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Austin loses struggle to

Tuesday, October 1, 2002 by

Avoid high ozone readings

September blast from Midwest counts against Central Texas

As August ended, Austin seemed close to winning a battle against high ozone readings that have put the city on the list of those violating federal clean air standards. But during the week of September 10, says Faith George, interim executive director of the Clean Air Force, “Bad air blew in from the Midwest.” That dirty air prevented Austin from escaping from the list of cities that will at some point be designated “non-attainment” by the Environmental Protection Agency. That designation has not yet happened because the EPA is still working on a plan to implement pollution reduction for such cities.

Federal regulators are currently working on new implementation plans to reduce ozone levels, with a plan expected in December. While the US Supreme Court rejected the Environmental Protection Agency’s previous plan, the court did uphold the 8-hour standard—the standard Central Texas is having trouble with, according to Kate Williams of the Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Williams is the SIP (State Implementation Plan) Coordinator for the Central Texas region. She works with cities that have already been designated as non-attainment areas, as well as areas such as Austin and San Antonio, that are “near non-attainment areas.”

Meters located around the city measure the amount of ozone and other pollutants in the air, with the monitor at Murchison Jr. High School in Northwest Austin usually registering the highest levels. Federal regulations allow local officials to disregard the three highest ozone readings each year. Those readings are averaged over an 8-hour period, with the highest readings usually occurring in the summer months. Williams says the highest readings frequently come in August and September, when students are returning to school and others are busy mowing their lawns.

Those 8-hour readings are the amount of pollutants, such as ozone, calculated in parts per billion. In order to achieve the kind of air quality that would remove Central Texas from the near non-attainment group, Austin would have had to finish the year with a reading of 88 parts per billion (ppb) or lower after eliminating the three highest ozone days. That number, when averaged with the fourth highest readings from 2000 (88) and 2001 (78), would have given Austin an average of less than 85 ppb for the three-year time frame the EPA uses to determine non-attainment.

One day in June, the ozone reading averaged 100 ppb during an 8-hour time frame. Another June day, the reading hit 92 ppb. July was rainy, with relatively good air quality, and August was not bad. So some air watchers were hopeful when Labor Day passed and it looked like Austin might not reach the high levels of earlier years. However, on September 13, the area got a blast of pollution from the Midwest, driving ozone levels up to 96 parts per billion. The following day, Williams said, the same monitor recorded 91 parts per billion. So, 91 is the fourth highest reading for the year. When averaged with the readings from the previous two years, the final number is 85.66.

Williams said the fact that Central Texas was experiencing higher ozone because of pollution from another part of the US does not affect its status with the EPA. On the other hand, she said when Austin experienced especially high levels of particulates and ozone due to smoke generated by Mexican agricultural burning in 1998, the EPA did not count those days against the area.

“There’s a big difference legally,” she said, between what are called “episodes of international transport” and domestically produced pollution. El Paso, for example, must deal with a significant amount of pollution from its sister city, Juarez. “We have to deal with them in a very different way . . . it’s a very different situation.”

When the EPA announces its proposed new rules, Williams said, they will be published in the Federal Register and citizens will have time to submit comments to the agency. In the meantime, elected officials from the five-county area that would have to follow new rules if Austin were designated a non-attainment area, are working toward agreement on a voluntary Early Action Compact. Williams said the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition hopes to have the agreement signed by December—before the EPA comes out with its new rules.

Agency must have agreement from Cesar Chavez, Holly neighbors

Capital Metro staff assured the board last night that neighborhood associations would be included in a plan to explore options for transit-oriented development in East Austin.

Eighteen months ago the transit agency completed, and shelved, a plan for a feasibility study on pedestrian-oriented transit in East Austin. This time, Dianne Galaviz, director of business and economic development, assured the board that a larger number of neighborhoods would be included in the initial planning process. Transit-oriented development has been explored in cities such as Denver, Seattle, Portland, Dallas and Salt Lake City, Galaviz said.

Capital Metro will be looking for community buy-in before it shops a Request for Proposal for its East Austin project, Galaviz said. (See In Fact Daily, September 11, 2002.) The transit agency will be meeting with representatives from the Cesar Chavez and Holly Street neighborhoods next week to explain the transit-oriented development concept. The boundaries of the land designated for the project are East 4th and East 7th Streets, I-35 and Pleasant Valley.

