin has been hired to assist and a meeting with swimmers is scheduled for Saturday, July 8, at 10 a.m. at the pool. Plummer has about 45 days left to report recommendations, Hanson said… New officers…Last night the Environmental Board elected new officers as Chair Buzz Avery announced he would stay on the board but would not seek reelection as chair. Succeeding him as chair is Lee Leffingwell. Tim Jones was elected vice chair and Joyce Conner was elected secretary. Leffingwell had nominated Conner to chair the board but she declined and turned the tables to nominate him instead. The board is still operating with only five of its nine slots filled. Ramon Alvarez is the other member currently on the board.

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