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Sewage tunnel repairmen find

Friday, June 20, 2003 by


fiber-optic cable

Cost of repairing sewer line likely to increase

Contractors working to repair the Onion Creek sewage tunnel have found bore holes of 18 to 24 inches drilled through the tunnel and a 10-inch fiber optics cable through the cross section of the tunnel, which has been shut down for several months. The repair project began after a plastic liner inside the tunnel began breaking off and causing problems at the South Austin Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The cost to repair the sewage tunnel is likely to increase as a result of the intruding cable, but the amount of the increase is undetermined at this point. The city hired contractor J.F. White to inspect the tunnel and remove approximately 29,000 feet of liner for about $5.6 million. That was in addition to more than $4.7 million paid to Archer Western to install an emergency by-pass pump system, which was necessitated by the shutdown of the tunnel.

A memo from Chris Lippe, director of the Water & Wastewater Utility, to the Council, identifies the owner of the fiber optics pipe as Level 3 Communications. The company’s web site says it has an Austin market, but no Austin phone number could be located.

That liner had been installed in the tunnel several years ago to protect the 84-inch pipeline. But in late 2001, pieces of the liner began detaching from the side of the tunnel. That could have resulted in major clogging leading to an overflow, so the sewage was diverted and the tunnel closed last year so crews could enter and make repairs.

“The contractor who was selected to remove the tunnel liner has, in fact, removed the liner,” said Water and Wastewater Utility spokesperson Laurie Lentz. “We also have crews patching where the bolts were that were holding the liner in place.” In addition, sections of the liner and some bolts have been sent to a forensics laboratory for analysis, and the concrete walls of the tunnel itself are also being analyzed.

The repair work by J.F. White included a major deadline target in mid-July, but the discovery of the fiber-optic cable could mean changes in that timetable and additional costs. In his memo Lippe states, “Significant amounts of sediment, dirt, rocks, and ground water are entering the tunnel through the open boreholes. Additionally, the structural strength of the tunnel walls is now weakened.”

The owner of the fiber-optic cable is working with the city to have the cable removed, according to Lentz.“We are working very closely with the company to have the cable removed in such a way that there’s not any interruption to service or further problems with the line,” said Lentz. The city’s Legal Department has also sent a claim letter to Level 3 Communications. While an engineering forensics investigation into the cause of the liner failure is still on-going, Lippe’s memo notes that “all the liner downstream of the pipe penetration has been completely detached and failed. Upstream of this location, no liner has been found to be detached.”

The 10-inch pipe containing the fiber-optic line wasn’t the only unexpected item workers discovered in the tunnel. They also found the bumper of a Volkswagen—but there was no sign of the rest of the vehicle.

Future of Rainey Street

Up for discussion again

Downtown Commission to host meeting Tuesday Like many Austin issues, the question of what should happen to Rainey Street is one that always makes its way back to the table for discussion.

And like many before them, the Downtown Commission is going to take a swing at the Rainey Street situation, hosting a town hall meeting on the subject next Tuesday night. The Rainey Street Committee of the Downtown Commission is asking residents and property owners of the neighborhood to offer public input on the future of Rainey Street.

For almost two years, the impending redevelopment of the Rainey Street neighborhood—on the edge of downtown near the Austin Convention Center—was of prime concern to a number of boards and commissions. But as the economy cooled down, planning dollars dried up and developers pulled out, the fate of the deteriorating Rainey Street neighborhood grew less and less crucial to committee members. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 12, 2002, Feb. 13, 2002, Nov. 29, 2001, Nov. 6, 2001, Oct. 3, 2000 .)

Now the Downtown Commission wants to offer some guidance for Rainey Street. But even among those that consider it important, and Rainey Street has always been on the back burner at the Downtown Commission, it’s impossible to know just what recommendations will come out of next Tuesday night’s discussion.

The commission does not bear the weight of the City Council, but, as Chair Chris Riley points out, the City Council no longer wields the dollars it once did to leverage the redevelopment of the neighborhood. Riley simply wants to put the subject of Rainey Street on the table and see what ideas come up.

