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Manka running under the radar campaign

Wednesday, May 1, 2002 by

Craig Smith, president of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board, has raised more than $6,800 in his re-election effort, according to the most recent contribution and expenditure reports. Most of Smith’s contributions are in the $25 to $100 range, with no contributions greater than $250. He has received the endorsement of several community and environmental organizations as well as the Austin Chronicle.

Smith’s only opponent is water engineer Felix Manka, who refused to talk to the American-Statesman when their reporter called him. Manka, a resident of Circle C, has received the endorsement of the Circle C Political Action Committee. The PAC has pledged $500 to Manka, who reported that he owes $500 on a loan for the campaign, as of the most recent reporting period. He reported no other contributions and no expenditures, either during the current time period or the one immediately preceding it.

While Smith has been busy putting up signs throughout his Pct. 5 district, there is almost no evidence of his opponent. That does not mean that Manka isn’t serious about the race. He has reportedly said that he is counting on Circle C to put him over the top.

PAC President Ken Rigsbee is working hard to get Manka, as well as school board candidate Donald Abrams, elected on Saturday. Rigsbee sent an email to his Circle C neighbors, in which he claimed that Smith’s “primary claim to fame was a stint as president of the Save Our Springs Organization.” Rigsbee may have been confused by the Chronicle endorsement, which says, “As a former president of the Save Barton Springs Association, Smith was elected to the board with an environmental record already in place.” Smith has been president of the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) and the local chapter of the Sierra Club, but not the SOS Alliance.

A bankruptcy attorney by trade, Smith notes that he may have earned developer Gary Bradley’s permanent wrath by representing SBCA in opposing Bradley’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan.

Rigsbee writes, “(U)nder his direction the district opposed the laying of a surface water line by LCRA from Lake Travis to Dripping Springs so that new residents there would not have to draw as much water from the aquifer. Their argument, a water line would encourage additional residents. Likewise when we asked for some outlet to the south from Circle C over to IH 35, the district opposed our request—same reason.”

Smith said, “We have advocated water quality controls associated with the LCRA pipeline, from pollution that will result from the development it will promote, but have not opposed the pipeline.” Smith’s wife, Mary Ann Neely, works for the LCRA. As to the “outlet to the south,” Smith said, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

Smith was part of the board majority that questioned the need for the pipeline, and part of the board majority that approved a July, 2000 resolution noting that the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer “has long been recognized as the Texas drinking water aquifer that is the most vulnerable to contamination. The health of the BSEA depends on the quantity and quality of the water that recharges it, most of which falls inside the Contributing Zone, outside the District boundaries. While the District has no authority over zoning or the subdivision or use of land, inside or outside of its jurisdiction, the District will defend the aquifer against any actions or conditions that might imperil its continued use for these purposes—including development that occurs in the Contributing and Recharge Zones . . . “

Smith noted, “The district supported and I personally went to the City Council to support the Bradley settlement agreement because it was a better result for the aquifer than the alternative.”

On his web site, http://craigsmithcampaign.com, Smith writes, “I have led the Aquifer District in opposing the reopening of Longhorn Pipeline to carry gasoline and jet fuel through South Austin and across the Aquifer. A major spill in the watershed would be a catastrophe that could spoil the Springs for generations or forever. The Aquifer District is suing to require an environmental impact study (EIS) to measure the pipeline’s true risks. The only way to make it really safe for the Aquifer and the thousands of people along its route is to move it away from drinking water sources and population centers.” Rigsbee is a lobbyist for Phillips Petroleum, but Phillips is not one of the Longhorn Partners.

Rigsbee concludes his appeal by urging Circle C residents to vote and “to see that every other registered voter in your home and immediate community also votes. Circle C has earned its enviable reputation by the efforts of its residents who typically turn out to vote in higher percentages than most other areas.”

Commissioners remember struggle to reach consensus on roads

County commissioners have approved contracts with the Texas Turnpike Authority that commit county funds to Loop 1 North, State Highway 45 North and State Highway 130.

Commissioners noted that agreement among neighborhoods, Travis County and the Texas Turnpike Authority on the three projects had improved significantly over the last five years. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said the county had “moved light years from where we were in 1997.” The effort had required a tremendous amount of “collaborating, cooperating and consensus” between the county and the Texas Turnpike Authority.

“I know this all takes time, but it is time well invested,” Sonleitner told her colleagues. “We are now united and moving forward with all of these projects . . . It’s been a very interesting journey.”

Commissioner Ron Davis said he remembered some of the tougher meetings in Precinct 1 were about the alignment of State Highway 130. The choice of east over west alignment was “a long hard struggle,” Davis said. He expressed appreciation for the efforts of everyone involved in the project.

Negotiations will begin this summer on right-of-way negotiations for the three toll roads, Gieselman said. Despite the obvious differences among specific terms, the three contracts share many of the same conditions. Travis County has agreed to pay 100 percent of the right-of-way on the northern leg of State Highway 45 that passes between the city limits and Williamson County . The county has agreed to pay 50 percent of the right-of-way on Loop 1 North. And the county has agreed to cap its contribution at $90 million on the right-of-way costs for State Highway 130.

Joe Gieselman, executive director of Transportation and Natural Resources, outlined the contracts for commissioners yesterday. Those terms include “a rather loose provision” for the county to negotiate the return of funds or land if the state fails to initiate the construction of projects within a 10-year time frame. It provided “no hard leverage” for the return of funds, Gieselman said. It just gives the county the ability to approach the state for negotiations.

