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Council wants evaluation

Tuesday, July 31, 2001 by

Of Pipeline ordinance

Three members ask manager to report

It appears that members of the Austin City Council are taking seriously the pipeline ordinance submitted by former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, the environmental group PODER and the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA). Three members have signed on to a request to have the City Manager’s office evaluate the proposed ordinance. If the request were approved this week, the City Manager’s office would have 30 days to evaluate the feasibility of a local pipeline ordinance and report back to the council. The request for an analysis comes from Council Member Will Wynn, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Mayor Kirk Watson.

Marguerite Jones, a pipeline activist who lives very close to the underground line, told friends at the SBCA Monday that CBS News is coming to Austin this week to investigate the pipeline story.

Although it’s not specifically mentioned in the proposed ordinance itself, supporters of the measure admit it targets the Longhorn Pipeline(see In Fact Daily, July 20, 2001). The Longhorn Pipeline, operated by a coalition of oil companies including BP-Amoco and Exxon-Mobil, runs from Houston through Austin before reaching El Paso and eventually New Mexico. Since it crosses state lines, the federal government regulates it, although such regulation has been lax at best. The pipeline was originally built to carry crude oil, but the new operators want to run gasoline through it—even though it crosses some environmentally sensitive parts of Travis County.

The evaluation of the ordinance would study two areas—the legal ramifications and financial implications. The ordinance submitted for City Council consideration was specifically drafted to avoid running afoul of federal guidelines, which declare that inter-state pipeline regulation is the province of the federal government. Instead, the proposed ordinance focuses on the city’s ability to ensure that local water supplies are protected. The seven-page draft also references U.S. law and the city’s Land Development Code in several places. Those Council Members who requested the evaluation from the City Manager’s office want some indication that the ordinance would stand up to the legal challenge that would almost surely come from Longhorn Pipeline’s operators if the ordinance were eventually passed. They’re also seeking input from city staff on the potential cost of implementing the ordinance.

At the heart of the proposed ordinance is a section defining a “new” pipeline as one that has not been actively used within the preceding five years, regardless of the date of construction (the existing Longhorn pipeline is more than 50 years old). The proposed ordinance would also prohibit the so-called “new” pipelines from being routed over or under city streets and alleys or any city property without the approval of the City Council. The ordinance also would prohibit any “new” pipeline from being located within the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

When he submitted the proposed ordinance to the City Council, Mauro said he hoped the Council could consider it sometime this fall. That may happen if the council officially requests the City Manger’s office to evaluate the ordinance. That evaluation would be due in early September..

Bus drivers to sit down with

Cap Metro over pay issues

Union leader wants new StarTran president

Jay Wyatt, local chapter president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1091 (ATU), told the Capital Metro board of directors yesterday that the union has agreed to meet with a mediator to negotiate differences between bus drivers and StarTran Inc. StarTran, made up of Capital Metro managers, is the group that negotiates directly with Cap Metro bus drivers. Mediation is scheduled to begin on Aug. 13, Wyatt told board members.

The main issue yet to be resolved between ATU and StarTran is pay on elongated route schedules. The contention of the union is that drivers that split their shift—with downtime in the middle of the day—should not be penalized financially for shorter route times. Those drivers should be paid the same as anyone who works a straight shift, Wyatt said.

ATU also wants to tackle the issue of overpayment. Bus drivers are obligated to return more than $200,000 in overpayments that were processed due to a computer error earlier this year. Wyatt says the schedule for that repayment should be based on the drivers’ ability to pay, rather than an arbitrary schedule set out for Capital Metro. Outside the meeting, Wyatt said pay has been such an issue since the beginning of 2000 that many drivers may not have realized that they were overpaid during one or more pay periods.

Wyatt also expressed support for the replacement of former StarTran President Gerald Robichaux. Robichaux, who worked well with the union, took another job in late June. Wyatt said it was still unclear whether he would even be replaced. That issue, Wyatt said, needs to be addressed.