Those who have promised to attend include members of the Heritage Society and Historic Landmark Commission. Developers Robert Knight and Perry Lorenz have offered to pitch their vision of the Rainey Street neighborhood again. And Craig Nasso, who lives in the neighborhood, has promised that at least a handful of neighbors will also be in attendance.

“There is the risk that people may not show up because this discussion of Rainey Street has gone on for six years. Really, it’s gone back to the ‘70s,” Nasso told his colleagues on the Downtown Commission. “I’ve gone to dozens of meetings on Rainey Street, and in the past, the Downtown Commission hasn’t taken any action on Rainey Street.”

And that, says Riley, is exactly why the Downtown Commission wants to host the meeting. Maybe, at this point in the process, the full commission can offer some insight to City Council. The Downtown Commission finally appears ready to hear all the ideas on Rainey Street.

“This is exactly the step we talked about for years now,” Riley said. “To me, I’m not bothered by how official this meeting is. I’m a little bothered by how long it’s taken us to get to this step.”

The Downtown Commission doesn’t have the money for a ROMA- style planning effort, nor the incentives to jump-start a development. They do have a desire to address some of the issues of the area, such as the coordination of the neighborhood with other features rising up around it, such as the Convention Center, the Mexican-American Cultural Center and any development on Waller Creek.

The commission also wants input on internal and external traffic, suggested uses, densities of property and feasibility of the implementation of any future plans.

Riley said the meeting should result in input the Rainey Street subcommittee can take to the full commission and the full commission can take to the City Council. The meeting will be held at Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th Street, Room 105, at 6pm on Tuesday.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

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

Looking on the bright side . . . The city Governmental Relations Officer John Hrncir was going through City Hall yesterday, talking to the few Council members he could find about the prospects for a Special Session of the. He noted that even if legislators cannot agree on a budget, if necessary, or anything else, within the 30 days allotted, the Governor could call another session immediately. That would be good news for Austin in at least one way, he said—more tax dollars coming in . . . Doggett in town this weekend . . . Congressman Lloyd Doggett will be holding a fundraiser from 3-5pm Sunday at Cedar Street, 208 W. 4th Street. The invitation lists special musical guests as Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison, Eliza Gilkyson and Slaid Cleaves. Expect a fiery speech from Doggett, who is facing the very real possibility that his district that will be cut to shreds by legislative redistricting . . . Early warning . . . In Fact Daily will be on vacation June 27-July 4 . . . Bored or entertained . . . A chip off the old . . . Ronan Spelman, the two-month old son of Planning Commissioner Niyanta Spelman and former Council Member Bill Spelman, attended this week’s Council inauguration. He sat quietly through the entire process, including prayer, pledge of allegiance, speeches and numerous interruptions for clapping and standing ovations. He’s obviously already prepared for the toughest part of holding office—sitting still and saying nothing . . . Commissioners wonder if they will keep their (unpaid) jobs . . . Members of the city’s Downtown Commission wondered aloud Wednesday night which boards and commissions might be on the chopping block under the yet-to-be-released Spelman report. Those that aren’t meeting, one commissioner volunteered. That led to a discussion of how the efficiency of boards could be increased, such as bringing a project presentation to multiple commissions, rather than requiring individual presentations for each board . . . Downtown Commission members are still a bit leery about any replacement for the city’s Smart Growth matrix. Planner George Adams, who presented a review of the city’s progress on post-job creation, rather than pre-construction, incentives to developers, said it would be a couple of months before the commission would see specifics on the city’s new incentives program. Asked directly by Chair Chris Riley whether the end of Smart Growth could mean “a threat to return to 1970s-style development,” Zapalac said he certainly hoped not . . . Joining the group . . . Jeb Boyt has been named the newest member of the Downtown Commission, filling the long-vacant chair of the Parks and Recreation Board representative on the commission. Boyt agreed his presence showed a renewed interest by the Parks Board in downtown development issues, including the development of Republic Square . . . The US role in Columbia’s War on Drugs . . . John Minor of the Austin-Columbia Human Rights Network will be the guest speaker at the Public Affairs Forum held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin this Sunday at 11:30 a.m. He will speak on the role of Columbia in the War on Drugs.

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