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SOS Alliance wins battle

Thursday, December 21, 2000 by

With EPA over salamander

Developers can expect stricter rules under consultation

The Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) announced yesterday that the organization has settled a lawsuit with the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) over protecting the endangered Barton Springs salamander from construction-related pollution. Under the agreement, the EPA will consult with USFWS to determine the effect of construction-generated pollution on the salamander.

SOSA staff attorney Grant Godfrey explained, “The EPA issues discharge permits under the Clean Water Act, which says it’s illegal to discharge any pollution unless you have a permit.” For example, the City of Austin’s wastewater treatment plant has a permit to discharge into the Colorado River. Stormwater runoff, Godfrey said, “is handled in the same way, except (the EPA uses) a lot of general permits as opposed to individual permits. So they don’t have to do a whole permitting process for every single developer.” That means any builder who wanted to construct anything anywhere in the state could do so under the general permit. “What they did was a one-size-fits-all permit all over the country,” Godfrey said.

The SOS Alliance filed suit because the group was dissatisfied with the EPA’s 1998 consultation with USFWS, which Godfrey called a “sham because it did not consider any science or any (endangered) species at all. It certainly did not consider the effects of any construction on the Barton Springs salamander, which it was required to do.”

Sedimentation is considered one of the salamander’s greatest enemies. Sediment goes into the aquifer as a result of earth-moving activities. When sediment enters the aquifer, “it settles into the habitat and destroys it,” Godfrey said. Sediment also frequently carries pesticides that can directly impact the food chain, killing smaller creatures the salamander eats, such as amphipods.

“These are the sort of things EPA should have considered before permitting the discharge into the Barton Springs zone,” Godfrey said. The EPA has agreed to consult with USFWS, which SOSA hopes “will result in new science-based protections for the species.”

Godfrey said, “I’m sure there will be some grumbling if the consultation uses science, and I think it will.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has already indicated the types of measures biologists would like to see implemented to protect water quality in the Edwards Aquifer. Among the recommendations put forth by the agency in September are several familiar to Austin environmentalists and developers. These include: buffer zones, low-impact development designs, donation of land within the same watershed in return for greater development intensity, stormwater quality treatment and erosion and sedimentation controls.

Godfrey said SOSA would like to see those measured implemented. He stressed that “structural controls are not the solution.”

Amy Johnson, who served as co-counsel with Godfrey, said one practical effect of the settlement is that USFWS will receive notice of every new construction project in the Barton Springs Zone. SOSA will be notified by the agency of that construction, she said. While developers are not required to consult with USFWS before making plans and beginning construction in the BSZ, Johnson said, “Anybody who is smart will consult with Fish.”

Uncle Sam plays Santa

To local non-profit agency

Corporation creates 500 new jobs for low income residents

By Doug McLeod

Even Uncle Sam can play Santa Claus. The spirit of holiday giving is not lost on entities large and small, or so it would seem. Local charities, big banks and the federal government all pitched in to make the holiday season bright for the Austin Community Development Corporation.

Recent contributions to the Austin CDC, aimed at helping East Austin prosper by allowing minority-owned businesses to flourish, total more than $1 million.

The federal government is awarding $588,000 to the non-profit corporation, augmented by $460,000 in matching funds from six area banks and other local benefactors. Last week, Mayor Kirk Watson joined Margo Weisz, executive director of Austin CDC, to celebrate the new funding and the positive impact the corporation has made in the six years since its inception. “The Austin CDC has had a profound effect on the lives of many, and particularly on the rapidly growing community of entrepreneurs here in East Austin,” said Watson in a prepared statement. “This group has shown an enduring commitment to bridging the so-called ‘digital divide,’” he said.

Numerous Austin-area individuals contributed to the agency, as well as local charities like the RGK Foundation and the Hartman Foundation. Compass Bank, Comerica, Bank One, Wells Fargo, Chase and Bank of America all contributed to the cause. Uncle Sam’s portion, from the Federal Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, was the largest such award in Texas this year. Weisz said she was pleased to receive such a generous grant, considering how tough competition is for CDFI funds.

The agency has an ever-expanding budget, currently at $3 million, from which loans are made. “We’re expecting it to get to $4 million by the end of next year and $5 million by the end of 2002,” Weisz said. The agency has four full-time employees and two interns, though one is about to leave, she said. Austin CDC provides financing and technical assistance to businesses owned by women and minorities in low-income neighborhoods. According to the agency web site, their mission is to “strive to promote lasting economic vitality in these areas by making loans to businesses that will create jobs for low- and moderate- income people, generate wealth, and improve the physical environment of these neighborhoods. We lend to businesses that may not be eligible for conventional bank loans, but that we believe will have positive impacts on their communities.”

The corporation’s clients are diverse in ethnicity and gender, and the enterprises cover a wide range from high-tech to social services. “Our largest portfolio concentration is in the child care industry. We currently have investments in 10 child care centers, all serving low-income families,” according to agency documents.

The Austin CDC's target investment area includes low and moderate-income sections of East and South Austin with a median income level at or below 80 percent of the nationwide average. Most of the agency’s customers are businesses that have been in operation an average of five years and have an average of 6.3 employees. Currently Austin CDC clients represent over $23 million in gross sales (not counting clients that have paid off loans or are behind on their reporting requirements), according to an agency statement. The Austin CDC has recently expanded its target investment area to include sections of Pflugerville, Manor, Buda and Del Valle.

