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Cost of direct payments estimated at $400,000 per year

Tuesday, March 5, 2002 by

A committee of the Electric Utility Commission (EUC) has concluded that Austin Energy should make direct payments to neighbors of the Holly Power Plant as mitigation for noise they endured prior to soundproofing of their homes and improvements to the plant.

At last night’s EUC meeting, commissioners outlined the proposal, which would reimburse resident homeowners and renters on Holly, Garden, Haskell, Julius, Mildred, Riverview, Canterbury, San Saba, Robert T. Martinez Jr. and Pedernales. The proposal, outlined by Commissioners Marilyn Jones and Shudde Fath would pay one-half of one percent (.5 percent) of the appraised value of a home to residents closest to the plant and one-quarter of one percent (.25 percent) to those somewhat further away.

“We think it’s long overdue for the people who are right there,” said Fath. She and Jones said the committee estimated the cost would be about $400,000 per year. Following the meeting, Fath said they would be asking those who receive the stipend for “a noise easement.” However, she agreed that a renter cannot grant an easement. Since an easement is a right that attaches to the property, only the owner can do that.

Jones said they based their recommendation partially on information provided by Commissioner Neal Kocurek, who indicated that a nominal formula for rental units is one percent of market value per month. Fath said if property-owners raise rents in response to the subsidy above the one percent level, the committee would recommend that the stipend be cut off. She said the committee did not have a timeframe for the payments to end. However, the City Council has previously asked Austin Energy to prepare to close the plant as soon as possible, given the financial and power constraints the utility faces. The plant is expected to close between 2005 and 2009.

AE spokesman Ed Clark said that a study done in the mid-1990s found 700 acres around the plant impacted by 65 to 75 decibels of noise, which under guidelines issued by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, is “normally unacceptable.” However, improvements done since then have corrected the problem, he said. As of June 30, 2000 capital improvement expenditures at the plant totaled $7.2 million. According to a memo from then General Manager Chuck Manning, $6.1 million of that amount was for changes made within the plant to benefit the neighborhood. Improvements within the neighborhood itself totaled $1.1 million. Some of the money was spent on weatherization and soundproofing individual homes. The plant paging system, which had been an irritant to neighbors because of its volume, was eliminated and a hand-held radio system was installed. AE also later spent more than $2 million on a Youth Activity Center in the neighborhood.

Jones is chair of the committee, which will meet with Austin Energy staff before the full commission votes on the proposal at next month’s meeting. However, since five of the nine commissioners are on the committee—which unanimously endorsed the recommendation—this seems a likely recommendation for either this City Council or the next one.

Homeland security first, Austin crime problems next

Austin City Council Member Danny Thomas set out his priorities for the newly formed Public Safety Task Force at the group’s inaugural meeting Monday night. Thomas put homeland security at the top of the list, but stressed that the group would not be limited strictly to preparing the city for a terrorist attack. “We’re going to look at homeland security,” Thomas said, “then we’re going to venture past homeland . . . We’re going to be through with that.”

Representatives of the Community Action Network briefed task force members on crime figures for the Austin area, starting with the 2000 CAN “Public Safety Community Assessment.” They also included crime statistics for 2001 as compiled by the Austin Police Department, which showed an increase of 12% from the previous year. Task force member Mike Levy pointed out that most of that increase occurred after September 11th. “In December it was up 23% city-wide,” Levy said. “The situation is far more severe than what you’ve indicated.”

The task force will eventually put more emphasis on local crime, but will take up homeland security as its first priority. Thomas asked the task force to split into subcommittees to deal with five different topics:

• Identifying federal and state funding opportunities

• Tracking state and federal initiatives for homeland security

• Public health research

• Local law enforcement needs

• Local fire and EMS personnel needs

The committee will return on March 25th to discuss subcommittee assignments. Regular meetings will be scheduled for the first Monday of every month.

