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Lumbermen's reconsidering

Thursday, November 2, 2000 by

Sand Beach settlement offer

Council Member Griffith says city should go to court

Council Member Beverly Griffith and Jay Hailey, attorney for Lumbermen’s Investment Corp (LIC), both seem headed for the same conclusion—that fighting over the boundary of the Sand Beach Reserve in court would be better than settling the case.

Griffith said yesterday that the proposal from Lumbermen’s seems to be heavily weighted in LIC’s favor. Griffith has provided calculations to In Fact Daily indicating that LIC would receive a $12.2 million benefit, whereas the city would only gain about $2.2 million from the deal. Hailey, who has not seen Griffith’s calculations, said those figures were hard for him to believe. Hailey’s father died yesterday and he was in Dallas. The proposal was pulled from today’s council agenda. Griffith said she was told the item would be rescheduled for next Thursday.

The city sued Lumbermen’s last November, claiming ownership of two of the 5.13 acres that Lumbermen’s plans to develop as an apartment complex. (See In Fact Daily November 15, 1999) Lumbermen’s has offered to donate about one acre to the city, pay some of the costs for a parking plaza for Seaholm Power Plant and some other costs. In return, LIC has asked for a zoning change that would allow the company to build to 200 feet, instead of the 120 feet allowed under current zoning.

Hailey said he and his clients are re-evaluating their position on the settlement. “Even if we lost we might be better off,” he said. Griffith was saying almost exactly the same thing—that even if the city lost, the outcome might be preferable to the proposed settlement.Hailey is with the firm of Locke Liddell & Sapp.

Griffith is especially concerned about LIC’s request to waive the height restrictions so close to Town Lake. According to Griffith, engineering consultants have noted that about one third of the tract is within the Capitol View Corridor. Any building within that corridor would be restricted to three stories, and “LIC is attempting to gain back this lost development potential by increasing building heights outside the view corridor area,” Griffith said.

SOS Alliance asks city

To fight Bradley turnpike

SOSA says proposed road would damage Springs, Aquifer

The Save Our Springs Alliance has requested that the city oppose developer Gary Bradley’s proposal to build a toll highway from FM 1626 to US 183 because the road would promote additional growth in the Barton Springs Zone. Bradley has made a proposal to the Texas Turnpike Authority to privately build a six-lane, ten-mile highway to connect his property along the Travis-Hays County line with the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and points north. The property was the subject of a development agreement between Bradley and the City of Austin. Since the agreement was signed last spring, Bradley has proposed a change in the deal to allow him to attract a major employer to the site. The City Council has shown no interest in changing the deal.

Bill Bunch, executive director of the SOS Alliance, says in a letter delivered to the council Wednesday, “The proposal explicitly conflicts with the city’s Smart Growth program. The proposors cite the ‘potential for additional growth’ and the location of ‘large, high-tech firms’ in southwest Austin, and the proposed Spillar Ranch development on the recharge zone, as reasons they should be allowed to build the toll road.”

If the highway were built it would provide “unprecedented automobile access to the Barton Springs Zone by connecting I-35 to MoPac and RM 1826. This would generate more development, polluting the springs and the Edward’s Aquifer, by making development (in the watershed) cheaper, more marketable, and more profitable,” Bunch wrote.

The city must act soon, Bunch says, because the Turnpike Authority may consider Bradley’s proposal at its Nov. 14 meeting.

Solution to Hydrilla problem pits

Homeowners against bass fishermen

Herbicide, non-native species bring own problems

The fight over the containment of hydrilla on Lake Austin is pitting fed-up homeowners against the lake's avid bass fisherman.

In less than a year, a 23-acre patch of hydrilla near the Loop 360 Bridge has grown to more than 200 acres along the lake's shore. A July survey by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimated 32 percent of the lake is now covered by vegetation, which includes both hydrilla and milfoil.

The Environmental Board directed city staff to come up with an aggressive solution to the problem last spring. The recommendations of that task force—which city environmental biologist Mary Gilroy called a “balanced approach”—were presented to the Environmental Board last night. The solution is likely to cost local agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars in ongoing maintenance.

