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Aquifer board agrees to negotiate with City over possible role as Stratus monitor

Wednesday, July 31, 2002 by

SOS spokesman warns district not to get involved

Stratus Properties’ settlement with the City of Austin took center stage at last night’s meeting of the Board of Directors of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD). Since Board Member David Carpenter had discouraged city staff from attending the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman came alone to tell the board about her plan to make the district a third party administrator to monitor water quality. She said the board could provide “a failsafe mechanism beyond what the city can provide. SOS is the law—the bottom line. That’s the maximum we can require.”

Colin Clark of the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) urged the board not to go along with the agreement. He said Stratus’ legislative lobbyists might try to have the district dissolved and if they succeeded there would be no one to continue testing of the water. He also said SOSA was concerned regarding the lack of details. He requested if they did decide to work with the city that details be released in time to have public comment.

Goodman said Stratus had agreed on the third party enforcement mechanism. The Mayor Pro Tem added that the district would be a good choice to monitor water quality because it regularly monitors wells and conducts dye tracing tests. Money for the oversight would come from a dedicated fund paid by property owners and Stratus. Goodman said it was not an extra tax. “It’s a maintenance tax they have to pay anyway.”

Board Member Craig Smith asked what responsibilities would be involved. Goodman told them it would be ongoing, unlimited inspection and monitoring of standards, repair and redesign. Board Member Jack Goodman—the Mayor Pro Tem’s husband—asked if they had the power to decide if something has to be done. The Mayor Pro Tem said, “You decide. Total authority is your choice.”

“We make the call as how to fix it. It’s the scientific community working together,” said Board Member Goodman.

Carpenter said he was concerned about where the money would come from to pay for the monitoring if the fund gets depleted. He said he didn’t want to have to take legal action if funds were insufficient to pay for testing.

Board Member Goodman seemed frustrated by Carpenter’s concerns. He said, “We need to be there so your developer doesn’t pollute our aquifer. Hope whoever does it is willing to talk to us. This is the first time they’re willing to talk about it.”

Carpenter said he wanted more details regarding timeline and money.

BSEAD General Manager Floyd Marsh said district staff members had met with their city counterparts, but had not worked out all the details. He said that although they had discussed natural features, they didn’t talk about water quality standards. He then explained that the agreement would be done in two stages. During the first stage, the entities would develop principles for an inter-local agreement; the second would involve writing legal language that would protect both parties. He added that it might take six months to a year to complete the agreement.

Board Member Craig Smith made a motion for district staff to pursue negotiations with the City of Austin as the possible third-party monitor and the board unanimously voted its approval.

Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon told In Fact Daily that she explained to Carpenter that the Council was likely to give final approval to the ordinance this week, but he had insisted that staff not come to last night’s meeting.

Earlier Wednesday, the Austin Safe Pipeline Coalition announced that it would hold a joint press conference today with residents of the Village of Western Oaks and members of the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Sierra Club at the site of a planned apartment complex next to the pipeline. Pipeline activist Marguerite Jones told In Fact Daily she would like to see increased setbacks for apartments near the pipeline. She said, “People who live in apartments are never notified about changes in pipelines or of the risks—because they are not the original owners. Only the owners are notified. I feel that is not fair.”

Goodman said she had received new language from the city’s attorneys concerning setbacks from the pipeline. In addition, she said that she had asked for language concerning construction safeguards approved by the Austin Fire Department. She was also reading some very dense legalese relating to downzoning provisions of the agreement.

As he always does before a big vote, SOS Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch put the word out to supporters: “The Council could vote on the sweetheart Stratus deal at any time after 2, so it is important for us to be there beginning at 2pm. Please come by the Council hearing any time that you can from 2pm to 8pm for this important public vote.”

A conversation with Jon Beall,

the Save Barton Creek Association

Organization seeks to influence government through cooperation

By Keith Sennikoff

In Fact Daily sat down recently with Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) President Jon Beall to share his thoughts on current projects and the future of Barton Springs.