Levy requested clarification of task force deadlines. “It is all about money,” Levy said. “In terms of the basic timing of this committee, if we’re going to have an impact on the next budget, you might want to give us a timeline . . . on any recommendations we might make through you to the Council.” Thomas chose not to jump into the budget process at the group’s first meeting, but agreed with Levy that money would be a factor. “That’s a hot item when you say ‘budget,’ but we’re going to get through it,” Thomas said. According to Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell, the city has already established a database to track the progress of more than 50 bills in the US Congress that could offer funding for local law enforcement or anti-terrorism activities.

The task force is made up of a diverse group of community and public safety representatives. Clint Smith, representing the Grey Panthers senior-citizens group, asked fellow task force members to keep the US Constitution in mind as they studied ways to improve public safety. “We want to protect the public, but we also want to protect civil liberties,” Smith said.

Thomas predicted that the work of the task force had the potential to be felt outside of Central Texas. “A lot of cities larger than Austin don’t have a task force,” Thomas said. “This is historic . . . And that’s why I know that with our hard work and energy we’re going to set an example for Texas.”

Tuesday

, Wednesday,

Friday

Thomas to travel . . . Council Member Danny Thomas will be representing the City Council on a sister city trip to Orlu, Imo State, Nigeria from March 9 to March 16. Sister City Coordinator Camille Donoghue said Orlu had requested assistance in AIDS education. The group will include an expert on public health education in that area, she said. Originally, the trip had been scheduled for last November. However, after the 9/11 tragedy, public officials across the country were discouraged from travel to foreign countries, Donoghue said. Austin has a total of 10 sister cities . . . Spit farther . . . Mark Nathan, executive assistant to Council Member Will Wynn, is a filmmaker in his spare time. Nathan and buddy Paul Stekler have made what they describe as “probably the most important film about watermelon seed spitting ever made.” The setting for the film, of course, is the annual Luling Watermelon Thump. Seed-spitters from around the globe, or at least around the state, come to Luling to see who gains the glory of the longest seed spit. We can hardly wait for the SXSW premiere of “Spit Farther” Saturday at 7:15pm at the Austin Convention Center. If you can’t make it this week, there’s an additional screening on March 16 at 2:30pm at the Paramount Theater . . . Austin biking film hits the big time too . . . Also Saturday “Bike Like U Mean It” will have its world premiere SXSW screening. Eric Anderson is organizing bikers to congregate at 9pm in front of Café Mundi, 1704 E. 5th St. (next to the tracks between Comal and Chicon) to decorate their bicycles for a triumphant ride to the Convention Center. The screening of the film about our quirky bike people is set for 10:30pm . . . Party tonight . . . The Eddie Rodriguez Campaign will be hosting a party from 5:30 to 7:30pm tonight at Patos, 1400 E. 381/2 St. Contributions are encouraged but not mandatory. Call 480-0103 for more information . . . High-rollers party . . . Sponsorships begin at $500 for the John Sharp Campaign for Lieutenant Governor Fundraiser tonight from 5:30 to 7:30pm at the home of Eddie Safady, 807 Congress. Holly Mace, Sharp’s campaign manager, says a less expensive fundraiser will be held in a couple of months . . . About the parking ordinance . . . Members of the North Austin Civic Association say they’ve been told to prepare for the March 13th meeting of the Planning Commission. Representatives of NACA have been pushing for a city ordinance to prevent people from parking their cars in their front yards. After several months of negotiations with other neighborhood groups who don’t want the parking prohibition, NACA member Larry Walker says there’s a compromise proposal on the table. If the Planning Commission approves the measure, it will likely go to the City Council a few weeks after that . . . From our friends at the quorumreport.com . . . Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report sends disturbing news. Freepac, an extremely conservative group which apparently opposes contraception, has sent out smear sheets to voters in Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth’ s district, among others. These pieces say the subjects endorse a “radical gay agenda.” Wentworth now represents a large part of Travis County. To find out more, see http://www.quorumreport.com and click on Daily Buzz.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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