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Staff members of the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR) have worked diligently to figure out how best to remediate the polluted soil in the ravine below the Barton Hills Park Place Apartments, City Manager Toby Futrell said Thursday. But the Austin American-Statesman has given them no credit for that work. “They have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to figure this out . . . and they are being told they somehow missed it—that they don’t get it—with their own data. It’s bizarre.” Futrell described her staff as “very depressed.” However, she said she had seen a few smiles yesterday and attributed those to the headline on this week’s Austin Chronicle: “Toxic agenda taints Barton report,” “Statesman misleads public about health risks.”

Friday, January 24, 2003 by

Futrell said the city set aside money two years ago in its Capital Improvements Program (CIP) to solve the problem. “But until recently, (staff) did not have a theory,” about what was polluting the ravine known as the unnamed tributary to Barton Creek.

City scientists now believe that the pollution, which comes in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is caused by a coal tar based pavement sealer. The Statesman contends, based on the theory of one scientist, that the cause must be buried waste from a coal gasification plant that shut down in 1928.

Futrell also tried to correct the impression left by the Statesman that the city is not working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. “They’re going to be here working with us tomorrow . . . Yesterday TDH ( Texas Department of Health) and ATSDR ( Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) consulted with EPA . . . they’re all working very symbiotically together.”

Also on Thursday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reported finding a high level of one PAH—benzo(a) pyrene in soil from that ravine—in a new soil sample test. TCEQ spokesman Patrick Crimmins said the agency would recommend that the city enter a voluntary cleanup program for the area. However, he said numerous consultations would have to take place before any remediation could occur. Futrell said that was not news either, since staff has been working to figure out how to clean up the site.

Nancy McClintock, chief of the Environmental Resources Management Division of WPDR, said “We didn’t want to just go in and clean something up that was just going to (return) . . . If it turns out there’s buried waste, then we have two problems . . . but I think we’ve identified a problem that has nationwide significance. If we only have buried waste then we only have one problem, but if we’re right then the problem is much more widespread and the solution is going to be much more complicated. So in some sense it would be good for the Statesman to be right, but I don’t think they are.”

Crimmins said the agency had received results from only two of the 40-plus samples taken of soil, water and sediment in the area last week. The sample that sparked concern, from an unnamed tributary that flows into Barton Creek, had a reading of 7 parts per million (ppm). “The residential standard is .5 parts per million, so it’s 14 times the residential standard,” Crimmins said. The residential standard would be applicable to the soil because of the proximity to the apartments, he explained.

The other sample was sediment taken from a stormwater or water retention pond near MoPac. That sample, which showed a reading of .8ppm, was not of a concern, Crimmins said, because it is not in a residential area. The level considered safe for that site is 1.2ppm, he said.

Group says state environmental agency made a mistake

Members of the SOS Alliance and the Austin Sierra Club gathered outside Barton Springs Pool Thursday afternoon to call on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to put the springs on a state-wide list of threatened bodies of water. SOSA had previously asked the TCEQ to classify the springs as “impaired” under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, but the agency has not ruled that pollutants threaten the use of the springs.

“We are again calling on the State of Texas and the EPA to list Barton Springs and Barton Creek as impaired bodies of water,” said SOSA Communications Director Colin Clark. “Clearly, a body of water that you cannot swim in is impaired and this action is needed immediately.” The environmental group had previously requested that action from the TCEQ last fall but was rebuffed.

SOSA Deputy Director Brad Rockwell said recent test results, and the city’s decision to close the pool, were indications that the state had erred in its decision to give the pool a clean bill of health last year. “There’s a requirement that bodies of water like this be available for swimming,” Rockwell said. “There’s a requirement that bodies of water like this not have toxic substances that are harmful to aquatic life.” Should the agency decide to list the springs as impaired, it would trigger a new set of monitoring and testing requirements throughout the watershed. “TCEQ would be required to do a comprehensive survey of all sources of pollution in the springs,” Rockwell said. “That’s something that needs to be done and should have been done a long time ago.”

As part of that survey process, environmental officials could establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for pollutants entering the springs. Federal permits for activities that generate pollution would then be tied to that TMDL, and activities that went over the maximum limit would be denied. “An example would be municipal storm-water discharge,” said Rockwell. “A lot of the runoff that’s the problem goes through municipal storm-water systems . . . they have to have permits under the law for them to dump the storm water into the waterways. Those are the kinds of permits that may be affected and that should be more regulated pursuant to the Clean Water Act.” The TCEQ has information about impaired rivers and lakes in Texas posted at http://www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/water/quality/00_303d/, while Purdue University offers a detailed explanation about the process for establishing the TMDL for a watershed at http://www.ctic.purdue.edu/KYW/tmdl/tmdlhome.html .

TCEQ spokesman Patrick Crimmins told In Fact Daily that Barton Springs does not meet the definition of impaired.

The Downtown Commission signed off on an amended version of the proposed new noise ordinance last week, but not before voicing a few misgivings.

Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman presented the amended ordinance with new recommendations for variances for outdoor venues. The City Council is set to consider the amended noise ordinance, which applies to parts of the 6th Street and Warehouse districts, next week.

Before the final vote was cast, commissioners voiced concerns about grandfathering of existing businesses, one-time process for variances, residents’ input and enforcement. Commissioner Bruce Willenzik said the wording wasn’t clear enough and that it might discourage promoters from planning new events.

The ordinance includes a “grandfather” clause for existing venues. Commissioners said they were concerned about changes and developments in the neighborhood that would be beyond the control of the business owners. Huffman said they didn’t want the ordinance to be punitive to business owners. However, the variance is useless without an outdoor music permit which must be renewed yearly. That permit may be revoked if the venue has three convictions for noise violations.

The ordinance has four parts. The first is a one-year variance. The second applies to residential decibel levels for all residential zoning categories. The third creates an appeal process and the fourth adds a South by Southwest exemption. The SXSW exemption applies to all venues, and allows them to play music until 2 a.m. during the festival. This once a year exemption was added because of the festival’s importance to Austin’s reputation as the live music capital of the world.

Commissioner Stan Haas said it would undermine and insult the work done by a task force and city staff on the ordinance. He added that it wasn’t the work of the commission to rewrite the draft. He said, “We get too much in the details. We could talk about enforcement for 10 years. We need to take the best strategic action or no action.”

After about an hour of discussion, the commission approved the ordinance, but with an amendment that says they’ll look at it again in a year. A similar motion was approved by the Music Commission.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

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

Another church squabble . . . City Council aides have been alerted to another potntial battle between a church—the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd—and a well-to-do neighborhood— Tarrytown. The church has employed architect Ben Heimsath, former chair of the Planning Commission, and the neighborhood has hired Nikelle Meade of Brown McCarroll. It’s another version of the Hyde Park story, with the church wanting to expand and the neighbors against the expansion. Coming soon to a Council meeting . . . Misquoting your own story . . . In yesterday’s edition of the Statesman, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman was quoted saying, “I think everybody was fairly confident that they were being very aggressive, very progressive in covering all the angles. We don’t have any slouches in watershed protection.” However, the first sentence of the quote was pulled out and blown up, with the note that Goodman was “referring to the Austin American- Statesman reports about Barton Springs Pool.” Contacted later, Goodman said she had asked her staff to seek a correction, noting that “There are a lot of cooks making the soup,” at the Statesman. “The object of my admiration is our dedicated city staff,” she concluded.

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

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