The SBCA has been meeting almost every Monday night since 1980 to discuss issues relevant to the preservation of the Barton Springs watershed. As president, Beall coordinates the association’s various activities and programs. Everyone in the organization is a volunteer except Programs Manager George Cofer.

When Beall first got involved with the SBCA twelve years ago it was the only organization in Austin focused on Barton Springs. In the early 90s, the SBCA joined forces with the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and SANE to form the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA). Since the president of SBCA automatically has a seat on the board of SOSA—and this is Beall’s second stint in that role—he is well qualified to compare the two organizations. He feels they are as different as “night and day.” “SBCA meets every week; SOSA meets only once a month . . . At SOSA there is very little discussion of the issues and very little effort to work with city staff and City Council members . . . It’s run much more autocratically.”

SBCA’s self-imposed mandate is to influence the political process by working collaboratively, rather than confrontationally, with governmental and political entities. “People don’t realize that even though the grandfathering has been in place for three years now, during all of these years after SOS was passed, for many of those years, and in many of the projects—while they don’t adhere strictly to SOS—negotiations occurred. Many of the provisions of SOS were applied, even though on a fairly clear legal basis the developer did not have to implement those things. But it was questionable and the city said, ‘Yes, you have to comply,’ and the developer would say, ‘No, I don’t.’ And then the City would say, ‘Well, do you want to settle it in court, or do you want to reach some kind of compromise?’ So things built along South MoPac—many of those new buildings were grandfathered, clearly grandfathered—adhere, if not to the impervious cover restrictions of SOS, which are 15 percent, but they do implement most of the water quality features (such as) capturing the runoff, which is very, very important. So, much of the damage they could have done has been mitigated to some extent—I can’t say how much because I’m not an engineer—through this process the City has followed.

IFD: “What role did the SBCA play in making that happen?”

JB: “Our former president Jackie Goodman got elected, as well as Daryl Slusher. Jackie is one of the strongest City Council members . . . They both know how the City works. Jackie gets major credit for the neighborhood planning process. This is going to have a long-term beneficial effect on the wars fought over planning and development. It is going to have the greatest beneficial long-term effect on all the little neighborhoods that want to have a say in what happens. We think we’ve been very effective . . . because friends of good government—honest, hard-working, reasonable people—have been elected.

IFD: “How would you compare your success at the city and state levels?”

JB: “Oh, tremendous success at a municipal level, dismal failure at the state. It’s an absolute disaster.”

One of the SBCA’s current projects concerns a tract on the southeast corner of MoPac and Loop 360—called “The Park”—and it showcases the organization’s difficulties with the state, in particular with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC). The SBCA was not allowed to testify about the development’s impact on water quality and was thus compelled to file suit against TNRCC for permission to speak as an advocate of water quality.

“ George Bush cannot speak the word, ‘environment.’ He just cannot say it. I was a Republican all my life until I got involved in municipal politics. In order for us to be successful here in our regional planning, we need to have the support of the State Legislature and the federal government. We got good support from the Ann Richards administration. But we’ve received nothing but roadblocks (since then) . . . We have gone backwards in our attempts to deal with regional problems. Rick Perry does not understand regional planning.”

“We’re definitely moving towards greater environmental protection. It’s an inevitable movement. For one thing, the science has gotten better. Unfortunately, we’re pausing briefly during this current administration (at the national and state levels)—but over the long term we are headed in the right direction. Travis County and Austin have made some difficult choices that communities have to make. Hays County is about to make some of those same choices, and Hays County controls two-thirds of the watershed. So we’re headed in the right direction. Preserving Barton Springs is more a question now of implementing similar controls—to what the City of Austin has implemented—in those areas outside of the jurisdiction of Austin. The LCRA is helping us do that.”

IFD: “Is it possible to save Barton Springs?”

JB: “Those developments under SOS probably don’t contribute a significant amount to the pollution. SOS projects are engineered in such a way that one single grandfathered building on South MoPac, on just a few acres, probably contributes more pollution than the entire Stratus development is going to produce. That doesn’t mean that Stratus isn’t going to have an effect—they are—and the very best point that’s being made against it is that it’s going to have parking spaces for about 5,000 office workers and those people are going to come from someplace else. That’s an issue we do not have legal means to deal with at this time.”

