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First place in matrix almost loses out to second place

Monday, April 8, 2002 by

The Austin City Council voted Thursday night to award a contract for professional engineering services to Carollo Engineers. The $3.5 million dollar contract will allow Carollo to do site assessment and environmental studies to determine if land the city owns near RM 2222 and River Place is suitable for a new water treatment plant. Although the contract awarded Thursday night is for preliminary studies, the total cost for building the new plant could eventually total $280 million.

A fourth water treatment plant has been a part of the city’s long-range plan since the early 1980s. Since the site near RM 2222 and River Place is so close to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, the city’s Water and Wastewater Utility dedicated one-half of the property to the preserve, but retained a buildable flat portion in the middle of the tract. Long-range projections show a peak daily demand for water reaching 281 million gallons by the year 2009. If the plant were built at or near the RM 2222 location, it would draw water from Lake Travis.

While Carollo (http://www.carollo.com) received the top score in a matrix set up for evaluation of consultant qualifications, three Council members initially voted to award the contract to the firm of CH2M Hill, Inc. (http://www.ch2m.com), which had received the second-best score. Representatives of CH2M Hill argued that the matrix contained some quirks that penalized the company for its work history in Austin, while at the same time rewarding Carollo for the experience of its local subcontractors. Cis Myers, representing CH2M Hill, painted the Carollo team as outsiders who lacked local experience. “There is no one who knows Austin and its water infrastructure like the CH2M Hill team,” Meyers said. “We are the most qualified, experienced team. Secondly, we live here . . . We didn’t get to this meeting in rent cars. Most of us have grown up here.”

Council Member Will Wynn, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Mayor Garcia first sided with CH2M Hill. Wynn said he was surprised that the matrix used by the city had resulted in a higher score for Carollo, referring to part of the selection criteria as a “loophole.” “We look at city experience in two ways . . . One is previous City of Austin work,” Wynn said, “then we also try to judge and value knowledge of Austin and our way of doing business. So it appears to me that the Carollo team has been given full credit for their knowledge of Austin because of the total team makeup, which has some very fine local engineers. Yet because of Carollo being the actual prime contractor they are not penalized for having had previous City of Austin work.”

The selection matrix was designed to ensure fair distribution of City of Austin contracts to different firms within a specific field. It was the subject of extensive discussion when the Council awarded a contract for work at the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant. (See In Fact Daily, June 23, 2000.) At that time, the Council voted to award the contract to Camp Dresser and McKee, despite a staff recommendation for Carollo.

Director of Public Works Peter Rieck told the Council that staff had been reviewing the selection criteria, but had to rank the firms in accordance with the established matrix. “When this issue came up on the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant project, you instructed us to revisit the matrix and come back to you with proposed revisions,” Rieck said. Those revisions were originally put on the Council’s agenda last August. “Since then, we have tried to work out some issues that have been raised by Council members,” Rieck said. “It would be our hope that those concerns that you have just expressed could possibly be resolved by a revised matrix to replace the one that is currently in place.”

Council Member Raul Alvarez, who sits on the city’s MBE/WBE Advisory Committee, said a new matrix was being discussed. “We have been looking at that issue and haven’t really reached consensus on how to assign these points in these different categories,” Alvarez said. “So there will be some movement on that in the near future.”

Attorney Jerry Harris with Brown Mc Carroll, representing Carollo, said the company fulfilled all of the requirements set forth by the city. “We’ve encouraged the city to follow their matrix . . . to follow the staff recommendation and the recommendation of the Water and Wastewater Commission,” Harris said. “We know that the matrix has had to change from time to time and we have supported the changes. We always point out that everyone goes in to these projects knowing what the matrix is and what they will receive points for.”

Wynn moved to grant the contract to CH2M Hill, with a second by Goodman. However, only Garcia joined them, so the motion failed by a vote of 3-4. Alvarez then moved to approve the staff recommendation to grant the contract to Carollo, and that motion passed by a vote of 7-0.

“We’re disappointed,” said Myers. But she also offered some credit to the competition, saying, “There were two very qualified firms.” Harris agreed that the Council had faced a difficult decision. “Both firms were well qualified,” he said. “We’re pleased the Council decided to go with the staff recommendation.”

