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But neighbors may be making the wrong choice

Wednesday, April 24, 2002 by

Austin neighborhoods may be fighting for a version of the solid-waste siting ordinance that would protect them the least.

Travis County staff presented commissioners yesterday with two versions of the solid-waste-siting ordinance. One version, “Draft A,” most closely resembles a draft ordinance presented on April 8. It also opens the door for existing landfills to expand, but only under a contract with the county that requires compliance on several issues.

A second version of the ordinance, “Draft B,” drops the contract option. It treats new and existing landfills in the same manner. But it also inserts a section that allows existing landfills to request a variance for expansion. The executive director of the Transportation and Natural Resources Department would make that decision and his decision would be final unless appealed to the Commissioners Court.

Every speaker who addressed the court favored Draft B, although many, like Trek English, stressed the importance of honing the language in the ordinance still further. About two-dozen residents, all opposed to current landfill operators, sat in the audience. Lawyers representing the industry were also in attendance, although none addressed the court.

“This problem is not going away. It’s just creating a bigger nightmare if you have to consider an ordinance like Draft A,” English said. “Draft B probably addresses more of our concerns than Draft A ever did, but we would like to be able to review the language a little more closely and see some of the language tightened.”

Residents wanted more from the proposed ordinance, which could be approved in early June. They wanted greater clarification on water wells, limits to size and height, specific language on liners and flood plain issues, a broader definition of who should be notified of applications or expansions and stricter definitions on what constitutes a neighborhood in order to cover the county’s rural areas.

Kirby Watson of Harris Branch said the ordinance did not go far enough to address the odor and trash problems. Those problems should not be tolerated any more, Watson said.

“I have serious concerns about new attempts at new written contracts that I doubt will bring any new improvements,” Watson said. “Not one single nuisance odor violation has been filed, despite the torrential flood of complaints. That gives you an idea that I have no trust in landfill owners or the TNRCC ( Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission). I fear that they have no intention of changing.”

The ordinance is now posted for 30 days of review before commissioners take a final vote on it. John Kuhl, chief environmental officer for the county, said the ordinance was a series of trade-offs between neighborhoods and industry—the industry’s trade-offs were formulated in Draft A.

The county has limited powers in the regulation of landfills. But landfill operators, under Draft A, would give the county broader discretion in regulation. The problem may be that the compromise is too late for neighborhoods bothered by odor, traffic and trash. Neighborhoods are skeptical of any compromises reached with landfill operators.

“The operators have agreed to expose themselves to a contract,” said John Kuhl,executive director of the Transportation and Natural Resources Department . “But the neighborhood groups have so little faith in the industry that they can’t imagine them contractually committing themselves to anything above and beyond what TNRCC would require them to do, which, in their opinion, is nothing. So they distrust that option.”

Under Draft A, the county would be entitled to look at engineering plans. The county also would be able to set vertical and lateral limits, as well as standards on litter control, visual buffers, odor control and the management of liquid waste and landfill gas. The ordinance also would require adequate control of storm water and leachate. Enforcement would include monetary penalties and injunctive relief.

Union Pacific trains need longer track, neighbors say

Travis County Commissioners voted Tuesday to support the Allandale neighborhood in its fight to move idling freight trains away from the North Austin neighborhood.

County commissioners have signed a letter, drafted by Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, expressing support for what she called Allandale’s “reasonable and proactive solution” to the problem. The neighborhood will meet with Union Pacific to ask the railroad company to extend its side track another one-half mile past the neighborhood into a more industrial area.

The idling trains are noisy, said resident Eric Ralff. The pneumatic brake system on the train requires the trains to idle while waiting for repairs or a crew change. The delay is sometimes hours long, but occasionally lasts several days. The passage of NAFTA and the consolidation of railroad companies has turned the line past Allandale from the rail equivalent of a county road to an interstate thoroughfare.

Allandale can’t stop the train, Ralff said. Union Pacific’s business is too important. But Union Pacific can bring “some peace to the neighborhood” by extending the sidetrack another 1,000 yards north. The new neighbors will be a water retention system on one side of the tracks and a warehouse on the other.

The letter was approved unanimously and signed by commissioners. “This would be a win-win for all involved,” commissioners wrote in the letter, “preserving a critical transportation corridor, while protecting neighborhood integrity.”

Anti-Prop 1 Press Conference . . . P.R. man Chuck McDonald has organized a press conference for noon today for various community leaders who oppose the Charter amendment for public financing of City Council campaigns. Featured speakers include Mark Hazelwood, president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Marta Cotera of the 2001 Charter Revision Committee and the Mexican American Business and Professional Women’s Association, Ginny Agnew, former chair of the City’s Ethics Review Commission and Juan Portillo, president of TRAMEX Travel. Members of police and firefighters’ organizations are expected to join them in denouncing Prop 1. McDonald said he assisted in putting together a new organization called Citizens for Responsible Use of Tax Dollars. McDonald has said passage of Prop 1, which has the support of a large number of community political groups, would only enrich campaign consultants . . . Televised forums . . . Channel 6 will be broadcasting a live City Council candidates’ forum from 7 to 10pm Sunday. The Ethics Review Commission is sponsoring the forum along with the League of Women Voters, which is providing the moderator. The event will be filmed at One Texas Center and run several times on Channel 6 until the May 4 election. Also, the LBJ School and AFSCME have already taped a candidate forum which is scheduled to play on one of the Austin Community Access channels later this week . . . Sifuentes pushing early voting . . . Place 3 candidate Billy Sifuentes yesterday explained why Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman is listed as an endorsed candidate in the Austin Police Association PAC literature while he is not—even though the organization endorsed both. Sifuentes’ campaign treasurer, Ernesto Pedraza, is a member of the PAC board. Even though Pedraza does not serve in a strategic position in the campaign, the candidate said, police PAC officers sought legal advice on whether they could contribute to Sifuentes’ campaign. The answer was no, so Goodman appears along with incumbent Daryl Slusher and challengers Betty Dunkerley and Brewster McCracken on PAC literature, but Sifuentes is not mentioned. Sifuentes said he also is concerned that many Hispanics will be busy celebrating Cinco de Mayo on Election Day, May 4, and won’t make it to the polls. Sifuentes said, “We are continuing to impress upon everyone the importance of early voting.” . . . Flores recount coming . . . Lulu Flores will get a recount of the votes in the runoff election for the Democratic nomination in State Representative District 51. Eddie Rodriguez was declared the winner in the runoff earlier this month (see In Fact Daily, April 10, 2002), but the margin of victory was only 117 votes. The recount will likely be done by the Travis County Clerk’s office next week . . . Red-tag decision postponed . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission heard the beginning of an appeal of a stop-work order Tuesday evening. Tom Jones, president of Tom Jones Homes Inc., was requesting permission to continue work on two houses in western Travis County. The sites had been red tagged for failure to secure an approved subdivision construction plan before building subdivision infrastructure. Since only five members of the ZAP were present (and five votes are required to overturn a stop-work order) Commission Chair Betty Baker urged Jones to return next week so he would not have to receive a unanimous vote of the commission members present. Jones and the owners of the two homes affected by the red tag spoke briefly and will have another opportunity at the ZAP meeting on April 30th.The appeal was the only case on last night's agenda . . . Early voting today . . . Mobile units will be at One Texas Center, the Winters Building at 701 W. 51st St. and the LBJ Building, 111 E. 17th St., as well as the Manor ISD Administration Office, 312 Murray Ave. in Manor.

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

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