“The City of Austin conducted a very expensive and very extensive study of where the pollution was coming from in Barton Springs. Loomis and Associates did this retrofit study about six or seven years ago. They determined that if we retrofitted—they picked out the largest contributors, Lost Creek was one of them, and Barton Hills—if we spent millions we would only be able to reduce the pollutant load by about 5 to 10 percent. That would not have a very large impact. Instead, the city could take that money and buy large undisturbed tracts in the recharge and contributing zones. That would have the greatest bang for the buck . . . Still, the community someday will have to vote money to fix the Lost Creek subdivision. It may be a special fee that folks who live or develop in that area pay for the privilege of living out there on that watershed. But somewhere we’re going to have to come up with the money. We know pretty much where the pollution is coming from.”

IFD: “So, what is the prognosis for the future health of the Springs?”

JB: “It hangs in the balance. It is too early to tell. It’s not lost, but it’s going to be very expensive and politically difficult to implement changes to assure its survival. And it’s still politically difficult to do water quality things in Hays County. It’s going to take the state not telling the LCRA to back off from water quality. The state is going to have to support the communities. I think there are sixty different political entities that would be involved in making the decisions that need to be made.” And the difficulty is exacerbated by “folks who don’t understand the issue, and who meddle in somebody else’s business. For example, the requests of a very few special interests have cost the City of Austin millions of dollars, and may cost the region one of our most powerful economic assets: Barton Springs. It’s completely illogical for those scoundrels up there (at the state legislature) to keep bashing Austin!”


Budget presentation today . . . The City Council and the public will get a first look at City Manager Toby Futrell’s trim 2003 budget at this morning’s work session . . . Minority lawyers rate progress . . . The Hispanic Bar Association of Austin and the Austin Black Lawyers Association gave Andrews & Kurth and Winstead Sechrest & Minnick a score of A+ on hiring of minorities. The firms receiving a grade of A were: Bickerstaff, Heath; Bracewell & Patterson; Brown McCarroll; Hilgers & Watkins; Jenkins and Gilchrist, Strasburger & Price. Large firms were graded on the number of minority attorneys, minority partners and minority clerks they employed. On the other end of the scale, Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, with 3.7 percent minority lawyers and Scott Douglass & McConnico, with 4.5 percent, received an F from the minority lawyers. The groups say they graded the firms based on a comparison to the statewide percentage of minority attorneys, which is 12.5 percent. Only 11 percent of Austin attorneys are minority group members, they reported . . . A cooler place . . . County Commissioners will cut the ribbon on the cooler Travis County Exposition Center this Saturday morning at 11 am, with festivities till 2 pm. The county spent $4.4 million to add air conditioning to the Decker Lane facility, hoping to boost summer bookings. The center, built almost 20 years ago, brings in an estimated $700,000 in revenue to the county every year . . . No Parking on lawns returns to Council . . . The controversial ordinance that would allow neighborhood plans and neighborhood associations to ban parking on the lawn in their neighborhoods returns to the City Council for third reading this week. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman was busy writing amendments to the ordinance late Tuesday. She wants to add a provision that the ordinance would expire in two years for areas opting in via neighborhood association vote. After that the area would have to seek a zoning overlay to enact a new ordinance or go through the neighborhood planning process. There is an assumption that most areas of town will have gone through the neighborhood planning process within the next two years . . . Congressman to tour City of Austin Small Business Assistance Center . . . Congressman Lloyd Doggett will be touring the assistance center at 9am this morning. The tour will feature the center’s on-line plan room, which is funded through a federal block grant. The center is in Motorola Building S at 4007 Ed Bluestein Blvd. . . . AHFC press conference . . . The city will showcase its Home Loan Rehabilitation Program at 10am Friday when the reconstructed home at 1307 Canterbury in the Guadalupe Neighborhood is unveiled. The program assists homeowners with substantial repairs including rebuilding foundations, roofing and plumbing. For more information, call Brenda Ham at 974-3175.

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

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