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City letter backs FWS Opinion on

Tuesday, August 28, 2001 by

Jeopardy to Barton salamander

But decision will be made in Washington, DC, not Texas

The City of Austin has written a letter notifying the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the city agrees with a draft biological opinion from the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) that continued use of the construction general permit (CGP) jeopardizes the continued existence of the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. Nancy McClintock, manager of the Environmental Resources Division of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, wrote “. . . we are in agreement with (the opinion) and support its rapid and comprehensive implementation through the CGP in the BSZ (Barton Springs Zone).” (See In Fact Daily, July 25, 2001.)

McClintock wrote to the EPA, “The preponderance of the evidence provided accurately reflects the Barton Springs system as under threat from development pressures and headed in a direction, potentially irretrievable, which would not support sensitive species such as the Barton Springs Salamander.” She noted that despite improvements, compliance with rules passed by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission for protection of the Edwards Aquifer “has not been sufficient to either stop degradation in the aquifer or Barton Springs . . .” Implementation of the FWS opinion would mean developers could no longer mail the simple permit to an office in Washington, D.C. and begin work on their sites. The FWS also recommended that the EPA begin reviewing all incomplete construction projects in the Barton Springs Watershed and determine whether projects currently operating under the general permit meet water quality protection measures recommended by the FWS. Those comments met harsh criticism from the builder’s group TxCABA (Texas Capital Area Builders Association).

The letter from the builders group says the draft opinion “does not contain scientific evidence that would establish a connection between the regulated activity (construction and pre-construction activities, such as clearing land) and harm to the salamander.” The builders believe that the FWS “cannot recommend a ‘reasonable and prudent alternative’ that is beyond the scope of the acting agency’s authority and jurisdiction . . . (And the) EPA cannot require (FWS) approval before granting NPDES( National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit authorizations, and it cannot require the implementation of land use controls along the lines of those suggested by the Service’s ‘water quality recommendations.’” (See In Fact Daily, August 23, 2001.)

The Save Our Springs Alliance and the Save Barton Creek Association sued the two federal agencies because they allow construction in the Barton Springs zone of the Edward’s Aquifer under the construction general permit. The biological opinion was part of a settlement agreement between the parties to the lawsuit. That agreement set forth a timeline for release of the biological opinion, but the EPA has, in effect, said it cannot meet the deadline for producing the opinion. Jack Ferguson, chief of the Permits Branch of EPA Region 6, has notified the FWS that there will be a meeting on the opinion in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 5—a clear indication that the Bush administration is not going to let the EPA regional staff make the decision.

The EPA is charged with monitoring and enforcement of conditions of the construction general permit, in particular making sure that developers have installed stormwater control devices to prevent pollution. Each site is required to have a permit and a stormwater control plan and be implementing that plan. However, the small Region 6 inspection staff must cover a very large area, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana, Arkansas.

David Long, a member of the EPA’s small team of environmental inspectors, told In Fact Daily that he inspected 13 construction sites in the Barton Springs watershed in January 2000. “I don’t believe anyone has done any storm waters (inspections) in the area since I went down there myself,” he said. In Fact Daily spoke with Long on July 10, about a year and a half after those inspections. We will report more on the results of those inspections in future issues.

Commission recommends Historic

Designation for Schneider vaults

City to study further steps for preservation

The Historic Landmark Commission voted Monday night to support historic zoning for the Schneider Vaults at 400 W. Second Street. The HLC had previously voted to designate the underground structure “historic,” but decided to wait for structural studies on the possibility of moving the vaults before sending the recommendation on to the Planning Commission.

The vaults, originally designed for storing beer, are approximately 150 years old. They were discovered in April of 2000 during excavation for the construction of a new apartment complex and retail center being built by AMLI, a property development company. According to AMLI’s original lease agreement with the city it would keep the vaults accessible. But at the urging of City Council Member Will Wynn, the city requested a study of the possibility of moving the vaults in June. Wynn expressed concern about the impact they would have on AMLI’s development—and the city’s bottom line. If AMLI has to leave room for the vaults, that would mean fewer apartment units and less money paid to the city under the terms of the lease.

