Wednesday, February 5, 2003 by

A downtown restaurant packed with suit-clad supporters welcomed Council Member Will Wynn’s announcement yesterday that he is officially running for Mayor. Wynn told the crowd of more than 200 that he is ready to take on the challenge of restoring Austin’s economic health, while looking forward to tomorrow’s opportunities.

Wynn, who is finishing his first term in office, heads up the Mayor’s Task Force on the Economy, which is expected to announce some recommendations within the next month. He said, “The city is now looking at a $60 million budget revenue shortfall—more than the city’s parks and libraries budget combined.” Basic services obviously must be funded first, Wynn said, noting that the Council would have to make some unpopular decisions when it comes time to decide where to cut funding. However, Wynn said he would strive to balance the budget without raising the property tax rate.

Wynn said that he was committed to bringing Austin a new central library, restoring the Seaholm Power Plant for reuse, achieving the goal of having 5,000 downtown residents, as well as “strengthening our resolve to limit development over environmentally sensitive areas.” He also promised to extend employment opportunities and “to end the distinction between Austin and East Austin.” Recognizing current demands on the city, the Council member promised to help find health care solutions for Austin. Wynn said that would include “making sure that a new children’s hospital is built when and where it’s needed.”

Campaign Treasurer Paul Carrozza, owner of RunTex, said he was supporting Wynn for his commitment to assisting small local businesses. The audience was largely made up of downtown business and development representatives, lawyers and members of the real estate community. George Cofer of the Hill Country Conservancy, Clarke Hammond of South River City Citizens and Robert Breunig of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also attended.

There was not much of an environmentalist presence in the room, but Wynn has support from a number of environmentalists, including Jon Beall and Mary Ann Neely of the Save Barton Creek Association. Former Council member Brigid Shea was ill yesterday, but indicated she would support Wynn. Robin Rather, who had considered running for Mayor herself, said she was not going to make an endorsement in the race. Mike Martinez, leader of the Firefighters Political Action Committee, was present. Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, was not present, but said he supports Wynn’s candidacy. However, Sheffield said it would not be appropriate for him to appear at a candidate’s event prior to a vote of the organization’s membership.

Other mayoral candidates include former Council member and light rail opponent Max Nofziger, restaurant owners Marc Katz and Brad Meltzer, Dale Reed and cross-dressers Leslie Cochran and Jennifer Gale.

Mark Nathan, Wynn’s former assistant, is acting as campaign manager. February 18 is the first day that candidates may file with the City Clerk’s office for a place on ballot. The filing deadline is March 19.

TCEQ issues new notice of violation at closed site

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has determined that county officials have not effectively dealt with the leachate problem at the closed Travis County landfill.

After months of discussing the sins of Browning Ferris Industries and Waste Management Inc., county officials are in the embarrassing position of facing their own Notice of Violation from the TCEQ. During a visit to the neighboring WMI landfill in December to test for odor problems, state officials noticed the leachate problem at the Travis County landfill next door.First cited in 1994 and fixed at tremendous expense, the problem has not fully been resolved. It was discussed in executive session on Tuesday. (Leachate is seepage from the landfill.)

“We probably have a lot more in common with landfill operators than not,” Environmental Officer John Kuhl told In Fact Daily . “We were, at one time, landfill operators just like WMI and BFI.”

In 1994, Travis County spent almost $3 million to close the Travis County landfill and address a leachate problem identified by the former Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The county drilled 22 wells to drain the leachate, and pays monthly fees to the city to treat the sewage. The county also carries a $70,000 a year contract with SCS Fill Services to maintain the landfill.

“I think that we certainly did make a good effort to address the problem,” Kuhl said. “We even got a letter from the TNRCC saying as much, saying, ‘You’re officially released from the Notice of Violation,’ and ‘Good job.’ We have always known there would be maintenance, that attention and resources would continue to be exerted on this project. We didn’t expect it would get overwhelmed to this degree, this quick.”

Kuhl blames the renewed leachate problems on heavy rains through the cooler fall months, causing more seepage from the landfill, which has been closed for about 20 years now. Neighbors like Trek English would like to pin the area’s leachate problems on WMI, but Kuhl said he had to be careful with an accusation like that. None of the current data the county has points to WMI.

