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First 1600 grass carp to be released this morning

Monday, February 24, 2003 by

The US Army Corps of Engineers is reconsidering its position on the environmental impact of introducing sterile grass carp into Lake Austin . However, the reassessment will not affect this morning’s release of the first 1600 hydrilla-eating fish, according to Lynne Lightsey, spokesperson for the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR) . Lake Austin’s first carp will be introduced into the lake at three places, including Emma Long Metropolitan Park at 10:30am.

Yesterday, Rick Lowerre, attorney for SMART (Sensible Management of Aquatic Resources Team) and the Matagorda Bay Foundation, released a letter from Col. Leonard D. Waterworth of the Corps of Engineers in Galveston to biologist Earl Chilton of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), explaining that the environmental assessment (EA) done in 1995 did not address questions concerning introduction of the carp and must be reevaluated. “Therefore, the Corps of Engineers cannot participate in cost reimbursement for the release of grass carp into Lake Austin. Before the Corps of Engineers could reimburse the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for such methods of control, the current EA will require revisions to adequately comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.” The letter was in response to a letter Lowerre sent to Waterworth in late January, threatening legal action if the Corps did not reconsider the EA.

Lake Austin is “considered the top trophy largemouth bass lake in the area,” according to the city’s hydrilla management plan. SMART, which includes a number of fishermen’s clubs and others opposed to release of the Asian carp, believe that introduction of the non-native species could result in decimation of the bass population in Lake Austin and also have a deleterious impact on species downstream. The city argues that the release of only five fish per vegetated acre of the lake will inhibit the spread of hydrilla but not eliminate other plants that the bass need to reproduce. Two weeks ago, SMART and the other plaintiffs, decided not to move forward on a request for temporary injunction in return for an early trial date on the merits of their case. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 14,

Jan. 31, Jan. 28, 2003. ) That decision freed the city to go forward with today’s release.

But the US Corps of Engineers has notified TPWD that the 1995 EA must be reevaluated. Although the Corps is not directly involved in hydrilla control, the agency provides funds to the TPWD for eradication of hydrilla and other invasive plants in the state’s lakes.

Phillip Durocher, director of Inland Fisheries for TPWD, said the Corps has reimbursed his agency for about $500,000 spent on herbicides to control unwelcome plants. He said he was not surprised to hear about the Corps’ decision, adding that the City of Austin is paying for all of the carp releases, not his agency. “The Corps hasn’t paid for very many carp,” in the past, Durocher said. Lowerre’s position is that use of the grass carp—which was authorized by the state agency—is part of the overall hydrilla management plan and that the Corps cannot pay for part of the plan while distancing itself from another part. If a court buys his argument, Lowerre said, the state could lose federal funding for a number of fishing related programs. Release of today’s fish costs about $11,000, Lightsey said.

According to the TPWD web site, grass carp regularly grow to 65 pounds in their native habitat, but are hard to catch. The record for a line caught fish in Texas is 42 pounds, 65 pounds for a bow fisherman. It is illegal to keep a grass carp that has been stocked for eradication of vegetation.

Bikers say crosstown pathway 'not quite good enough'

The Urban Transportation Commission had few positive things to say last week about the proposed $4.2 million Lance Armstrong Bikeway route from MoPac to US 183 .

The prevailing sentiment from commissioners was that the city had put the bikeway where it was easiest, rather than where it would be most needed by cyclists. Commissioners were so adamant about their objections to the pathway that they wouldn’t endorse the project.

Design of most of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway was completed in October 2001. Austan Librach, executive director of the Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department, approved two of the three segments for the project and is reviewing the third.

The bike path would start at MoPac and wind around Stephen F. Austin High School, following alongside the existing hike-and-bike trail. It would then run along the north side of Cesar Chavez before jogging to a yet-to-be determined circuit through downtown. It would next follow Fourth Street through East Austin—sharing roadway along a corridor that is pegged for redevelopment by Capital Metro—over to US 183.

A route for the final link in the chain—the controversial path across downtown on either Third or Fourth streets—is scheduled for consideration by the City Council this week.

