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Fishermen and environmentalists have sent notices to the City of Austin, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and a number of federal agencies that they intend to file suit to prevent the introduction of sterile grass carp or herbicides into Lake Austin without the proper permits. A spokesman for the city said 1600 grass carp could be released into the lake as early as Saturday.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003 by

The carp and herbicides are part of an integrated plan to reduce the hydrilla—which has grown to levels that disturb boaters and water-skiers on the lake. There has been heavy political pressure on the city to do something about the pesky weed besides lowering the lake, which kills off the top of the plant but does nothing to eradicate it. (See In Fact Daily, March 26, 2002.)

Richard Lowerre, attorney for the bass fishermen, who have adopted the name Sensible Management of Aquatic Resources Together (SMART), and James Blackburn, attorney for the Matagorda Bay Foundation, wrote to the city, the LCRA, state agencies, as well as the EPA, among others, asking for a meeting before the carp or chemicals are released.

The letter says any discharges—whether of pesticides or non-native fish—without a permit under NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) would be illegal. The would-be plaintiffs believe that none of the agencies involved has acquired such a permit.

Lowerre says grass carp have had a terrible and lasting impact on Lake Conroe, as well as Galveston Bay. “Every time they’ve put the grass carp into a lake it has resulted in extermination of the vegetation,” Lowerre says. The problem is that fish—such as bass—need some vegetation in which to breed. Grass carp are voracious as well as long-lived; they eat their own weight in vegetation every day. Lowerre says the carp have been measured at 65 pounds and five feet long in Texas, but grow up to 400 lbs in their native habitat.

In their letter, the lawyers state, “Grass carp have been known to escape the lakes into which they are introduced and migrate downstream and up tributaries of the river system . . . Given the existence of endangered species of fish and salamanders in the Colorado River and its tributaries as well as the significance of the grasses in the river and in the bays and estuaries systems downstream, there will be significant impacts on the environment if the proposed introduction of grass carp proceeds. The only question is how soon those adverse impacts will occur.”

As Lowerre points out, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department denied the city a permit to release the sterile carp twice before finally allowing it. He said the agency changed its position, in part, because the LCRA changed its position. The river authority became concerned about hydrilla, Lowerre said because a storm event caused a large chunk of hydrilla to float down the river—apparently putting one of the LCRA’s turbines at risk. “Maybe with some management that risk is not really there,” he said, adding that mechanical harvesting could free up boat ramps and eliminate problems for many of those vexed by the vegetation.

Hancock area residents applaud action, which prevents relocation

The Historic Landmark Commission has stopped the relocation of a pair of 1930s Calcasieu-style duplexes from a lot in the Hancock neighborhood, halting redevelopment already approved by the Zoning and Platting Commission.

The HLC voted to initiate the historic zoning process on the duplexes on Hampton Road, which drew applause from a handful of neighbors who attended last night’s meeting. The decision puts development of four new duplexes on the property into limbo, as the HLC waits to determine whether the duplexes meet the city’s historic landmark criteria.

The vote counters the opinion of Steve Sadowsky of the Historic Preservation Office, who recommended that the commission approve relocating the duplexes. Sadowsky said they did not meet the relevant criteria.

The houses, built in 1936, were moved from Oldham Street to a location near Lee Elementary School. Plans for the duplexes were developed by the Calcasieu Lumber Co. Similar homes are located in Hyde Park and the Chestnut neighborhood.

Owner Nick Cochran’s plans were to sell the duplexes to developer Chris Pezold, who in turn wanted to move the four 630-foot units to a location on Lake Travis. That plan, however, drew an immediate reaction from the HLC. Commissioner Jim Fowler led the charge, comparing the Calcasieu houses to the shotgun houses once near Brackenridge Hospital and the stucco houses from the 1940s once clustered around the Maplewood neighborhood. He said that although this was affordable housing, it also was a feature of the city.

“These houses are never on anybody’s radar screen, but they are important architectural features of this town,” Fowler said. “This was important in housing to citizens at a certain time . . . As much as we may be very aware of the stigma of these houses, they are historically very important in the history of architecture of this country.”

Sadowsky confirmed that only 10 other similar houses were documented in Austin’s historic survey. Fowler said he feared that such architectural features of the city “are melting away.”

Consultant Mike McHone presented Cochran’s case, saying Laura and Nick Cochran bought the houses in August 2000. He noted that then- Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin told Cochran at the time she did not consider the homes to be of historic significance. McHone argued that the owner had completed due diligence on the property and should be allowed to proceed. Refurbishing the homes—at $200 a foot—would clearly outweigh the possible value of the houses, he said.

Don Larsen, president of the Hancock Neighborhood Association, agreed with the neighborhood planning team that the bungalows were integral to the fabric of the community. He said the lots were large enough to preserve the historic houses and build other units.

Neighbor Terri Meyers, a historic preservation consultant who completes National Register nominations, believes that most of the city’s historic designation criteria applied to the Hampton bungalows. She said the bungalows had distinctive architectural characteristics and are the best-preserved examples of their type in the city.

Meyers, who worked for the firm that completed the city’s historical survey in 1984, said excluding the homes from the survey was clearly an oversight and labeled them as a medium, if not high, preservation priority for the city.