Controlling the hydrilla problem on Lake Austin is difficult and controversial. Homeowners dominated a four-hour hearing shared with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department last night, pressing the city to use any means necessary to get the problem in check. Environmentalists and fishermen, however, were disturbed by the proposed plan—which includes the use of herbicides, the introduction of the non-native grass carp to eat the plants, and the private harvesting of hydrilla in problem areas.

Much of the testimony was similar to that of Lloyd Bemis and his wife Mary, who both addressed the board. Bemis lives a mile upstream from the Loop 360 bridge and said the hydrilla has matted so thickly in front of his dock that it is almost impossible for his boats to leave the dock. He also pointed out that his neighborhood has no fire hydrants and the hydrilla ultimately could pose a safety concern since fire engines pump water directly from the river.

“Last year we had clear water. Now you can see it extends 30 yards or more out into the water," Bemis said, showing pictures to the board. "At that kind of growth rate, what is it going to cost us to remove it if we delay?"

Bass fisherman, however, would like to see the city's proposed introduction of grass carp into Lake Austin as a last resort. Carp eat vegetation, said David Stewart of the Central Texas Association of Bass Clubs, but they aren't picky about which vegetation they eat. First, the fish will eat the hydrilla, then they'll move on to other types of native vegetation. That's likely to kill off many of the fish that live in the lake, Stewart said. “We're not against the herbicides,” Stewart said. “We'd like to evaluate it in the spring after the draw down and see where we're at… approach it from that point.”

Last night served as a public hearing on the city's application for a grass carp permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. TPWD denied the permit in early summer, citing the concerns of fisherman and the control issues related to releasing plant-eating carp into the lake. Gilroy said the city has revised its figures to only four carp per acre, or 800 carp total.

Biologist Matt Lechner of the US Fish & Wildlife Service is still opposed to the introduction of carp, even in much lower numbers. The long-lived carp are impossible to control and difficult to catch, Lechner said. If they escape into Barton Springs Pool, they could have a direct impact on the food supply of the endangered Barton Creek salamander, Lechner warned the board members.

“I think you should explore all the options and stay away from the use of another exotic species to get rid of an exotic species,” said Lechner, who recommended spot treatments and harvesting.

Sparky Anderson of the Clean Water Action group questioned the choice of herbicides, saying they need to be closely monitored to avoid contact with eyes or skin and to minimize the dissolved oxygen impact on the lake. He said that few water supply companies are equipped with the necessary resources to deal with the water quality issues raised by the herbicide. Gilroy said the herbicide would be diluted to a level that meets Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Gilroy told the board it would be best to take action before homeowners decide to take a black market approach, such as releasing unsterilized grass carp into lake waters. TPWD is expected to decide on a grass carp permit in the next couple of weeks, Gilroy said.

The Austin City Council will not make a final decision on the hydrilla issue until next spring, Gilroy said. In the meantime, the Environmental Board has appointed a subcommittee to study the issue and seek further input. Commissioners Buzz Avery, Phil Moncada, Tim Jones and Debra Williams will serve on the subcommittee that will begin meeting next week.

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Zinger . . . Moderator Lou Dubose asked former Council Member Max Nofziger during last night’s rail debate whether he thought it was ethical for light rail opponents to mislabel the date on a TV commercial, implying that the FBI is currently investigating the transit company. The headline is three years old. Nofziger said he was not involved with that part of the campaign, but that the ad was being reworked . . . Short meeting predicted . . . This week’s City Council meeting could be over by 6:15 p.m., according to informed observers. With Sand Beach off the agenda, council members will have nothing controversial to consider today. After last week, everyone can use the break . . . National model chosen . . . The U.S. Justice Department has selected the local Weed and Seed Initiative as a national model for community prosecution. The program has reduced gang-related crime in northeast Austin by involving neighborhood leaders, young and old in crime reduction efforts. The program will receive an additional $75,000, for a total of $250,000 for this fiscal year. The award comes at a good time for Democrat District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who is battling Republican challenger Shane Phelps. . . Yoga practitioners gather . . . More than 1,000 people are registered to take part in the Third Annual Southwest Yoga Conference at the convention center, which will continue through Sunday.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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