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Preliminary report names 10 major sources of pollution

Tuesday, September 17, 2002 by

The city is making progress in identifying the major sources of pollution harming Barton Springs. In May, the City Council passed a resolution calling for staff to assemble a list of major polluters, along with an action plan to help prevent pollution. And while the current report is still preliminary, Council Member Daryl Slusher says he hopes staff will continue to dig up details about the region’s biggest polluters.

Slusher shared some of the information in the report with members of the Save Barton Creek Association at their meeting Monday night. So far, he said, staff has identified ten general sources for pollution, including construction

sites, existing development without adequate water quality controls, runoff from large turf-grass areas that require fertilization, and wastewater line breaks. “I want to continue pushing this until we can zero in on where pollution is coming from,” Slusher told In Fact Daily. However, he cautioned that there were both technological and legal obstacles to the city publishing a list of the ten-worst pollution locations.

Slusher frequently pointed out the need to curb existing pollution during the long-running debate over the agreement with Stratus Properties. The information contained in the preliminary report, he said, further highlighted the need to promote existing city efforts such as the Grow Green program ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/growgreen ). “The best, most immediate thing that could happen is for people to stop using landscaping that requires chemicals and fertilizers,” he said. “Overnight, it could make a big difference.” Slusher also said the city should work with other jurisdictions to adopt similar programs “If we get St. Augustine grass stretching from here down to Kyle, we’re in trouble.”

The report points out that Austin only controls about one-third of the area that affects water quality in Barton Springs and cites that as a reason to discuss region-wide development regulations. “If you went out to some of the other parts of the region and talked to them about construction-site controls, then you could probably clean up some existing pollution or at least prevent new pollution from construction sites,” he said. Slusher is leading the effort to meet with elected officials from other jurisdictions to develop a plan for the Edwards Aquifer, promising that would be part of the discussion. But he also warned against placing too much of the blame for pollution on outlying areas, saying that there were several neighborhoods within Austin’s jurisdiction that could do more to prevent runoff.

Slusher also noted that some developers did not always embrace the full sprit of the SOS Ordinance. He specifically recalled blocking construction of a proposed office building that would have required approval from the City Council to proceed. “It wasn’t in the Barton Creek watershed . . . the developers wanted to pump their sewage to Lost Creek,” he said, referring to a golf course and country club development in Southwest Travis County. Runoff from that development can affect the water quality of Barton Springs, but since it is outside the city limits and was built before the SOS Ordinance was enacted, the property is not subject to many city rules designed to protect water quality.

Members of SBCA discussed the various factors listed in the report, offering Slusher other suggestions on actions the city could take to protect Barton Springs. Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board Member Jack Goodman encouraged Slusher and group members to think about strengthening local environmental protection rules. “We need to work on a new ordinance,” he said. “The SOS Ordinance is not adequate and never has been.” The report could be presented to the full City Council in the coming weeks.

Four to six hybrid buses to join fleet soon

Capital Metro Maintenance Director Steve Herrera is excited about the prospect of having up to six new hybrid buses in operation before the end of the year. City buses that operate on standard gasoline generate 4 grams of NOx (nitrous oxide) emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency has mandated a reduction from the current 4 grams to 2.5 grams for buses made after October 1, Herrera said. But the hybrid buses emit only one-tenth of a gram of NOx.

Such emissions are known to generate greenhouse gases and cause harmful changes to the ozone layer.

The new buses have turbine engines, similar to those on airplanes, Herrera said. Those turbines provide energy to batteries, which in turn operate the motors for the buses. When the buses idle, they store energy in the batteries, making them perfect for stop and go city driving. Like hybrid automobiles, Herrera said, the buses get better mileage in the city than they would on the highway where stops are infrequent.

Most city buses are currently 35 to 40 feet long and 102 inches wide. The Dillos are 30 feet long. The new buses, which will be used on routes that fit the vehicle’s best use profile, will be 22 feet long and of standard width, Herrera said. He described the smaller buses as a “stepping stone” toward Cap Metro’s long-range goal of having standard size buses with low emissions engines. He said he had recently ridden on a prototype of such a bus that could be introduced into the Austin area by next summer.

The smaller hybrid will cost between $100,000 and $175,000 and is expected to be in service for seven years, he said. A new 40-foot bus costs about $265,000 and is designed to last for 12 years.

