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Sediment tests raise questions

Tuesday, June 3, 2003 by

TCEQ declines to list pool as impaired waterway

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has decided that Barton Springs Pool should not be placed on the state’s list of impaired waterways, but the agency’s tests did not give the pool a clean bill of health for aquatic organisms. The TCEQ also reiterated the message that neither the water nor the sediments in the pool pose a threat to human health.

The state agency, in conjunction with the US Environmental Protection Agency, tested the toxicity of several sediment samples from the bottom of the pool on very small creatures which provide food stock for larger species, such as the Barton Springs Salamander. “The sediments were not acutely toxic to either species, although the more sensitive species of test organism, Hyalella azteca, did not grow as well as control organisms did,” they reported.

Michael Honeycutt, senior toxicologist for TCEQ, told In Fact Daily the BB-sized Hyalella was exposed to 10 different samples of sediment. Scientists analyzed each of the samples for metals, chemicals, PCBs and semi-volatile organics. The samples were collected during February. According to the report, 8 of 10 Hyalella exposed to the sediment samples for 10 days showed statistically less growth than the control organisms.

Honeycutt said the scientists could not find any correlation between the chemical data and the resulting growth of the Hyalella. “It’s really hard to draw firm conclusions from that” one test, he said, especially since it was only a 10-day test.

The report concludes:

• The pool should not be placed on the impaired list for sediment toxicity, but the growth effects observed in the tests warrant continued monitoring for contaminants and toxicity testing.

• Composite sediment samples should be collected and analyzed for toxicity on a routine basis.

• The pool sediment results indicate the need to implement mechanisms to reduce pollutant inputs to Barton Springs and Barton Creek.

• These pool sediment results should be compared to those obtained from Barton Creek sediment in an upcoming TCEQ creek study.

Council Member Daryl Slusher, who has been the Council’s point man on the health of the springs and the pool, told In Fact Daily, “I’m glad they’re going to keep studying it. It’s clear that the springs are in danger, but it’s clear they need to move through this scientifically.”

Brad Rockwell of the Save Our Springs Alliance, which has tried in the past to get the springs listed as impaired, said SOS had not yet fully studied the report. “They seem to be basing a lot on studies done on a couple different days in February, and the amount (of contaminants) seems quite a bit less than the earlier ones done by (US) Fish &Wildlife ,” he said. Rockwell said he was pleased that TCEQ and the city plan to keep testing the sediment, but hoped that a lengthier test might be done in the future. Honeycutt agreed that “a 28-day test is better for looking at things like growth, but the 10-day test is better for looking at survival.”

If the pool, the creek or the springs were listed as impaired by TCEQ, the agency would have to develop a TMDL—total maximum daily load—for that body of water. That would mean there would have to be more pollution controls than currently exist, which could have an impact on development in the watershed.

Too many rejected bills were added to HB1204

Rep. Todd Baxter (R-Austin) said yesterday he stripped many of the amendments from House Bill 1204 when it moved into the conference committee, keeping the original compromise language in the legislation governing authority over subdivision in a city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. Both the House and the Senate approved the bill in its final form Sunday.

HB 1204 is the successor to last session’s HB 1445, which requires cities and counties to come up with a common set of subdivision regulations. But as the session progressed, other bills that had failed in other places were slowly being added to HB 1204 because of its broad caption. Before it was all over, HB 1204 was home to 11 different bills, Baxter said.

That made HB 1204 popular with those who wanted to amend it and unpopular with the Senate. Baxter knew the bill was in jeopardy when the Senate failed to suspend the rules to hear the bill on a 10-19 vote. With only two days to hear the bill, Baxter said he was convinced he needed to return the bill to the language that won the support of the Texas Municipal League, the Conference of Urban Counties and the Texas Association of Builders if he ever hoped to get the bill through the Senate.

“That vote in the Senate convinced me that we would have to find some agreed to language to get the bill back to the form where everyone signed off on it,” Baxter said. “What we finally got was a bill that was substantially back to the bill that passed out of the House.”

The unwieldy bill was stripped back to its two original purposes: to require cities and counties to pass a single set of subdivision regulations, or face mandated arbitration; and to increase the number of counties that have certain modified zoning powers.