If the actions of the county cause a significant increase in the cost of right-of-way, the county also has agreed to pick up the additional costs, Gieselman said. If, for instance, a billboard ordinance causes the cost of a piece of land to increase significantly because of relocation expenses, the county picks up the additional cost. The increases must be at least 25 percent of the market price of the parcel. Gieselman admitted such a provision would require county officials to think before taking actions that might adversely impact those parcels of land that must be bought to acquire right-of-way.

Duval Road, Northeast Drive subject of complaints

The Planning Commission has recommended making two changes to the city’s long-range transportation plan at the request of residents along Duval Road and Northeast Drive. Those residents said the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/transplan/amatp_faq.htm ) had inappropriately classified the two roads, thus increasing the likelihood of unwanted expansion and development.

The commission recommended reclassifying Duval Road from US 183 to Loop 1, along with deleting Northeast Drive between US 290 E and Manor Road from the plan. Duval had originally been striped as a four-lane road after being widened several years ago. Since then, it has been re-striped as a two-lane road with a continuous left-turn lane to improve public safety. However, Duval is still classified as a four-lane road under the AMATP. City staff and neighborhood residents said that segment of Duval should be deleted from the plan and reclassified in accordance with its current configuration. “We don’t need additional lanes, these lanes work well,” said former City Council Member Larry Deuser (1981-1983). “What has happened over the years is that all of the build-out that could occur has occurred, therefore the traffic count has gone up. But it should not go up any further unless you turn it into a road that can accommodate a high number of cars.”

City staff cautioned that making that section of Duval a four-lane street, eliminating the center left-turn lane, would be more dangerous for drivers. “Turning movements need to be separated from the mainstream of traffic,” said Teri McManus of the city’s Transportation, Planning, and Sustainability Department. “There’s not enough right-of-way to expand or add lanes to this road without impacting businesses and homes and a variety of land uses that already exist on the road. There’s overwhelming public consensus to keep this road the way it is.” Neighborhood resident Bobbie Henley told commissioners they had obtained 3,000 signatures on a petition calling for Duval to be reclassified. “Our biggest concerns are safety issues,” she said. “If we don’t have our left turn lanes to get into our neighborhood, we don’t have any access to our neighborhoods at all.”

Keeping Duval in the plan, while modifying its status from a four-lane road to a two-lane road, would leave it eligible for funding for different improvements, including bike lanes. “The existing right of way and pavement widths right now might allow for bike lanes,” McManus said. “It is something the Bicycle Program is interested in looking into further.” Deleting the road from the plan entirely would have made it much more difficult to use funding from state or federal programs to improve the road.

The commission did vote to follow the staff recommendation and recommend removing Northeast Drive between US 290 E and Manor Rd. from the plan. Based on the most recent traffic count, Northeast Drive did not have enough traffic to qualify as an arterial. A public hearing on the proposed amendments to the plan could be scheduled for the City Council in May. The Council will have the final vote on amending the plan. The plan was previously amended last September. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 28, 2001 )

Looking on the bright side . . . City Clerk Shirley Brown reported yesterday that 900 voters made it to the polls on Monday, making her feel “sort of optimistic” that Austin may have at least the 9 percent overall turnout it had for the 2000 election. However, if the pattern holds, this year’s turnout will still be less than 8 percent. Tuesday was the final day to vote early, but Brown will not have the final figures until sometime today. In Fact Daily has learned that all the major Place 4 candidates— Beverly Griffith, Brewster McCracken, and Betty Dunkerley —have been calling and plan to continue phone banks to boost their turnout. Organizations supporting Proposition 1 have already taped phone bank messages urging their members to vote. Kirk Mitchell and Daryl Slusher would also like to turn out their voters, but the Place 1 race has divided friends, neighbors and members of the same environmental organizations, so any get-out-the-vote effort for these candidates will have to be done extremely selectively. Neither one can say with any certainty that a particular precinct is his sole territory. Mike Blizzard of Grassroots Solutions, Mitchell’s campaign consultant, said, “In the North University area, people are dueling with their yard signs” . . . Appeal abandoned . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission was set to hear once more an appeal of a red-tag stop work order by the director of Watershed Protection and Development Review Department last night. But at 5pm, an attorney for Tom Jones Homes notified the city that his client had decided to abandon the appeal. If Jones and his lawyer had come to the meeting, they would have found seven commissioners present, two more than heard the case last week. Commissioners Joseph Martinez and Angular Adams were both absent last night. After the first hearing, Commissioner Keith Jackson said he really needed to go. His son was playing Macbeth in the school play. Then Commissioner Diana Castañeda, who recently had surgery for a hernia, said she was not feeling well and needed to go also. Commissioner Michael Casias was out in the hall, since he had recused himself from the first case. Chair Betty Baker decided she had lost a quorum and rescheduled the remaining cases for next week . . . Baker honored . . . The Austin History Center Association has named Betty Baker winner of the Katherine Drake Hart History Preservation Award in recognition of her commitment to preservation of Austin’s historic buildings. She has been active in preservation work since the 1970s. Baker will receive the award at the association’s third annual meeting Friday evening at the Austin History Center. Danny Camacho will be honored as the Austin History Center Volunteer of the Year. Eddie Wilson, owner of Threadgill's Restaurants, will deliver the keynote address on "Beer and Barbecue Joints I have Known and Loved." No, we are not kidding. For more information, call 974-7499 . . . Cinco de Mayo fun . . . Travis County Commissioners passed a resolution to celebrate the county’s 16th annual Cinco de Mayo celebration on Friday. The event, hosted by the Downtown Austin Alliance, Travis County and the City of Austin, will be held downtown at Wooldridge Park from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. More about other Cinco de Mayo events in tomorrow’s whispers .

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