“So, we’re very excited about it. It will be a good introduction to our community. We hope to use this as the first of many efforts to introduce clean air technology to our service area in Central Texas. The board is really committed to clean air and has been a great driving force to move these types of efforts forward,” Herrera concluded. The city currently has 279 buses operating out of its main location.

Landmark Commission would select winner next spring

Austin will announce its first historic restoration award during Preservation Week next May.

The award will focus on the best preservation projects completed in the prior year in Austin. The award, designated by the Historic Landmark Commission, will be named for Phillip D. Creer. A respected leader and architect, Creer was a long-time member of the Historic Landmark Commission during the 1970s. The Heritage Society of Austin has also established a fellowship in Creer’s name.

Last night, the Historic Landmark Commission’s Special Tourism and Public Outreach Committee approved the guidelines for the award, which will be presented to the full commission next week. Commissioners Lisa Laky and Julia Bunton discussed the guidelines with Deputy Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky

The award will recognize the best restoration work meeting both national and city guidelines. To be nominated, a property must be designated a City Historic Landmark or be located within a National Register Historic District. The primary focus of the project must be restoration.

Commissioners and staff of the city’s Historic Preservation Office will nominate projects. To be eligible, a project must consist of a major restoration of the exterior of a property, such as the reconstruction of missing or deteriorated architectural elements or the recreation of historic landscaping features.

If the guidelines are approved, nominations will be due by the last week of January. The full Historic Landmark Commission would review the nominations in March and announcements would be made at the HLC meeting in April, with the presentation of awards scheduled at a City Council meeting in May.

Sadowsky estimated the number of eligible buildings each year would constitute “a fairly small pool of projects.” More than 60 percent of the projects considered by the HLC each year are additions to historic buildings, eliminating such projects from consideration in the “preservation” category.

Commissioners also discussed creating categories of “best residential” and “best commercial” projects, but ultimately decided not to. The award could apply to none, one or more than one project each year.

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

The proposal . . . Those watching Sunday’s Diez y Seis festivities at Saltillo Plaza got an unexpected treat. Not only did Council Member Raul Alvarez dance with Teresa Michalak, he also proposed to her and she accepted. It was all broadcast on Channel 6 as part of the Fiesta de Independencia Celebration . . . Today’s meetings . . . A joint City of Austin/AISD Board of Trustees subcommittee will meet today at 11:30am at the Carruth Administrative Complex, 1111 West 6th Street, Building B. At noon, a joint meeting of the Design Commission’s Guidelines Editing Committee and the Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances Committee will discuss the Downtown Design Guidelines . The Zoning and Platting Commission is scheduled for 6pm, as is the Urban Transportation Commission. The former could prove interesting since a variance for landowners seeking an easement across Stratus Properties’ land is up for consideration, as well as historic zoning for the Mexicarte Museum on Congress . . . Calling all Yeller Dawgs . . . South Austin Democrats is holding its 15th annual Yeller Dawg Event next Tuesday, Sept. 24 from 5:30 to 8:30pm at the Zilker Park Clubhouse in honor of Joe and Dorothy Gunn and Elbert (deceased) and Ruth Donsbach. (If you just moved here, a Yeller Dawg is what a true Democrat promises to vote for before voting Republican.) In order to help them plan, the group is requesting RSVPs no later than Wednesday. For more information, call Rafael Quintanilla at 477-2311, Marjorie Ferrell at 444-2973 or Helen Greene at 447-6675 . . . More about the BCP funds. . . Last week Central Texas got the news that the area would receive $10 million in federal grants to buy more land for Balcones Canyonland Conservation Plan. Austin received an additional $1 million to purchase land over the recharge zone for Barton Springs. That was not just good luck, according to Council Member Will Wynn and Travis County Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Margaret Moore. The three traveled to Washington D.C. in March, lobbying not only Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, but also Congressman Lamar Smith, whose new district includes BCCP land. The trio, who all serve on the Balcones Canyonland Conservation Coordinating Committee, wanted to ensure that Central Texas would not lose money in a time of federal budget cuts for Section 6 of Endangered Species Act. “This is thrilling news,” said Sonleitner, who said the efforts of the three “paid off in a big way. The BCP came in tied for first in terms of dollars awarded for a Habitat Conservation Plan. We are appreciative of the confidence shown in Travis County and Austin to continue our efforts to finish out this plan . . . We have a shopping list of eligible properties, and willing sellers. Now we can get to work and we have the financial tools to move the BCP closer to completion.”

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

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