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Gravity line under Barton Creek

Wednesday, September 25, 2002 by

Utility begins meetings to explain new design to stakeholders

Officials at the city’s Water & Wastewater Department (WWD) have determined that the sewage lift station on Barton Creek is so badly deteriorated that it should be replaced. But instead of installing another lift station, engineers say it would be better to replace the station with a gravity line crossing under the creek.

The new line would be installed adjacent to the current lift station. Department Director Chris Lippe said the gravity line will carry wastewater into a line that parallels Robert E. Lee Road. From there, the wastewater will flow under Barton Creek close to the bridge on the hike-and-bike trail. Department staff and consultants have begun to meet with different stakeholder groups to explain the lift station problem and the solution. They met with the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) Monday night.

In November 2001 and again in July, heavy rains caused sewage spills into the creek. When city employees inspected the lift station to begin repairs, they found the problems to be much worse than they had expected. One example is the deterioration of the concrete ceiling covering the lift station. Members of the utility’s staff showed photos of rebar exposed as a result of the ceiling’s erosion. There are two or three parking spaces above the lift station, next to the concession stand by Barton Springs Pool. “We’re asking our consulting engineer to do a load-bearing analysis,” Lippe said Tuesday, and in the meantime, he said he has asked the Parks and Recreation Department to block off the spaces.

Consultant Brigid Shea, whose first vote as a member of the City Council was to cancel the South Austin Outfall project, finds herself in the ironic position of helping the city explain what is happening with the lift station and the lines that feed into it. Shea, who was elected in 1993, remembers the vote in June of that year to cancel the project.

Craig Bell, division manager of systems planning and GIS at WWD, remembers it also. His department installed the lift station in 1976. “It was not intended to be a permanent lift station. It was a kind of metal can that was put into the ground,” he said. The South Austin Outfall was a very large gravity collector—an interceptor—and was intended, among other things, to replace the lift station. The lift station uses electrical pumps to carry wastewater from a tank where it is collected. Lippe said the utility could build another lift station, but after analyzing all the essential factors he and his staff believe the gravity line is a better choice. Construction of either option would cost about $7 million, he said, but maintenance costs of the lift station are much greater.

Shea said that in 1992 when the city awarded the contract for the South Austin Outfall, the utility staff “was definitely planning to increase capacity out in the Barton Springs watershed.” After the contract was canceled, she explained, “We directed staff to study alternative methods to provide service to that watershed.” Shea and Bell both emphasized that area wastewater lines had been reduced dramatically in the intervening years.

“The only way to move wastewater is gravity or pumps, and gravity works in the bottom of creeks. My sense is that it is not a good idea to locate a sewage pumping station above the most endangered species (in the watershed). Lift stations fail,” Shea said. “The issues that caused us to cancel the South Austin Outfall when I was on the Council have been largely solved by downsizing the sewer line and getting agreement with the service areas that are going to be served. The fact that the Terrace PUD is already on line is a tragedy but . . . the city had committed to service it when capacity became available on that line.”

Bell said the lift station and the gravity line that will replace it provide service to most of the Barton Hills neighborhood as well as neighborhoods on the other side of the creek and Barton Creek Square Mall.

The team of utility staff and consultants has been inviting members of the stakeholder community, including those who worked out an agreement for service to Rollingwood and West Lake Hills, to a meeting on October 14th. The team will explain the factors they considered in making the decision and answer more questions at that time.

Lippe said, “At the close of the South Austin Outfall project there were significant questions about what areas the city wanted to serve. We got all the right people and organizations involved . . . so now we’ve come back to the design.”

New highway construction causing large part of increase

Travis County Commissioners approved a 2-cent tax increase yesterday with the strong support of the same segment of the business community that had helped Travis County pass a major bond package last fall.

Business leaders and local developers, one after another, stepped up to the microphone to tell commissioners they supported the tax increase, which will bring the county’s tax rate to 46.6 cents per hundred-dollar valuation. Major increases to the $308 million operating budget include an additional $6.2 million for the sheriff’s office and another $4 million in attorney fees for indigent prisoners.

But the increase that business leaders were primarily supporting—approximately 1.7 cents of the 2-cent increase—was the bond money committed to area mobility projects. Howard Falkenberg told commissioners the state was only two weeks away from awarding the construction contracts on the intersection of Loop 1 and State Highway 45. That swiftness was due, in no small part, to the commitment of the county’s voters to pay for right-of-way for the two Central Texas turnpike projects.

“You called for an election, and the voters said clearly we should issue the bonds, knowing full well it would require an increase in taxes,” Falkenberg said. “Today we come to the end of the line and we have a tax increase that is largely intended to pay for improved mobility for the Austin area.”

