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Air pollution solutions

Wednesday, June 18, 2003 by

Submitted to TCEQ

Inspection and maintenance of cars critical to ozone reduction As Williamson County Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein put it, “elected officials have the attention span of a gnat.” But when it comes to the issue of clean air, Central Texas leaders are focused. “It’s going to take sustained commitment, sustained leadership, or it’s not going to work.” It they fail to achieve their goal—reducing the amount of ozone in our air by 26.3 tons per day by 2007—it will cost the region in dollars as well as jobs. Heiligenstein made the point yesterday as the Clean Air Coalition, which he chairs, officially submitted its initial list of ozone reduction strategies to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of the Early Action Compact. The compact is what will keep Austin, San Antonio and the Longview-Tyler area from joining Dallas and Houston as non-attainment cities in the EPA pollution jargon. (See In Fact Daily, April 3, 2003; April 7, 2003.)

It should come as no surprise to that Heiligenstein considers an auto emissions inspection and maintenance program (I/M Program) to be a critical part of solving the Austin area’s air problems. Also important, he said, is the use of lower-emission diesel fuels. Williamson County has already started that program, which costs the county an extra $25,000, he said, because the fuel must be brought in by truck. Adoption of such a program by other entities in the five-county region “could make a huge difference in this area,” he said.

Williamson County officials, as well as those in Travis, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell are part of the agreement, “We know that Austin and its environment is incredibly important to the State of Texas and this region.” Heiligenstein said. “It’s not just an Austin issue; it’s a Central Texas issue. Everybody has pulled together in the past few years,” he said, to work on the air pollution problem. “We know (Austin) drives our economic development and our everyday health and our everyday lives.”

Heiligenstein also told In Fact Daily he believes that congestion relief, which he and others hope SH130 will provide, could make a noticeable difference in the area’s ozone level. “If we can get automobile traffic at 50mph on average instead of this parking lot out here on I-35 two or three times a day,” he said, ozone emissions should go down.

Toward the end of the conversation, Heiligenstein mused, “It’s too bad we can’t toll on ozone days and have free roads on non-ozone days . . . What we’re going to have to do is get the technology to where when the car goes through the toll, it will be scanned . . . that way it’s user-based and not taxpayer based.”

The commissioner also said that construction equipment is another large source of air pollutants. “We’re asking TxDOT and we’re asking contractors to participate,” in the ozone-reduction program, he said, “on those four to five days a year that we know are going to be ozone action days.” Compliance has not been easy, though. “It’s been difficult because there are contracts already in place.” He explained that adding time for ozone days can lengthen the contract, increasing the cost “a marginal amount.” Heiligenstein concluded, “The people we’ve really got to get on board are corporate and state agency leaders,” to resolve this type of problem.

Staff of the TCEQ, the Clean Air Coalition and the various entities that make up the region will be trading information over the next few months to come up with a final set of measures, some mandatory and some voluntary, for each participant in the compact. Many of the measures will require the TCEQ to adopt rules. That would most likely include the I/M Program and low emission gasoline requirements. Idling restrictions for heavy duty vehicles, as well as a long list of other measures, are on the list. The final plan must be completed by next March and implemented by December 2005. Heiligenstein said some parts of the program would be implemented next year, but other parts, such as inspection of cars, would require more preparation.

Mayor Will Wynn, who also spoke at the press conference, said in addition to working on the plan for the city as a whole, the City of Austin would be focusing inward. “We’re a major employer in this region, with 10,000 employees . . . We’ve adopted and I’ll continue to support a 10-point program,” for the city. “It just makes sense to try to address these issues now than would happen to us otherwise,” if Austin is declared non-attainment area and has no plan to clean the air. It makes business sense as well as environmental sense, said Wynn. He said the cost of implementing measures under the Early Action Compact would cost taxpayers less than the cost of going into non-attainment.“ I’m committed to it.”

Today is an Ozone Action Day. Capital Metro is offering free bus service.

Commissioners adopt rules For recycling, transfer stations

Landfill portion of ordinance not yet resolved

County commissioners brought some closure to two long-standing issues at yesterday’s meeting with approval of portions of the waste siting and subdivision platting ordinances.

Both actions will be posted for a public comment period. Commissioner Ron Davis, who last week had some reservations about language suggested by County Judge Sam Biscoe, made the motion for the approval of the waste-siting ordinance this week. The ordinance only applies to non-landfill uses such as recycling, composting and transfer stations.

“I want to thank Judge Biscoe and thank the entire Commissioners Court,” said Davis, who represents the east-side area impacted by landfills. “It’s been a long ride, and it’s not over yet.”