Engineers Tom Benz and David Magaña presented a project overview to the UTC. The reception was lukewarm, at best. Commissioners Michael Dahmus and Tommy Eden, both long-time bike advocates, led the protests against the plan. Dahmus said the route, which parallels Cesar Chavez at one point and shares space with the hike-and-bike trail, does not go far enough. Dahmus said the current plans for the route are “extremely ill advised.”

“It’s just like the Pfluger Bridge. We spent millions on a solution that’s not quite good enough,” Dahmus said. “You look at this plan, and it’s going to look like we spent a lot of money on a bikeway that just wasn’t attractive enough and didn’t go far enough to attract cyclists.”

Commissioners had a number of complaints about the plan. They didn’t like the route around Austin High School, questioning why the city couldn’t devote some right-of-way funds to a dedicated route. They weren’t pleased with the Cesar Chavez section, and didn’t like that the route would be no more than signs along Fourth Street over to Pedernales.

Putting up signs in East Austin to designate a bike route is hardly the kind of signature bikeway the cycling community envisioned, Dahmus said. Using a city roadway is not creating a dedicated bicycle facility. Commissioners preferred expanding the right-of-way on Fifth Street for a dedicated lane.

“There’s an attractiveness problem there,” Dahmus said. “You’re not going to have cyclists go out of their way a couple of blocks when they know the lane is going to be used by strollers and joggers. And if we’re not going to bring the cyclists in, we’re not getting our bang for the buck.”

But the city can’t afford to buy right-of-way for dedicated bike lanes, said Benz. The initial estimate for the bike path has already ballooned from $3.2 million to $4.2 million, and both Benz and Magaña have pledged to find ways to cut the budget.

Almost three-quarters of the original budget was to have been underwritten by federal STP 4C funds. Those funds, Benz pointed out, can’t be set aside for the purchase of right-of-way. Much of the budget will be spent on signs, striping and the gravel or concrete surface that will designate the bike path.

Dahmus put a resolution on the table to scrap the route west of Lamar Boulevard. He said he supported building the route east of Lamar, but only if the city agreed to buy right-of-way between I-35 and Pedernales for a dedicated bike lane. Eden seconded the motion, but Dahmus pulled it after Benz explained such a resolution would threaten the overall TxDOT funding of the project. Funding is based upon the completion of the entire 5.7-mile segment between Loop 1 and US 183, Benz said.

Magaña said the project had not fared so poorly with other groups. The two engineers took the plan to East Austin last week, where it was well received at a Capital Metro meeting.

One of the biggest challenges of the bike path—the route under I-35 at Fourth Street—has been incorporated into a TxDOT project, Magaña told the commission. Construction on that interchange, part of a larger TxDOT rehabilitation project, will include the removal of barriers and the placement of signage, and should begin soon.

Political party animals . . . The Brown McCarroll law firm is hosting three parties in two weeks’ time for City Council candidates. On Wednesday, the firm is hosting an evening honoring Brewster McCracken, candidate for Place 5. Next Monday, March 3, mayoral candidate Will Wynn is the honoree. Two days later, on March 5, Raul Alvarez will have a similar evening in his honor . . . Metro meeting today . . . The board of directors of Capital Metro is scheduled to meet at 4pm today. The agency last week issued a long-awaited request for proposals for the Saltillo District Redevelopment Master Plan. This is the study for the E. 4th to 7th Street corridor, which has worried members of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood. After numerous meetings, the agency created a proposal review team that includes neighborhood planning team members, PODER, El Concilio and a small business representative. The proposal would only involve Capital Metro’s 11 acres, which adjoins the railroad right-of-way, but the use of that land would obviously have a big impact on those living in the area. The community members of the team include Gavino Fernandez, Joseph Martinez, Susana Almanza, Ray Ramirez and Cathy Vasquez-Revilla. A pre-proposal conference is scheduled for March 12. Proposals are due on or by April 25 . . . Zoning and Platting Commission task force meets tonight . . . A four-member task force is scheduled to meet at 6pm today at One Texas Center to discuss the proposed Downtown Design Guidelines. The Historic Landmark Commission is also scheduled to meet at 7pm.

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

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