Attorney Pete Winstead, the former head of the Texas Turnpike Authority, also appeared before the court. Winstead told commissioners he knew how frustrating it could be for Travis County to work with the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Turnpike Authority.

“We’re coming together around some critical infrastructure our citizens really want,” Winstead said. “This is a great day for our community. I applaud what you’ve done because that’s what people in our community want done.”

The only naysayer in the group was frequent critic Kenneth Snyder of Northridge Acres, who said the county must be paying the Realtors “real good” to get their support. He added that the higher appraisals and higher tax rates meant taxpayers would be paying higher taxes twice over. All a toll road does, said Snyder, is move traffic from one road to another road.

Each commissioner made a speech in support of the approved budget. Commissioner Ron Davis spoke of the budget as “trying to fit a big foot into a little shoe.” He warned that the county was not out of the woods yet, naming jail overcrowding, employee health benefits and delayed employee compensation as major decisions the county still faces this year.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner stressed how difficult the county finds paying for certain state mandates—such as an increased subsidy of indigent attorney fees—without additional state funding. And Commissioner Margaret Gomez spoke of the compassion and understanding county commissioners exercised during difficult times. The county, like its constituents, had to learn to prioritize its funds, she pointed out, and the emphasis should be on basic services. Gomez said the county had to balance its needs with its resources and she was pleased with the results.

Commissioner Margaret Moore thanked county staff and court colleagues for their efforts. She was pleased that commissioners felt free to articulate their positions, even when they differed on decisions.

“I believe we came to a final place that is responsive to this community for this budget and for this tax increase,” Moore said. “We are at a place where we can both defend and explain this budget in a way that this community will understand.”

County Judge Sam Biscoe was not completely happy with the budget, however. He told commissioners he had bowed to the wishes of the court on the funding of the Health and Human Services budget, even though he was on the losing end of a fight to increase it. The county may have been realistic in its HHS budget, but “we were not generous,” he said.

“We did a good thing, but we did not do the right thing there,” Biscoe said.

Biscoe said the amount of the justice and public safety budget still amazed him, and he wanted to make sure county courts holds court-appointed attorneys’ feet to the fire, since the state’s intention was that better compensation would mean better services.

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

Where’s the manager? . . . City Manager Toby Futrell had planned on a Caribbean cruise this week, but may have changed her mind with the winds and rain of Hurricane Isidore dominating the Caribbean weather picture. City Public Information Officer Michele Middlebrook-Gonzalez assured In Fact Daily that Futrell would be taking the safe route wherever her vacation should take her . . . Planning Commission agenda . . . Tonight the commission is scheduled to consider a neighborhood plan and new zoning for the East MLK Combined Neighborhood area. In addition, the Hyde Park neighborhood is appealing an extension of time granted by city staff to the Hyde Park Baptist Church for clearing up questions on three site plans for tracts on Speedway . . . Council work sessions . . . The City Council is holding a work session at 10am today to hear a report from Austin Energy’s General Manager and a report on the Regional Mobility Authority (RMA). Travis and Williamson Counties and the policy advisory committee of CAMPO have already approved formation of such an authority. Council Member Daryl Slusher explained that Austin is concerned because, “There is no guarantee of city representation on the RMA.” He said Travis and Williamson Counties will each be asked to appoint three representatives and the Governor will appoint one. He added that it’s always wise to enter new ventures with plenty of information. Also, the Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure is scheduled to meet at 3pm today . . . Austin Energy wins award for city . . . The City of Austin received an award last week from the Gas Technology Institute, sponsor of the US Metropolitan Energy Design Competition. Austin’s award was granted in the category of Future Energy Technology in recognition of Austin Energy’s work with fuel cells, LED traffic signals, and energy conservation and renewable energy programs . . . Shortest meeting ever . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission zipped through its agenda Tuesday evening in just 15 minutes. There were no discussion items. The commission approved several cases on consent and postponed the rest . . . Granger to be honored . . . The Stokes Administration Building on 11th Street will soon be renamed the “ Travis County Ned Granger Administration Building.” County commissioners approved the changes on Tuesday. Granger, a former Travis County Attorney, died in July. The name Stokes had no ties to county government—it was simply the building’s former owner . . . Activist dies . . . Robert Donley, a neighborhood activist and member of El Concilio, passed away Monday. Donley was a frequent speaker at Planning Commission hearings and the City Council on matters of interest to East Austin. He also chaired the Holly Plant Closure Committee . . . Talking about the lifeblood of politics . . . Texans for Public Justice and the Alliance for Better Campaigns will discuss the movement to require broadcasters to provide qualified candidates and political parties with free air time on public airwaves. They will also unveil recent figures on political spending on TV ads in Texas at 10am today in the Speaker's Committee Room of the State Capitol. For more information, call Craig McDonald at 472-9770.

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

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