According to Jan Hilton of the city’s Redevelopment Services Department, the feasibility study included discussions with the Texas Historical Commission. Although there was no official ruling from that agency, Hilton told commissioners that the state had not recommended moving the vaults. “From the state’s perspective, they felt that just a small display wall was really the only thing appropriate,” Hilton said. “They didn’t want it to be confused that they (the vaults) were part of the store.” That alteration to the historical significance of both the vaults and the nearby Schneider store, along with the difficulties of moving and reconstructing the stone vaults, tipped the balance in favor of leaving the vaults in their current location. “As far as the feasibility study, the manager is recommending . . . we go back to the original terms of the AMLI lease. They will preserve in place and build around and over the vaults,” said Hilton.

That suggestion pleased commission Chair Loretta Dowd, who has been a vocal supporter of leaving the vaults in their current position. “I think we’re all stunned—pleasantly so,” she said after Hilton’s presentation.

Further study will be done on the structural soundness of the vaults. There will also be a study of any preservation efforts that could be undertaken before AMLI builds above the vaults. The city may seek funding from the state for those preservation efforts once they are identified.

Click here to take you back: Friday 2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Former Council Member Bob Binder is thinking about running for mayor. Alfred Stanley, local fundraiser, entrepreneur and Democratic Party activist, reported to In Fact Daily that Binder called him last week to ask whether Stanley would be interested in working for him. Stanley told him, “ Gus (Garcia) is the person who can bring the community together.” Stanley also noted that Garcia, the only known entity in the race, is the godfather of his youngest child, and a solid Democrat. Binder served in Place 2 on the City Council from 1973 to 1975, and ran for mayor in 1981against Carol McClellan (now Rylander) in 1981. Binder told us Monday that he is exploring the opportunity and would make a decision on the race in one to two weeks. He said he considers himself an independent, neither Republican nor Democrat. He says he has not switched parties. However, he noted that he voted for John McCain in the Republican primary last year, after voting in Democratic primaries for 29 years. Others who have designated a campaign treasurer include Leslie Cochran, Jennifer Gale, John McPherson and Allen Phillips . . . Clark Madison says he’ll resign . . . Journalist Mike Clark Madison reluctantly agreed yesterday to resign from the Library Commission and the city’s Bond Oversight Committee. Clark Madison is city editor of the Austin Chronicle and offended some folks last week with his remarks about former City Council Member Eric Mitchell. Clark Madison maintains that his description of Mitchell was appropriate, given remarks Mitchell made when he lost to Willie Lewis in 1997. At that time, Mitchell had used a slur against Lewis. In the same column, Clark Madison compared City Manager Jesus Garza to Joe Torre, the Italian-American manager of the New York Yankees. Considering that Torre is such an obvious hero, we can only assume that any offense taken was simply the result of confusion. Clark Madison stated, “I do not think my Chronicle column of last week was racist. I am not in any way racially insensitive, and I feel that many of my fellow citizens can vouch for this fact.” Linda Dailey, executive assistant to Council Member Danny Thomas, who issued the call for Clark Madison’s resignation, confirmed that Mitchell did not contact Thomas. However, she said, “We got memos from several people,” who were offended by the column, including Rev. Sterling Lands. Lands, who is not shy about speaking his mind, is a member of the Planning Commission. Dailey provided emails from Chip Harris, Rev. Joe Parker and Kelly Smoot, all complaining about Clark Madison or congratulating Thomas for raising the subject. Mitchell has been out of town, Dailey said, and was not available for comment. Clark Madison agreed to resign at the request of Council Member Daryl Slusher, who appointed him. Despite this agreement, Madison said, “I do not think there is an inherent conflict between my professional role and my service as a civic volunteer and I see no reason why I should have to resign.” Slusher released a written statement noting that Clark Madison has the right, under the 1st Amendment, to use the phrases some felt offensive. However, Slusher said he was asking for Clark Madison’s resignation because the journalist’s “written comments have become an issue for both groups as well as the City Council”. . . Nominations sought . . . The Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities is seeking nominations of Austin businesses and organizations, as well as individuals, who should be recognized for contributions to people with disabilities. The categories for awards range from employers with less than 200 employees to media to entrepreneurs. There is also an award for employee of the year. Nominations are due by September 7. For more information, call 974-2292 or email dolores.gonzalez@ci.austin.tx.us

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