The former is an extension of House Bill 1445, passed last session by Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio.) The latter is an extension of Senate Bill 873, passed last session by Sen. Jon Lindsay (R-Houston.) Both are former county officials. Wentworth co-sponsored Baxter’s legislation this session.

Both Austin and Sunset Valley continue to have issues with the final passed bill. John Hrncir, Austin’s chief lobbyist, says the city still objects to the language that provides that the road plan approved by the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, would trump any city’s preferred road plan in the ETJ. Austin’s road plan has been a key sticking point in an agreement between Travis County and Austin on a common set of subdivision regulations.

Sunset Valley circulated a press release, written by the city’s public relations representative Mike Blizzard, which expressed concern that less-stringent county regulations would prevail in the construction of a Lowe’s Superstore in Sunset Valley under HB 1204. In the press release, Blizzard alleged that Lowe’s lobbyists actually authored language that made it into the final Senate version.

County powers to regulate subdivisions were also scaled back before the bill came out of the conference committee. Under the final version of the bill, high-growth counties, as well as larger counties, can exercise some amount of regulation: adopting subdivision regulations, including lot size and setback requirements; enforce a major thoroughfare plan and establish right-of-way; require plats before utilities are hooked up, and enact other regulations relevant to development.

High-growth counties contiguous to major metropolitan areas, such as Comal County, would qualify under the new guidelines. Travis County already has this authority. State law currently limits land use regulations in counties.

Session ends

Sine die delayed by question

Last night was a little longer than either Republicans or Democrats would have liked. Rep. Terri Hodge (D-Dallas) delayed sine die by asking questions about HCR 75, which was written to correct some of the credit scoring provisions of Senate Bill 14. Rep. Gene Seaman (R-Corpus Christi) told her that the “House had won,” but Hodge still needed assurances from Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) and Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) that redlining was addressed in the resolution.

Hodge demanded that the measure—“that back room deal,” as she termed it—be tabled while she reviewed the language with her Democratic colleagues. The next hour was spent conferring with colleagues and Commissioner of Insurance Jose Montemayor. Hodge was apparently talking to them when the House approved the measure on a voice vote without further discussion. She never made it back to the microphone, but it would have done her no good.

The Senate had adjourned by the time she raised her objections. While it did not derail the insurance legislation, it did delay the final action. Reps. Ron Wilson and Harold Dutton (D-Houston) played clowns for remaining House members while Hodge and her colleagues reviewed the legislation.

Sine die was pronounced at 8:22 pm.

Final early voting today . . . Today is the last day to register your opinion on the Place 5 runoff between Margot Clarke and Brewster McCracken. As of last night, 12,707 Austinites had cast ballots for the June 7 election. Nearly 1,200 of those ballots were cast yesterday. The top polling location is still Northcross Mall, with the Randall’s on Research in second place, Barton Creek Mall third most popular and the HEB on S. Congress fourth. The mobile ballot boxes collected 183 votes yesterday—with Town Lake Center recording 123 of those . . . Money and TV . . . Place 5 runoff candidate Brewster McCracken began the final five days of the campaign with TV commercials, which started Monday morning. Those ads will run through Saturday, primarily on news shows, according to Cathy Conley of CS Media. McCracken reports raising $93,000 between April 24 and May 30. Margot Clarke said she had raised roughly $28,000 in the same time period. She said she couldn’t predict Saturday’s outcome, and added that she and her campaign workers are “doing everything we can think of” to get her supporters out to vote. McCracken predicted that the race would be close . . . Health care district notes . . . State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, author of the original house bill designed to give Austin the chance to vote on a Health Care District this fall, says he’s happy the measure is on its way to the desk of Governor Rick Perry. “This is great news,” he said. “It means the voters of Austin and Travis County will have an opportunity to vote this fall on whether or not they think we should have a health care district, and I hope the voters say ‘yes’” . . . Summit follow-up. . . Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher is working with Hays County Judge Jim Powers and Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell on a follow-up to last winter’s Regional Summit meeting. They’re inviting elected officials from across the region to attend a meeting at the Dripping Springs City Hall at 1:30pm on June 17th to work on developing standards for protecting the Barton Springs watershed. (See above story.)

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