Blizzard, Mitchell still attacking Bruce Todd's committee

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court rejected Place 1 candidate Kirk Mitchell’s request for a mandamus. For Mitchell, who is vying for incumbent Council Member Daryl Slusher’s place on the Council, that was the final round in a whirlwind court battle. Earlier in the week, Judge Suzanne Covington dismissed Mitchell’s claims against both Slusher and the City of Austin. (See In Fact Daily April 3, 2002 .) Linda Curtis, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman’s opponent, had tried a similar move, which was rejected by the court on Thursday. (See In Fact Daily, April 5, 2002 .)

Also Friday, Place 3 City Council candidate Robin Stallings announced that he would be dropping out of the race. Stallings had originally filed to run for office in the event Goodman was prevented from running. (See In Fact Daily, Mar. 21, 2002.) Since Curtis is withdrawing her legal challenge, Stallings said, he won’t be campaigning. “I’m withdrawing from the Place 3 Council race because my objectives have been met,” Stallings said. “Jackie Goodman is now safe from legal challenge. Neighborhoods and the environment are going to be safe, and I’m going to work hard for Jackie Goodman’s re-election.” Stallings will still be listed on the ballot, since he was still concerned about the legal dispute over the petitions signatures at the deadline to have his name removed. “I suspect that everyone that was intending to vote for me will now vote for Jackie Goodman,” Stallings said. “Every vote for me would be a vote against Jackie, and I don’t want that.”

Mike Blizzard of Grassroots Solutions, Mitchell’s campaign consultant, complained Friday that Bruce Todd’s Citizens for Voter Choice had accepted large contributions from a number of lobbyists. Lobbyists are prohibited by city ordinance from contributing more than $25 to a candidate or to “a specific purpose political committee involved in an election for mayor or City Council.” The committee collected $21,835 and reported expenditures of $22,322. Todd’s attorney, Jim Cousar, said, “I am not expressing any opinion on the constitutionality of the cap on lobbyist contributions to candidates, but the cap on contributions to independent political committees is unconstitutional, as recognized by Judge Sparks in the 1998 opinion in which he voided a similar $100 cap on any contributions to independent political committees in City elections.”

On Friday, Blizzard said he would be taking his complaint to the County Attorney’s Office. Violation of the ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by fine only.

Williamson Creek flood control and Walnut Creek treatment plant move forward

City projects to control flooding on Williamson Creek and to increase the capacity of the Walnut Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant are moving forward with the blessing of the Environmental Board, which last week recommended approval of two separate variances on those projects.

The first was a simple cut and fill variance on Phase II of an effort to control the recurrent flooding problem from Williamson Creek—a situation that has caused flooding of homes numerous times over the years. This project will effectively remove 170 homes from the floodplain.

Jason Traweek, an environmental reviewer with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR), presented the case to the Board. “This project actually has a lot of history to it . . . This neighborhood has experienced significant flooding, most recently last November,” he said. Some areas of the neighborhood have been flooded even during light storm events, he noted.

City documents show that the Creek Bend neighborhood has been repeatedly swamped by flooding since it was built in the 1970s. The subdivision was platted in 1971, before the implementation of City flood control measures.

Phase II of the Creek Bend Flood Control Project consists of building a second floodwall along the northern bank of the creek, widening the stream channel and upgrading a bridge. Phase I, which also included a floodwall, began in 1996 and was completed in 1999.

Traweek said the floodwall was the most important part of this project. He said 20 houses were affected by last November’s flood. The improvements will be made near a bend in Williamson Creek where it flows under South Pleasant Valley Road, just north of William Cannon Drive.

As a result of this project, approximately 6.2 acres of wooded land along the creek will be transferred to the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) for inclusion into the greenbelt system.

Board Member Phil Moncada made a motion for approval, with the rationale that the project would remove 170 homes from the 100-year floodplain. His motion called for conditional approval, an adaptation of staff’s conditions, which call for very specific revegetation, tree mitigation, erosion controls and the use of native limestone, along with the transfer of 6.2 acres to PARD. The board unanimously approved the motion.