Committee moves forward

With billboard proposals

Reagan, Capital Outdoors continue to spar

The Planning Commission and the Sign Review Board will each have a chance to recommend more changes to the city’s billboard regulations within the next three weeks, if all goes according to plan. The Codes and Ordinances Committee of the Planning Commission yesterday worked on amendments that may make it more difficult for smaller sign companies to compete with Reagan National Advertising, which has about half the billboards in Austin. The committee has decided that off-premises signs may be replaced under more stringent rules than currently exist, with a hope that there will be fewer and smaller billboards in the future. Only replacement signs can be erected under city rules. Signs can be replaced on a one for one basis, but must be 25 percent smaller.

Under the committee proposal, sign owners will be allowed to replace one sign by removing two similar ones. In addition, a sign company that removes a billboard located on a scenic roadway will be allowed to replace another sign on a non-scenic road. If a sign owner removes a monopole sign—which are built to last into the next century—he will be allowed to replace another sign. All replacement signs must be at least 25 percent smaller than the signs they replace, as is currently required by Austin’s regulations.

Tom Davies, attorney for Capitol Outdoors, objected to several of the changes, which he said would hurt smaller companies. After listening to Davies, the committee decided to remove language that requires that each affected sign owner agree to the removal and replacement of his signs. He said that a 2 for 1 or 3 for 1 replacement policy would only result in the replacement of “small signs that nobody sees.”

Davies said, “My client has one sign up and permits for four or five. He does not have the inventory (that Reagan does) so he’ll never be able to do this. There’s no way you can get three landowners (with one sign each) to say ‘two of us will take down our signs forever and one will have a 25 percent reduction.’”

Winifred Kelsey of Scenic Austin disagreed, saying the proposed plan has worked in other cities. She said she liked the idea that a billboard company could lose its license if found to be violating city regulations.

Jeff Howard of Minter Joseph & Thornhill, who represents Reagan, said of Davies, “He’ll say it’s too hard on his client. I would say it’s not hard enough.” Howard said every time a competitor replaces one of Reagan’s signs, his client would lose two or three others under the proposal.

John Joseph, who also represents Reagan, acknowledged to In Fact Daily that Reagan has already applied for replacement signs for 25 of its current signs. Presumably that means those signs would be replaced under current regulations—on a one for one basis. One way Reagan can keep ahead of its competition is to replace old signs now, with signs 25 percent smaller, making a replacement of those signs less attractive.

The committee told staff members they want the city to notify neighborhood groups and Scenic Austin when there is an application to replace a billboard. Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd said Scenic Austin could register as a neighborhood group, but he advised against naming any particular organization in the city code.

Committee Chair Robin Cravey said the group would like to raise city sign fees from 55 cents per square foot to 70 cents. Luci Gallaghan, manager of administrative services for the permit and license center, told him that she has already submitted the departmental budget. “That’s something you’ll have to bring forward to the City Council yourself,” she said.

The committee asked that their recommendations be put on the agenda for the Sign Review Board on August 13.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

New political action committee formed . . . ANT PAC, the newly formed Austin Neighborhoods Together Political Action Committee, will hold a kick- off party this Friday from 5:30 -7:30 p.m. at Threadgill’s World Headquarters, 301 W. Riverside Dr. The group, which is an unaffiliated offshoot of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, is looking for members to “volunteer, and to contribute in promoting candidates and ballot measures to protect and improve Austin neighborhoods,” says Will Bozeman, former ANC president . . . Final piece . . . Capitol Metro’s board of directors Monday approved the agency’s funding for the Combined Emergency Communications and Transportation Management Center, the final approval needed to begin construction. The total construction price for the center, which will house emergency communications for police, fire, EMS and the Texas Department of Transportation for Austin and Travis County, is $21,194,000. But Capitol Metro’s portion is only $430,082 . . . Sewage spill reported . . . City officials suspect that debris from a damaged manhole in northeast Austin led to a sewage spill in the Little Walnut Creek watershed. About 175,000 gallons of sewage escaped over a period of several days before it was detected on the 8800 block of N. IH 35 Monday afternoon. City crews have been working to clean the affected area—from IH 35 to Cameron Road—and believe about 95% of the overflow will be recovered. They don't think there will be any impact on either public or private water supplies..

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