Under the feasibility study, a consultant would study the proposed area and catalogue current land uses. The neighborhood would be then consulted to discuss development such as light rail, or even a transit hub where community uses such as retail and childcare could be clustered. Next week, Capital Metro staff will present to the two neighborhood associations options other cities have chosen.

Timing was a problem on the first proposal, Galaviz said. When the first draft was released, developers had already moved to build on certain tracts in East Austin, such as Austin Redevelopment Authority’s developments on 11th Street and the proposed redevelopment of the 7th Street Corridor. On top of that, the city was completing a zoning overlay that would determine the trend of future development, Galaviz said.

Several weeks ago, representatives of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood approached the Capital Metro board to ask for involvement in the planning process. Next week’s meeting will include the two neighborhoods, as well as the city’s housing authority, the Travis County Appraisal District and the Downtown Austin Alliance, Galaviz said.

It will be a “shared vision,” Galaviz said. She doesn’t deny that the project—transit-oriented planned development—has echoes of the Mueller master plan. Neighborhood co-chairs Ray Ramirez and Lupe Banda will lead a committee to look at the proposal. She added that a member from the neighborhood association would serve on the evaluation team for any project produced under the proposal.

If the Capital Metro board agrees to a Request for Proposal on the East Austin transit project, it will be sent out for a competitive bid. Part of the feasibility study will be to discuss the scope of services for the project and possible funding sources, whether they are local, state or federal.

Capital Metro also is moving to create a historic restoration of an existing bus stop at East 12th and Chicon Avenue, Sam Archer told the board. Construction will start next month, complete with historical plaques.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

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

Eligible bachelor list in decline . . . One of City Hall’s most eligible bachelors is getting married this week. Mayoral assistant Adam Smith (tall, dark, handsome) will wed Anna Himler on Friday, taking him out of circulation . . . Alvarez in New York . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez is in the Big Apple this week, helping his friends with PODER (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and Her Resources) collect an award. Alvarez nominated the group. He plans to be back in town in time for Thursday’s Council meeting . . . Enviros to endorse Barrientos . . . Democratic Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos may not have the support of Statesman editor Rich Oppel, but he has been racking up endorsements in the past weeks. Local firefighters, police officers and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas are all supporting him. Opponent Ben Bentzin was endorsed by the Texas Association of Business. At 10am today, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and the Texas League of Conservation Voters will announce their endorsement of the incumbent at a press conference at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Bergman. Barrientos will discuss plans for legislation to give county governments more power over landfills and for the addition of a major new state park in the Austin area . . . RECA candidate forum . . . The Real Estate Council of Austin, along with the Greater Austin, Hispanic and Texas Asian Chambers of Commerce are hosting a forum for Travis County Commissioners Court candidates on October 10. The hosts hope guests will sign up by Friday by calling 684-5793 . . . Pro choice event tonight . . . The Texas Abortion Rights Action League is holding a Celebration of Choice fundraiser this evening from 5:30-9pm at Saengerrunde Hall, 1607 San Jacinto. Beth Black will be entertaining the crowd and a number of local businesses will be participating in a silent auction. For more information call 462-1661 . . . Environmental Democrats meet Thursday . . . Texas Environmental Democrats of Austin are hosting a party Thursday from 6:30-8:30pm at Threadgill’s World Headquarters, 301 W. Riverside Dr. All local Democratic candidates have been invited. For more information, email . . . Weekend gardening fun . . . The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is having a fall gardening festival and sale of native plants and seeds this weekend. There will be free shuttle service from Bowie High School. For more information, visit . . . Watson party next week . . . On October 8, the Kirk Watson Campaign will host a special performance by Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore to kick-off the countdown to Election Day. This will be the Democratic candidate for Attorney General’s final fundraiser in Watson’s hometown before Election Day on November 5. For more information, call 512/494-0042 or visit . . . Budget approved . . . Capital Metro approved a $108 million operating budget yesterday, an 8.8 percent increase over last year. The budget gap left by declining sales tax revenues will be filled with a $7 million in federal grants. The new budget, which assumes only modest service increases, adds only four new employees.

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

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