The issue is not over because the county is likely to tackle landfills next, and operators have already expressed concerns about the criteria being set by the county for new facilities, such as distance requirements. Attorney Paul Gosselink, who represents Browning Ferris Industries, told commissioners yesterday that the county’s standards for waste transfer stations and composting facilities, if applied to landfills, would be prohibitive. He offered to produce a study that would support his claims.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty questioned whether the ordinance went so far that no new waste facilities could be located in the county. Under the ordinance, those facilities classified as “major” facilities would have to be located 1,500 feet from public water wells, places of worship, health care facilities and public parks. The facility would have to be located at least 500 feet from recharge zones and a mile from all neighborhoods.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner countered that the waste-siting ordinance did allow for variances, and that language within the ordinance made sure that any facility that could meet the county’s standards would be granted a permit. Under the ordinance, a variance would be granted if an operator could provide satisfactory assurances that the facility would protect public health and safety and was necessary to meet solid waste management needs.

The bar was high, but not too high, Sonleitner said. She pointed out that the language of the ordinance said the county “shall” issue a variance, rather than “may” issue a variance.

Biscoe agreed that the county ought to be looking at the practical effects of distance requirements. He suggested taking a serious look at whether those requirements would shut out any future landfill locations in the county. In past discussions, the point had been raised that the topography in Travis County tends to restrict the location of landfills to east of Interstate 35.

The call came out of the discussion for what might be termed a “trash summit.” Activist Trek English and others had raised the concern that one portion of Travis County’s waste management strategy should be to encourage recycling.

“I think that recycling needs to be addressed seriously so that landfill capacity doesn’t become a problem in Travis County,” English told commissioners.

Sonleitner said the summit should probably be narrowed to the five-county Austin area, rather than the 13-county region under CAPCO. She suggested a working group similar to the Clean Air Force to try to address waste from a regional level.

HB 1445 chang es approved At yesterday’s meeting, commissioners also agreed to codify the agreement on subdivision regulations in the extra-territorial jurisdiction, as required under House Bill 1445. The changes will amend Chapter 82 of Travis County Code, which applies to subdivision platting. Commissioners have already agreed to the changes, in concept.

Some of the major points of agreement between the city and county include connectivity of local streets, joint-use driveway standards, right-of-way reservations, parkland dedication policies, preliminary plan expiration dates and a process for variances and waivers.

Harry Savio of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin told commissioners he supported the subdivision ordinance, with one caveat. He wanted to examine the actual language of the ordinance. For instance, the ordinance supported a minimum design speed for residential roadways at 30 miles per hour. Some developers, however, might have a strong argument for far slower speeds through a subdivision. The language of the ordinance should allow for exceptions to a standard under certain circumstances, Savio said.

Savio added that the lawyers for the builders would likely submit supplemental comments and input to the county on the final wording of the ordinance.

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

Rieck says he’s staying . . . Peter Rieck, director of the city’s Public Works Department, has returned from several weeks of vacation in his native Germany. While Rieck was visiting his family, several rumors surfaced. One had him quitting his job for one in the private sector, while another had him getting married in Germany. Neither is true, Rieck said, noting that this is not the first time his travels have sparked silly rumors . . . Still weird . . . The ARC of the Capital Area, numerous commercial sponsors and the Austin Fire Department announced the inaugural “Keep Austin Weird” event, the 2003 Running of the Bulls, Austin style. On July 12 from 5-10 PM citizens will flee down Trinity Street from12 papier mache, life-size bulls on wheels. It’s a take off of the classic event of the Fiesta in Pamplona, Spain, “minus the travel expense and likelihood of being gored.” The event is a fundraiser for the Capital Area Association of Retarded Citizens. For more information, call Julie Fontenot at 476-7044 xt.202 . . . Environmental Board meets . . . The city’s Environmental Board has a very light agenda tonight, but will be appointing members to form a subcommittee with members of the city’s Urban Forestry Board . The group will discuss complaints about Austin Energy tree-cutting . . . Downtown Commission . . . The commission agenda includes discussion of Smart Growth, which is now officially over, and a public meeting on plans for Rainey Street (again) . . . Settling in . . . The dust should have settled from all the furniture moving at City Hall by today. There will be no more heavy lifting this week . . . Renaming delayed . . . Travis County Commissioners will take another year before putting a name to the new county building at 5501 Airport Blvd. The county recently purchased the office building as a new home for the county elections division and other offices. Yesterday, however, commissioners agreed to put off a decision on the name until people were familiar with the building’s location and its affiliation with the county . . . New job descriptions . . . The county’s Human Resource Department presented a five-inch three-ring binder to Commissioners Court on Tuesday. The binder contained new job descriptions for the county, part of the county’s three-year classification and compensation strategy. The manual adopts 158 job descriptions for 1,000 jobs in the county . . . Juneteenth fest . . . Travis County’s 14th annual Juneteenth celebration is promising plenty of good food booths and entertainment on Thursday. The lunchtime event, held at downtown’s Wooldridge Park, is expected to draw more than 500 people. County commissioners presented a proclamation on Tuesday recognizing the event. For those who are interested, event t-shirts are still on sale in County Commissioner Ron Davis’ office . . . No new word on Lowe’s . . . County commissioners put off a decision on the preliminary plan for a Lowe’s store in Sunset Valley . That plan could be back on the county agenda for next week.

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