Commissioners did not need much convincing to initiate the study to determine whether the homes would qualify as historic. The vote to initiate historic zoning was unanimous. Commissioner Julia Bunton told her colleagues that allowing the removal of homes from older neighborhoods was “something we cannot afford to do now.” Bunton said balancing the interests of historic preservation and owner rights was a real dilemma.

RMA members reminded of county's priorities

Travis County Commissioners met with their appointees to the board of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority on Monday to outline expectations as the board members prepare for their inaugural meeting on Wednesday. Commissioners described their philosophies on open government, financial responsibility and communication, as well as gave the three Travis County delegates several reminders about their desire for SH-45 South-East to be a high priority.

County Judge Sam Biscoe told the appointees that the county had requested formal recognition of its importance from state transportation officials, but had been rebuffed. “The response from the state basically says, ‘Out here at the TTA (Texas Turnpike Authority), we consider projects one at a time.’ But I think our position is still: for this to be a regional mobility authority of two counties, we’ve got to have equity and fairness . . . and I don’t know if I would have been interested in becoming part of the RMA if a Travis County project were not in the offing,” Biscoe said. “I certainly would not have voted to spend Travis County money on an RMA that did not include a Travis County project. My own view is that the Travis County members of the board would be as interested in fairness as we are.”

The first project for the Central Texas RMA will be US 183-A in Williamson County. The eastern leg of SH-45 South, commissioners said, should be next in line because of its importance in feeding traffic to SH-130 through eastern Travis County. “It is the front door to making SH-130 work the way it was originally intended, and that’s to take the traffic off of I-35,” said Commissioner Margaret Gomez. “The idea is to take those trucks off I-35.”

Both Williamson and Travis Counties have allocated $250,000 for the start-up entity to operate for the rest of the budget year. While staff from both counties will assist board members in the interim, commissioners urged board members to quickly move to select an Executive Director. “That person will have to wear many hats,” said Commissioner Ron Davis. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty told commissioners he would like to review their process for filling the position. “I’d like to see you list the qualifications that you see are most important in hiring an executive director, and how you would go about finding that person,” he said. Daugherty also said he had heard that Williamson County road consultant Mike Weaver had been asked to serve as the acting executive director and requested more information about that selection.

The first official meeting for the RMA will be on Wednesday at 9:00am in Round Rock. Board members may also take part in a conference in Houston on Friday hosted by Team Texas, a group of toll-road operators from across the state.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saldaña to join Martin & Salinas . . . Chief aide to Mayor Gus Garcia Paul Saldaña will be leaving the Mayor’s office on March 1 to join Martin & Salinas Public Affairs, Inc. The firm provides media and public relations consulting services for local, state and national clients doing business in Central Texas. Don Martin started the firm in 1989. His partner, Trey Salinas, was an aide to Mayor Bruce Todd. Saldaña was Garcia’s assistant from 1994 to 2000, served as his campaign manager during the brief mayoral campaign of 2001 and has been chief of staff since Garcia became Mayor in November 2001. In between those city jobs, Saldaña was regional director for franchising and government relations for Western Integrated Networks Telecommunications . . . Barry to take over as chief of staff . . . Mayoral assistant Adana Barry will assume the duties of chief of staff when Saldaña leaves. Barry said it is important to the Mayor to begin remedying the housing discrimination outlined in a HUD report which listed Austin as the second most discriminatory city in the US for African-Americans. She said Garcia also would like the city to begin a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Austin . . . Smith staying . . . Executive Assistant Adam Smith will continue to handle policy issues related to transportation, environmental and land use issues, as well as changes to the smoking ordinance Garcia would like to see enacted before he leaves office. Cindy Cervantes, who has served as special assistant to Garcia, will become an executive assistant also, focusing on a variety of issues, including board and commission appointments, sister cities, and as liaison to the Hispanic community . . . RECA meeting today . . . For those who have reservations, the Real Estate Council of Austin will hear Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell at the Four Seasons Hotel at noon today . . . IBEW reports victory . . . The local electrical workers union reports a solid win over Titus Electrica l Contracting, which took over a contract at the Palmer Events Center after another company went bankrupt. IBEW Local 510 lodged a complaint against Titus with the National Labor Relations Board. An NLRB administrative judge has proposed an order that would prohibit Titus from harassing or photographing union pickets, firing union members, refusing to hire union members because of their union activities or preventing union members from wearing their logos. In addition, union spokesman Michael Murphy said the judge ordered three employees reinstated and a fourth hired and given back-pay. ( See In Fact Daily May 17, 2002.) . . . Webberville residents worried . . . The City Council will consider whether to add nearly 1700 acres of city-owned land just outside of Webberville to Austin’s ETJ this week—a fact that makes those who wish to incorporate the village uncomfortable. Area residents say they fear the land, currently being used as a sludge dump, will be converted to a wastewater treatment plant. Residents will vote on incorporation two days after the City Council vote. If incorporation is successful, Webberville would develop its own ETJ, denying Austin the ability to claim that land in its ETJ . . . Alamo survivor house report pulled . . . Plans for the relocation of the Dickinson-Hannig House were pulled from last night’s Historic Landmark Commission agenda when commissioners were told new problems had developed. No new date on the agenda has been set for consideration.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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