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Groups decide not to challenge initial release of 1600 sterile fish

Friday, February 14, 2003 by

Fishermen and environmentalists who opposed the introduction of grass carp into Lake Austin have agreed to allow the first batch of 1600 fish to be released. That will happen within the next two weeks, according to Lynne Lightsey, spokesperson for the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. The agreement was reached yesterday, shortly before the fishermen (SMART) and the Matagorda Bay Foundation (MFB) were scheduled to argue for a temporary injunction to prevent the release. Attorneys for SMART (Sensible Management of Aquatic Resources Team) and MFB had won a temporary restraining order on Jan. 31, which prevented release of the sterile hydrilla-eating carp. (See In Fact Daily Jan. 28, Jan. 31, 2003. )

Ed Parton, president of SMART, said the group had withdrawn its motion for the temporary injunction “in exchange for an agreement by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) for a speedy trial on the full case.” The fishermen and environmental groups sued TPWD for, among other things, allegedly failing to follow the appropriate procedure for issuing the permit.

Rick Lowerre, attorney for SMART, said, “They (his clients) are looking at the bigger picture—what’s happening around the state. They’re using Lake Austin as a test case. They want the best opportunity to get the right answer statewide, so they’re willing to give a little on Lake Austin to improve their overall chances. And more importantly, to get that trial moved up quickly. Without this (agreement) the city and Parks & Wildlife could’ve delayed this a year, maybe more. Not only would the City of Austin have been able to release more fish, but also other permits could be issued statewide.” TPWD has given Austin a permit to release 6400 grass carp altogether, as part of an integrated hydrilla management plan.

Lowerre said TPWD is considering proposals to stock the Asian carp upstream of Lake Sam Rayburn and at the Richland Creek Reservoir outside of Corsicana on the Trinity River. “So it’s important that we get a quick solution,” he said, adding that the parties are shooting for an April trial setting. He said the city is not scheduled to make a decision about the need for more grass carp until the end of May. “So, if we win in April, we’ll stop that (additional stocking) and have a decision that affects all the other lakes.”

Lightsey said representatives of the two plaintiffs’ groups would be allowed to observe members of a team from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the City of Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority when they do vegetation surveys. She said the Lake Austin Hydrilla Management Plan developed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the city, LCRA and Friends of Lake Austin integrates several different strategies including drawing down the lake, stocking the Asian grass carp, introducing additional hydrilla flies, and reducing the surface growth by harvesting or limited use of herbicides. The purpose of the surveys is to see how much impact the various methods of eradication are having on the hydrilla.

Sparky Anderson, executive director of Clean Water Action, said his group is interested not only in the grass carp issue, but also in the question of whether pesticides will be used in Lake Austin. Clean Water Action, which was known as the Fishermen’s Clean Water Project when it was founded 30 years ago, is part of the SMART coalition. Anderson said he has been told that the city had to agree to use pesticides in order to get approval from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department for the grass carp. However, city biologist Mary Gilroy said the hydrilla management plan, which sets forth the duties of each agency in trying to solve the problem, says that the city will use a mechanical harvester and/or herbicide in March and April. “We don’t read this as a requirement,” to use herbicides, she said; all that is required is that the city make a good faith effort by either mechanical or chemical means.

The City Council yesterday approved a number of zoning cases and contracts for professional services and construction, accepted grant funding and approved a settlement of $132,500 for Penny King, who was injured in a traffic accident with an Austin police officer. They also approved a request from Josie Champion and her sisters for an indefinite postponement of their request to change the zoning on their property on City Park Road and FM 2222.

Laura Toups of Urban Design Group asked the Council to change the zoning on two pieces of property south of Manchaca and Slaughter to allow for construction of a car wash on one tract and for unspecified retail development. Kevin McRight, one of the owners, asked the Council to allow him “to protect the value of my investment,” explaining that he and his partners had a pending contract “for a high-end laser car wash that requires GR zoning.”

However, neighbors in the nearby Hillcrest subdivision said they should not have to put up with the noise and light pollution that would be generated by a 24-hour car wash and whatever other businesses might eventually located near their homes as a result of the change in zoning. Both staff and the Zoning and Platting Commission had recommended LR (local retail) with a conditional overlay prohibiting drive-through services. The ZAP had proposed an extensive list of other prohibited uses.

On a motion by Council Member Will Wynn, the Council unanimously approved the staff recommendation on first reading.

