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LCRA hears pro and

Thursday, November 15, 2001 by

Con on pipeline study

Some say public comment should be longer

Lower Colorado River Authority staffers heard opinions from northern Hays County residents and environmentalists Tuesday night on the agency’s draft environmental impact study on the proposed water pipeline to Hays County. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 31, 2001.) While some Goldenwood subdivision residents called the pipeline an urgent need, others joined with environmental activists in requesting a longer period for public comment.

Those on both sides of the pipeline debate questioned the assumptions included in the LCRA’s study. Hays County resident Alex Brown said he believed the predictions of environmental degradation from development in the area were inaccurate. “There’s very little the people in Dripping Springs can do to impact the (Barton Springs) salamander . . . any drainage from our area may take several hundreds of years before it impacts the Edwards Aquifer,” Brown said. He urged the LCRA to move ahead with the project. “At least four of our neighbors lost their wells last summer. These people didn’t have any water, and we’re very pleased as neighbors to see this pipeline come through.”

Representatives of environmental and conservation groups, including Craig Smith of the Barton Springs-Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, refuted Brown’s assertions about the minimal impact of development on the Edwards Aquifer. “Things you do here can affect the Edwards Aquifer. The surface water that flows off your lot does enter the aquifer,” Smith said. While Smith also expressed concerns with the study, he did find one beneficial aspect. “It confirms what we already knew, which is that if we keep on doing what we’ve been doing, the aquifer and the springs are degraded,” Smith said. “The best chance of saving the aquifer is to work together to implement water quality measures, both on the development that will be served by the water line and the other development that will occur independently of the water line.”

Representatives of other groups, including the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) and the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS), criticized the study as being biased in favor of development. “The assumption that growth would occur anyway is a false one,” said Bill Bunch of SOS. “We’re urging the LCRA to limit service for the initial period to only existing residents rather than extending service to large-scale development.” Jon Beall of SBCA also called for consideration of the existing residents and their rural lifestyle. “What obligations do we have to existing residents that moved out here to get away from the suburban lifestyles . . . who bought a house knowing that there was no water line, that they would have to exist on their own resources?”

Several northern Hays County residents also raised questions about the impact the pipeline would have on development in their area. “I know for a fact that some of these subdivisions, their financing is in part dependent upon a reliable water source,” said Andrew Backus. “To have a secure water resource available for a developer has got to stimulate more development.” Backus and others, including Goldenwood Property Owners Association President Rob Baxter, called for extending the public comment period until early 2002. The LCRA has one more public meeting scheduled for Nov. 28th, and will accept written comments through Dec. 14th.

County begins work on

Bond implementation

Sonleitner calls for citizens advisory panel

Travis County Commissioners may know as early as next week what the initial timeline will be on the $185 million bond program approved by voters this month.

Executive Director Joe Gieselman of the Transportation and Natural Resources Department (TNR) promised commissioners a preliminary work plan at next week’s Commissioners Court meeting. Meetings between county staff and affected stakeholders—such as the Texas Turnpike Authority (TTA) and the City of Pflugerville—began this week.

The $185 million bond program is intended to stretch over the next five to six years. Gieselman told commissioners he thinks county staff would recommend moving forward first with projects where design has been completed. TNR has already presented the county’s Planning and Budget Office with its best estimate of how debt should be issued over the next six years to handle the projects.

“Our projects need to be in sync with our ability to handle the debt,” Gieselman said.

Gieselman is in the process of drafting a request for proposals for an outside firm to handle the administration of the bond projects. TNR is still weighing which projects can be handled in-house and which projects will be farmed out to contractors, Gieselman said. Those decisions, he asserted, will likely adjust the timeline for the bond projects.

To complicate the matter, Travis County—or even the region—could choose to move forward with the creation of a Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) to handle transportation projects. The TTA is being folded back into the Texas Department of Transportation. New state law will allow regions to create their own transportation authorities to administer projects.

That leaves unanswered questions on the toll project on State Highway 130, such as the division of costs for construction on the project and whether the loans secured by TxDOT could be transferred to an RMA, Gieselman said. The county will address those questions in meetings with the TTA this week.

Commissioner Ron Davis was concerned that the RMA issue and the impact of the passage of the Texas Mobility Fund would be considered in the crafting of the county’s work plan. Davis said he’d prefer the county address the issues early, instead of “piecemealing situations we may have to revise under the Regional Mobility Authority.”