“The only evidence that we do have right now is that we certainly don’t have contamination. There is no hazardous or toxic waste in the leachate that is going into our sewer system,” Kuhl said. “We have done regular testing of the leachate, and there is no existence of metals or toxics of a hazardous nature.”

Asked whether the county’s own landfill—if it were open and operating, rather than closed—could pass the test of the county’s operating agreements with WMI and BFI, Kuhl replied that the agreements would specify the exact amount of leachate expected in active cells of the landfill, and require the operators to address issues of excess. If it had been Travis County, rather than WMI, that had a landfill being used for the county’s trash hauling contract, Kuhl said such a leachate violation would certainly be considered during the renewal of the contract as part of the compliance history of the landfill.

“What we placed as a qualification on that (trash hauling) contract specifically dealt with odor violations,” Kuhl said. “This kind of violation wouldn’t necessarily play into that, but when they came back and wanted to review that contract, or bid again, it would be something we consider. I would say that we’ve been very proactive in addressing our own leachate problem, and the TCEQ has said the same thing to us.”

But the Travis County landfill is leaking, and it is leaking into a tributary of Walnut Creek. Kuhl says TCEQ informed the county this month and has no choice but to issue another Notice of Violation to the county, reopening the existing 1994 violation. Kuhl estimates the county will need to spend another $335,000 to both open an additional French Drain system on the site and smooth the top of the landfill’s clay cap.

The county did not leave room for that kind of spending in the next budget; however, it could be paid for with Certificates of Obligation. In any case, it must be addressed. Kuhl estimates the corrections should be underway in the next 30 days and completed in 90 days.

The county landfill—located behind the US 290 Flea Market and next to the other existing landfills in Northeast Travis County—has always been in the wrong place, Kuhl said. The poor choice of location has likely exacerbated the leachate and odor problems for all the landfill operators in the area, he said. But the site was chosen when landfills were unencumbered by many of the current regulations. The Travis County landfill, about 143 acres in two major mounds, was closed in 1982 after 20 years of use.

“We will rue the day that site was chosen for a landfill,” admitted Kuhl. “That’s another reason why, bringing the (landfill) ordinance before the court, we talk about setbacks from the 100-year flood plain. A big part of that is the experience we have at this site. We need to be up on a dry hill for these landfill sites.”

Keith Coburn, Travis County Environmental Project Manager, has the job of oversight at the landfill. Coburn says the leachate problem at the site was recognized back in October. The county called in Parsons Engineering to investigate any problems at the landfill site. Design improvements were returned to the county only five days before the first call from the TCEQ.

“The sad thing about the nature of waste in our society is that you’re fooling yourself if you think it disappears once it goes into the landfill,” Kuhl said. “Even after you’ve closed a landfill, you’ve got closure issues. Not every site is fraught with the problems we have had, but you’re always going to have some level of closure maintenance.”

Thursday, Friday.

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

Today at City Council . . . Representatives of MD Anderson Cancer Center will visit the Austin City Council work session today to discuss the pollutant levels in Barton Springs Pool, the relative risks of cancer in general and the relationship between pollutants and cancer. The experts will also be available to answer questions, according to Council Member Daryl Slusher, who is chair of a task force charged with investigating alleged problems at the pool and conducting community outreach . . . Knot Anymore wins contract . . . As many frequent flyers have learned, an early arrival at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport can mean there’s time for a chair massage. ABIA has awarded Knot Anymore a three-year contract, which allows the company to add a foot massage and manicure station across from Gate 7. The company will continue to offer seated upper body massages at the current location, across from Gate 13 . . . Candidate announcement today . . . Carl Tepper, a real estate manager and member of the Urban Transportation Commission, plans to announce his candidacy for Place 5 on the City Council at 10am this morning. Tepper said he would hold a press conference in front of the Tavern at 12th and Lamar. Gilbert Martinez is his campaign treasurer.

© 2003 In Fact News,

Inc. All rights reserved.

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