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Anti big box group to urge Lowe's boycott

Wednesday, November 26, 2003 by

Groups trying to influence shoppers, City Council and company

The No Aquifer Big Box coalition will begin a new effort today to convince Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers not to build over the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer. Nearly two months ago, a group of environmental leaders sent a letter to the corporation asking that they “do the right thing, follow Endeavor and Wal-Mart” and abandon their plans for a big box home improvement store over the recharge zone.

Since that has not worked, a number of groups will be calling for a boycott of Lowe’s throughout Central Texas. The SOS Alliance has purchased a full-page ad that will appear in today’s Austin Chronicle directing supporters to the No Aquifer Big Box web site to sign up for the boycott. The web site is also set up to route e-mails and faxes to both the store and the Austin City Council. Next week the Council is scheduled to vote on second and third reading of a lawsuit settlement with Lowe’s. (See In Fact Daily, November 21, 2003.) On Friday, volunteers are expected to stand outside at least two of Lowe’s Austin stores to try to influence would-be shoppers.

Travis now uncertain about odor study

Travis County’s chief environmental officer and a hired consultant – in a surprising and rather anti-climatic turn of events—said yesterday they are uncertain whether the county should proceed with the second phase of an odor study of the two private landfills in Northeast Travis County.

When the county stalled on operating agreements with Waste Management Inc. and Browning-Ferris Industries earlier last summer, County Judge Sam Biscoe championed the concept of an odor abatement study. The county would only negotiate with landfill operators when the landfills were operating in a manner that satisfied the county.

What took some of the air out of that balloon was the fact that landfill operators have moved to correct the odor problems. According to a report from consultant Bart Eklund, BFI and WMI have made a number of changes to their facilities, such as increasing the number of gas extraction wells, no longer venting the leachate collection system, reducing the area of the working face and diverting some of the more noxious waste streams.

Odor complaints have dropped substantially in the last year, according to a review of testing data by Eklund, who works for URS Corp. Complaints dropped by about 90 percent during 2003 versus the same months during 2002. Only four odor complaints have been filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in the last six months, with the exception of one short period during August when six to eight odor complaints were received. That spike in complaints coincided with a power outage in the area.

Landfill opponents acknowledged the landfill operators’ steps had improved the situation.

“It is true that some of the steps taken have improved the situation,” neighbor Joyce Best said. “My concern is that one of the diversions of extremely odorous waste to other locations, which may or may not be a temporary solution. Some of that odorous waste may be coming back to the Northeast landfills. That is a concern to us.”

Landfill opponent Mark McAfee, who owns the Barr Mansion, said he accepted the findings, but he wanted some assurance the measures would be permanent. At the regional trash summit last week, both WMI and BFI expressed an interest in expanding their landfills.

“Are they going to clean up their act?” McAfee asked. “There is a huge amount of waste stream that has been diverted. Do they intend to continue to do that?”

According to a memo presented to Commissioners Court by Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joe Gieselman, the subject of odor was rarely raised around the Northeast Travis County landfills prior to late 2001. At that time, the odor problems increased, which led to more than 770 odor complaints filed with the TCEQ by landfill neighbors.

In the first phase of what could be a three-phase study, URS Corp.’s job was to collect baseline data and design a potential monitoring study. If county commissioners chose to continue the study, which is posted on next week’s agenda, the second phase would be to conduct air monitoring/emissions testing. A third phase would analyze the situation and provide further odor reducing solutions.

URS Corp. did recommend a monitoring study, at a cost of $20,000 per month for a year. Chief Environmental Officer John Kuhl, however, said he and the consultant had doubts whether the county should pursue a second or third phase to the study.

“As far as an odor study as it was recommend, the bottom line is that it’s a lot of money,” Kuhl said outside the meeting. “You can argue it in all kinds of different ways, but you ultimately come back to the value of the study and whether it justifies the expenditure.”

Commissioner Ron Davis made his point, once more, that his intention is not to stop with an odor study.

“Let me say this again,” Davis said. “What I’m looking for, and what I think the community is looking for, is the shut down and closure of those (US) 290 East landfills, to relocate them to a situation where there is a benefit to the community, but they aren’t intrusive on a community, as they are today.”

Save Barton Creek honors local heroes

Members of the Save Barton Creek Association honored some of the area’s leading protectors of Barton Springs and Barton Creek at their 24th annual meeting Monday night. Dining in the Splash! Exhibit at Barton Springs Pool, the group celebrated its success and paid tribute to the organizations and individuals that helped protect the environment over the past year.

The group honored Charles O’Dell of the Hays Community Action Network for its efforts to conserve the natural environment to the south of Austin. O’Dell, in turn, praised the SBCA as the region’s leading environmental organization. He noted that when he became active in the local environmental movement five years ago, members of SBCA were heavily involved. “I kept seeing these people at different places . . . and they all showed up at SBCA,” he said. He also thanked the group, in particular long-time member Mary Arnold, for the advice and support he had received. “We’ve got some work to do out in the county . . . and we really rely on the support collaboration of you folks,” he said. “We really appreciate the willingness of you folks here to work with us out in the county.”