In other discussion, Commissioner Karen Sonleitner called for a citizens’ advisory board to oversee progress on the bond projects, just as the city had done after its bond program was approved. Such a group could meet quarterly to review the bond program’s progress.

Cap Metro hosting workshop

On light rail station design

Agency looking for more public input

Capital Metro’s study of light rail continues at the Austin Convention Center this weekend with a daylong workshop on station design.

The transit agency has set next June as the deadline for the completion of the Preliminary Engineering/Environmental Impact Study required by the federal government to underwrite transit funding. The study must cover six key areas: vehicle choice, routes, station locations, land use, preliminary engineering and finances. The PE/EIS stalled after the failed bond election last year, but was taken up again at the urging of community leaders who wanted to see final answers on mass transit, said Dianne Galaviz director of Capital Metro’s Business and Community Development department.

“The important thing for mobility is that we revisit with what is best for our community,” said Galaviz, who made a presentation to Capital Metro’s finance committee yesterday. “We need to be responsive to their concerns and needs and take that into consideration in our plan. Not everyone may agree with our final plan, but everyone will have input.”

The goal is to create a document that can be used to evaluate transit options in the future, regardless of whether Capital Metro pursues another referendum on rail next year, Galaviz said. Mayor Gus Garcia has expressed his strong support for a second run at light rail. State legislation filed last session, however, will limit a ballot on light rail to even-numbered years. If Capital Metro passes on a 2002 election, the topic cannot come up to Austin voters again before 2004.

This Saturday’s workshop is not new ground for Capital Metro. Last summer, the agency produced a 33-page document generated by workshop sessions with residents of Far North, North, Central and South Austin. This weekend’s workshop at the Austin Convention Center will update the work completed last summer and incorporate preferences on station design, Galaviz told the finance committee.

Last summer’s participants suggested both broad and specific recommendations:

• Transit stations should be kept near commercial and retail centers and away from neighborhoods. • Stations that were public/private or commercial/civic partnerships should be encouraged. • Stations should have a strong interface with bus routes. • Stations should encourage and bolster neighborhood activity.

Participants also recommended locations for stations. More than 30 stops are recommended along the north-south and east-west line routes. Comments from workshop participants included additional station stops at the Triangle property, Texas School for the Deaf and Guadalupe/Martin Luther King. Station locations will have to be meshed with the new route alternatives being discussed.

Local architects and designers have agreed to participate at the Saturday workshop to discuss the actual design of the stations, Galaviz said. More than 150 people are expected at the session. Those participants will be divided into groups representing different parts of town. The goal is to provide feedback as specific as possible to various locations within Austin, Galaviz said. The design and characteristics for a station at a stop in South Austin, for instance, might be far different than those of a stop in North Austin.

Recommendations of the area work groups will be submitted to a community advisory group formed by Capital Metro that is intended to represent the interests of a broad cross-section of community leaders and neighborhood associations. The advisory group’s recommendations will be forwarded to General Manager Karen Rae, who will present them to the Capital Metro Board of Directors.

Galaviz said the goal of the process is to provide as much grassroots participation and community involvement as possible before the board of directors makes its final decision. Capital Metro has already completed a workshop on vehicle choices. Participants preferred further exploration of light rail and ultra light rail, as well as commuter rail along the Union Pacific line through South Austin, Galaviz said.

Fore more information on Saturday’s workshop, call the Rapid Transit Project hotline at 684-3231.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

District directors to consider Bowlin’s performance . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors have scheduled a meeting for next Tuesday. The main item on the agenda is consideration of retention of Stovy Bowlin, general manager of the district. Bowlin has been popular in some quarters, but not others. Board Member Bill Welch, who has been serving on active duty in the reserves, plans to be in town for that meeting so all five members may consider the matter . . . Watson for Attorney General campaign raises its profile . . . The campaign web site www.kirkwatson.org now has information about how to donate or volunteer. The site is still under construction, so there’s no information about the candidate himself . . . Committee to study sprawl . . . The House Committee on Land and Natural Resources has decided to study “issues associated with the expansion of metropolitan areas into formerly rural areas,” aka urban sprawl. In addition to looking at its negative impact on the countryside and the character of rural communities, the committee will try to assess mitigation measures, including Austin’s favorite tool, purchase of development rights.

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