Sarah Crocker, representing the owner of property at 2403 S. Lamar, asked the Council to change the zoning on .28 acres of property which has been used as a parking lot for various businesses at that location. The sliver of land is zoned single-family-3, while most property along Lamar is zoned for commercial or retail use. Neighbors, however, were concerned that changing the zoning might have a domino effect, but said they welcomed Russell’s Bakery, which hopes to turn the building into a restaurant. The Council agreed on first reading to follow the Zoning and Platting Commission recommendation for GR-CO. Crocker said her client would have no problems with that designation. (See In Fact Daily Feb. 10, 2002. )

Council members also approved the Govalle/Johnson Terrace Neighborhood Plan and rezonings on first reading. Neighborhood residents are hopeful the plan will result in the eventual downzoning of dozens of tracts currently zoned LI (light industrial). Several property owners have filed valid petitions against the proposed rezoning of their industrial sites, which will be considered at third reading. Council Member Raul Alvarez got a round of applause from the audience at the end of the evening for his hard work on the plan.

Complaints about overly intense duplex development have prompted the Council to tell staff to begin working on “interim development regulations” regarding those structures. The changes to the rules will have to go before both the Planning Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission before returning to the Council for a public hearing and vote by March 27th. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman says some of the items being built as duplexes don’t meet the spirit of the code. “An SF-3 zoned residential lot could house a ‘duplex’ that has six bedrooms or more on each half, and that’s not what we think of as a residential duplex,” she said. “It fills up the entire lot and changes what kind of neighborhood your SF-3 lot is in. I think it needs a category of its own.”

Council members praised Paul Saldaña on Thursday as the Mayor offered a proclamation recognizing his years of service to the city. “You are embarking on a new path and making more money, but be certain that our bond of friendship and family will continue,” Mayor Gus Garcia said.Saldaña, the Mayor’s chief of staff, now has a new job at Martin & Salinas Public Affairs. Other Council members thanked Saldaña for his hard work and sense of humor. Saldaña said he’s enjoyed his time working for Garcia, both in the Mayor’s office and when Garcia was a Council member. “I can’t begin to tell you what an honor and privilege it has been to work along your side,” he told Garcia. “Although I know first-hand that you do not like the reference of being Austin’s first elected minority Mayor, it is indeed a tremendous accomplishment and I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a Latino living in Austin.”

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

Appointments . . . The City Council appointed Carol Martin to the Library Commission and Frank Ivy to the Historic Landmark Commission. Both were appointed by consensus. Council Member Will Wynn reappointed Cris Feldman and Council Member Raul Alvarez reappointed Dana Lockler to the Urban Transportation Commission Farewell party for Paul . . . . . . Friends and co-workers of Mayor Gus Garcia’s chief assistant, Paul Saldaña, are throwing a party for him today from 11:30-1:30 at City Hall Room 304. Saldaña is leaving the city to join Martin & Salinas Public Affairs. Adana Barry is taking over as the Mayor’s top assistant . . . Ron Paul to speak Monday . . . Congressman Ron Paul will speak the need to safeguard privacy and individual liberty during the war on terror at the University of Texas Law School Auditorium on Monday, at 7pm. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is being sponsored by a number of conservative and Republican groups, as well as the UT Law Federalist Society and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Paul opposed the USA Patriot Act because he believes certain of its provisions violate privacy and believes that the Constitution gives Congress the sole authority to declare war . . . Taking Monday off . . . The City of Austin, Travis County and federal agencies will all be closed Monday in observance of Presidents Day. In Fact Daily will also take the day off . . . Austin is accessibility award nominee . . . The City of Austin is one of seven finalists for the second annual Accessible America award. The contest honors municipalities that have made “an exceptional commitment” to offering citizens with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in public life. Census data indicates that Austin’s population includes more than 126,000 persons with disabilities . . . If you’re going to Houston . . . For Valentine’s Day the Museum of Fine Arts Houston is presenting Jean Cocteau’s film, Beauty and the Beast, tonight and Saturday night. For more information, go to the web site http://www.mfah.org . . . Landfill RFP coming . . . A Request for Proposal should be on the street in the next month or so for the city’s landfill on FM 812. Director Willie Rhodes told the Solid Waste Advisory Commission Wednesday night that the proposals would offer options to manage, lease or buy the landfill site. The Solid Waste Advisory Commission is scheduling visits to local landfills. The group will visit Texas Disposal Systems the second Wednesday in May.

© 2003 In Fact News,

Inc. All rights reserved.

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