A more recently formed group, the “ No Aquifer Big Box Coalition,” was also honored with an award. Political consultant Mike Blizzard joked, “I’d like to thank the American-Statesman,” adding that while he was pleased to receive the recognition, primary credit for convincing Wal-Mart not to build on a tract at Mopac and Slaughter Lane should go to the community groups that joined the coalition. “The Austin American-Statesman has never gotten the story straight,” he said. “First, the Mayor stopped the Wal-Mart . . . Now, Stratus and I stopped the Wal-Mart. Neither is correct. Really, the community banded together . . . a very strong and diverse community worked to stop that Wal-Mart.” Harold Daniel and Donna Tiemann accept the award along with Blizzard.

The group also paid tribute to Craig Smith and Jack Goodman for their service as board members of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. Smith noted that the SBCA had been far more successful than originally envisioned when the group was formed. “We have made the bridge in the community between what it means to protect an environmental concern such as the aquifer and what it means to protect the quality of life for the whole community,” he said. “People get that now.”

The out-going director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Bob Bruening, received special recognition for his success at using both his scientific expertise and understanding of the political landscape to help shape local policy on environmental issues. “This is a great and undeserved honor,” he said. “You all are the guardians of a sacred place. You all are part of an organization of great spirit. It’s so gratifying to see so many people who care so greatly about their place in the world. Don’t give up.”

While recognizing the past year’s successes, several speakers also stressed the need to continue the group’s activism to preserve Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer. “We have a number of struggles left. The regional plan is the toughest thing we face,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher. “We’ve got to get that done because, as you know, so much of the development and growth is now going outside the city limits.”

Congressman Lloyd Doggett pledged to continue his work to protect the environment, if given the opportunity to return to Washington as the representative for the newly reconfigured District 25. “I’d like to draw your attention to an event in March called the Democratic Primary,” he said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “All of us who care about the environment have reason to be concerned . . . of the three most likely candidates for the three congressional districts that have been carved into Travis County, if you added their environmental scores together they would still be substantially shy of where mine is,” he told the group.

SBCA President Jon Beall is stepping down from that position, but will serve as vice-president. Harold Daniel, who has been vice-president for the past year, was selected as the group’s new president. Mary Ann Neely and Susan Bright were named co-secretaries and Shudde Fath will continue her service as treasurer. All were elected on a unanimous vote of the directors.

Movie making means money, road closures

The closure of McKinney Falls Parkway for movie production took some extra negotiations during yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting.

Community members raised objections during a public hearing. Both sides retired to a board room to hammer out some kind of agreement. When they returned to the table, the movie’s production company had made additional concessions to both Travis County and the Del Valle Independent School District. The location is needed to complete filming of Tommy Lee Jones’ movie, “ Cheer Up,” which has been filming around Austin.

The final negotiated contract will allow the closure of McKinney Falls Parkway between the entrance station and Parks and Wildlife Road, starting on Nov. 29. Partial closure, with one lane open in both directions, will continue between Nov. 29 and Dec. 2 for location preparations. Closure, with some exceptions, will continue from Dec. 2 through Dec. 21.

According to the negotiated agreement, McKinney Falls Parkway will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. most mornings. The entire road will be closed the first three weekends in December, as well as Friday, Dec. 12, and Monday, Dec. 15. Closures will be noted in the area, and a letter will go home to parents of Del Valle students.

Because movie production will inconvenience Del Valle ISD, the movie production company has agreed to pay for the additional buses, drivers and monitors required by diverted bus routes. They will also provide additional patrol officers for impacted intersections.

Finally, the movie production company has agreed to pay the county and Del Valle ISD $25,000 apiece. The county will use this money to improve trails in the area.

School officials joked that an appearance by Jones at Del Valle schools for a school assembly was still under negotiation.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Casias bows out . . . Commissioner Michael Casias has resigned from the Planning Commission. Planner Katie Larsen says Casias indicated that family and work commitments did not leave enough time for commission work . . . AHF moves ahead with bond plans . . . Commissioner Karen Sonleitner points outs that the American Housing Foundation (AHF) of Amarillo is moving ahead with plans to purchase five Travis County apartment complexes even though commissioners declined to assist in issuance of bonds. Other cities and counties around the country, like Tulsa County, OK and Maricopa County, AZ are assisting in the financing of 19 projects in six cities. Those projects include the Arbors, Ashbury Parke, Harpers Creek, Pinto Creek and Trestles of Austin. . . County courthouse politics . . . County Court at Law Judge Gisela Triana has officially resigned her position in order to announce her candidacy for judge of the 200th District Court, which Paul Davis is vacating at the end of next year. Triana plans to announce on December 3 at a 5-7pm fundraiser at Gumbo’s, 710 Colorado. Attorney Jan Soifer and domestic court Master John Hathaway have also announced for the position.. . . Also running. . . A host of lawyers are hoping to fill Triana’s post. They include Democrats Nancy Hohengarten, a former Assistant District Attorney; Erain de la Fuente, a current ADA; and Leonard Saenz, a juvenile court judge. Attorneys Carlos Garcia and Angelita Mendoza-Waterhouse may also join the race. Finally, Municipal Court Presiding Judge Evelyn McKee might also decide to throw her hat in the ring, but has not been acting like a candidate . . . Lunch next Tuesday . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken, Beverly Silas and economist Jon Hockenyos will discuss Austin’s economy and growth strategies at a joint communications luncheon from 11:30am to 1pm on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at the Westwood Country Club. The Association for Women in Communications, International Association for Business Communicators and the Public Relations Society of American are hosting the event. You may RSVP at

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