The corporation has invested over $2.7 million and leveraged an additional $3 million in bank partnership financing, which has resulted in more than 500 new jobs for low-income residents. “With our help, over $2,000,000 has been invested in physical improvements to Austin's neighborhoods,” reports the agency.

Weisz said she’s worked for the non-profit organization almost since it began. “I’ve been here about six years,” she said. “I’d been focusing on graduate studies in community development financing at the LBJ School (of Public Affairs),” she said, and after graduation she signed on. Soon after, the executive director left and she took over the position.

Before coming to Austin eight-and-a-half years ago for graduate work at the LBJ School, Weisz was a community organizer in San Francisco. She received her undergraduate degree at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition to her work with the Austin CDC, Weisz has taught a course on Community Development and Social Enterprise at the University of Texas Graduate School of Business.

Mostly fun predictions

From ANC holiday bash

Members of the Austin Neighborhoods Council made predictions for the past and coming year at the group’s holiday social at Nuevo Leon last night:

ANC President Jim Walker considered the completion of the Mueller master plan to be a major milestone for the year. He also predicts that the recent election—with both the presidential quandary and the close vote on light rail—will spur renewed voter participation. “I want to be excited about the future of voter turnout,” Walker said.

Gavino Fernandez of El Concilio predicts aggressive growth in the downtown core. Fernandez sees the pluses of relocation of Vignette—new jobs and economic stability—but he also sees challenges ahead. The greater good of the community must be balanced with the issues of affordable housing and neighborhood character, Fernandez said.

Both Kay Killen of Barton Hills and Gary Hyatt of Bouldin Creek predicted big blowout parties this New Year's Eve, now that the approach of the real millennium is upon us. They, too, saw the election as a real spur for voter participation. Hyatt said he looks forward to watching the Shrub' s Washington debut.

Hyatt is smarting a bit that Bouldin Creek lost the hubcap to the Zilker neighborhood in the recent election. Zilker beat Bouldin Creek in voter turnout. And on a related note, Hyatt asks: “Can you still be considered a Yellow Dog Democrat if you voted for Nader?” (We don’t think so.)

Dana Lockler of the Crestview Neighborhood Association has his own tongue-in-cheek predictions for the New Year in Austin: Issues will arise and people will disagree. (Fill in the issue.) First, the issue will be postponed. Then it will come down to a vote. Failing to find a majority, the vote will be sent back for review. There will be a few more delays. A compromise might be reached, although it’s likely one side or the other, or both, will be unhappy. By December of next year, January’s issues are likely to still be around.

On a more serious note, Lockler said the light rail vote was “a real knife blade” that showed just how divided the Austin community can be over an issue. He predicts commuter rail, rather than light rail, may be back in Austin’s discussions soon.

Karin Richeson of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, accompanied by her crawling son Hans, predicted the “utility construction” sign in her front yard may actually disappear this year… or at least be revealed to have a real purpose. It’s Richeson’s hope for the New Year that small businesses like Waterloo Icehouse and The Ginger Man will continue to make downtown home, even in the shadow of new skyscrapers. “If they’re gone, we really don’t have a reason to live down there,” Richeson said.

Elisa Rendon Montoya of El Concilio plans to fight another year for the preservation of East Austin’s neighborhoods. She also hopes for some resolution on the Holly Power Plant closing. Montoya, a fourth-generation Austinite, said Rainey Street is lost but that there is still much to preserve in the area. The character and traditions of Austin’s core neighborhoods must be preserved. “My grandchildren come to my house and say, ‘Momo, why don't you move to the pretty houses out there?’ and I tell them, ‘This is my pretty house.’”

Past ANC President Will Bozeman of the North University Neighborhood Association predicts some fine-tuning on Austin’s initiatives this year. Bozeman said 1999 was the Year of the Neighborhood. He says that year was one filled with skepticism from neighborhoods. Now neighborhoods are seeing city initiatives—Vignette, Intel and CSC—come to fruition, Bozeman said. Everyone around the table must roll up his sleeves and make these deals work. The same holds true for neighborhood planning, he said.

Bozeman added that now is the time for the city to find ways to put some equity in city incentives. Small, locally grown businesses deserve incentives, too. They are what make Austin unique, Bozeman said.

Joseph Martinez of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood, ANC treasurer, said the group has been lax about collecting dues. He said the coming year could be an expensive one for the organization, which will have to enforce its $25 per neighborhood group fee.

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

Looking us over . . . Hotel mogul John Q. Hammonds of Springfield, MO has been in Austin scouting a site for a luxury hotel near the airport . . . Neighborhood awards . . . The Austin Neighborhoods Council last night honored individuals as well as neighborhood organizations for service to the community. Karen Akins of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, Marcos De Leon of El Concilio and Jean Mather of the South River City Citizens received awards for outstanding service to their community. Neighborhood planning teams from Hyde Park, Old West Austin and the North Austin Civic Association also were honored. The South Central Coalition was recognized for sponsoring the Billion Bubba March and the Five Neighborhoods United steering committee was honored for an exemplary effort in dealing with a difficult zoning problem, the Quarries of the Hyde Park Baptist Church. Mayor ProTem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Beverly Griffith were made honorary members of ANC . . . The Federal Aviation Administration has told the city it may proceed with a noise compatibility program. The program includes measures such as directing aircraft away from residential areas, buying homes, installing sound insulation and purchasing air space rights. Congressman Lloyd Doggett promised to work with city officials to secure federal funds for noise mitigation efforts.

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

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