The second variance request was for a City of Austin Capitol Improvement Project to upgrade the Walnut Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The facility is situated on a tract of land nearly 304 acres in size at 7113 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., a mile east of US 183.

Chris Williams, an environmental reviewer with WPDR, said the purpose of the project is to increase the permitted capacity of the plant from 60 million gallons per day (MGD) to 75 MGD. The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission informed the city of the need for the upgrade because the average daily flow from the plant exceeded the permitted limit for three consecutive months in 2001.

The improvements call for construction of a new headworks building, line maintenance dewatering station, a hauled waste dumping station, underground pipeline, a new access road and parking areas, according to City documents. In addition, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is modifying the roads around the facility for improved safety as vehicles enter and exit the plant. A traffic signal is also in the works at Johnny Morris Road and MLK.

Alan Rhames, with GSG Inc., the applicant requesting the variances, said TxDOT is building both a left-turn lane and a deceleration lane for access to the plant to solve a traffic problem that has resulted in a long history of fatal accidents, which have occurred as septic trucks slowed or stopped to enter the facility.

Plant Engineer Kathy Hardin told In Fact Daily the $18.8 million upgrade is slated for completion in two years.

The variances requested were to exceed the four-foot cut and fill limit, to allow constructions on slopes and to allow development in a Critical Water Quality Zone and in a floodplain.

Moncada made a motion to recommend with conditions stipulated by staff, which included tree mitigation and revegetation.

In both cases the vote was 7-0, with Board Members Matt Watson and Ramon Alvarez absent.

Hearings tonight . . . Hearings on the proposed single-member-district map are being held at the Crockett High School cafeteria, 5601 Manchaca and the Montopolis Recreation Center senior room (upstairs), 1200 Montopolis. Both begin at 7pm . . . Young Austinites for McCracken party. . . Friends of Place 4 candidate Brewster McCracken are hosting a party for the candidate from 5:30 to 7:30pm Tuesday at the Speakeasy Club in the Austin Warehouse District at 412 Congress Avenue (behind Gilligan’s). The sponsors are his friends from Leadership Austin. The invitation reads, “young Austinites of all ages are welcome” . . . Runoff voting and counting also Tuesday . . . If you didn’t vote early but are still interested, Tuesday is the day to vote in both Republican and Democratic runoff races . . . Libertarians announce City Council endorsements . . . The Libertarian Party of Travis County has endorsed Craig Barrett for City Council Place 1 and Eddie Green Bradford for Place 4. Those seats are currently held by Council Members Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith respectively. The group has not yet made a decision on the Place 3 race. The Libertarians also voted to oppose public financing of Council campaigns and appointment of a utility consumer analyst for the City Council. They voted in favor of the repeal of the $100 contribution limit and the resign-to-run proposal for Municipal Court judges. Most puzzling, however, is the group’s opposition to Charter Amendment 5, which would allow the City Clerk to publish the campaign reports on the Internet, rather than in a daily newspaper, which costs considerably more. The reports are also available on paper to those who request them from the clerk. The TCLP took no position on Charter Amendments 3, 4 and 8 . . . South Austin Democrats to talk about amendments . . . South Austin Democrats will meet at Rosie’s Tamale House at Oltorf and S. Congress on Tuesday to discuss the Charter Amendments. Come at 5:30 for dinner, or 6pm for the meeting. The group is expected to make endorsements of candidates and amendments the following week . . . Educational program on design for conservation . . . The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association is hosting a series of seminars on conservation design and development, beginning on April 19. Speakers for that session include Mary Sanger of the Texas Center for Policy Studies, Scott Polikov of Gateway Planning Group, Sinclair Black, architect and environmentalist Robin Rather. David Bamberger, owner of the Selah Ranch, will discuss his own conservation success story. Speakers for later seminars include Hays County Judge Jim Powers and State Sen. Jeff Wentworth. For more information, call David Baker, executive director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, at 1-512-847-2868. Hosts include the Greater San Antonio-Austin Corridor Planning Council, Southwest Texas State University, Institute for Sustainable Water Resources, the Lower Colorado River Authority, Texas Center for Policy Studies, Hill Country Round Table, Hays/Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and the Friendship Alliance.

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

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