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Travis Commissioners extend WMI contract

Wednesday, January 28, 2004 by

Davis opposes, Daugherty scolds landfill operator

Travis County Commissioners extended a landfill contract with Waste Management of Texas Tuesday but not without regret, one commissioner told the company.

County officials extended the contract for 12 months. The total amount of the contract is valued at $106,000, although only $77,000 has been spent against the contract in the last year. According to the paperwork submitted with the contract, most agency heads expressed satisfaction with Waste Management’s performance over the last year.

But during the process of completing the safety form, WMI confessed to a self-reported violation filed with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. That violation, illegal disposal of liquid waste, involved a truck driver who emptied a truckload of waste from Porta Potties on private land. WMI reported the violation to TCEQ and contacted the landowner to handle the clean-up of the property.

After an executive session, there was a motion to extend the contract, but Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis offered a substitute motion. He wanted to reject the extension because it seemed impossible “to get off of high center and move on” with Waste Management. Davis could not get a second on his motion. A motion to extend the contract was approved 4-1, with Davis voting against the extension. However, Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said he was tempted to second Davis’ motion. He told WMI that continuing problems the county has had with landfill operators were beginning to wear out most members of Commissioners Court.

“I sure hope that there are no other infractions,” Daugherty said, adding that the county also needed to track violations more carefully. “We have something within our system we need to straighten out. WMI is not obligated to tell us, nor is TCEQ, so it really is up to Travis County to know what’s happening with Waste Management.”

If Waste Management does have any future violations, Daugherty said he would certainly consider ending future contract extensions. He added that he needed to have some comfort level with a vendor on a county contract.

The extension has some additional safeguards, including a requirement for Waste Management to report any future violations to Travis County. The condition in the contract has no geographic limitations, so it could apply to any violation inside or outside Travis County. Asked directly whether the company had any other violations that county officials should be aware of, landfill officials said they had none.

County officials also approved a 12-month extension of a countywide refuse collection contract with Texas Disposal Systems, Inc. The contract is valued at $151,000.

Beyond the current contracts, Commissioners Court is unlikely to proceed with an odor study proposed by County Judge Sam Biscoe. WMI refused to participate in the study, and Browning-Ferris Industries would only participate on terms that included the county signing off on the landfill’s expansion plans if it passed the “odor test.”

County officials decided last week that they were unlikely to approve the contract. The item, however, will probably be brought back to Commissioners Court for final discussion.

New roads will be toll roads, says RMA head

State cannot afford price of highways; city can't wait

Any future highway projects in Texas will likely be toll road projects, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein told the Real Estate Council of Austin at its monthly luncheon yesterday.

Heiligenstein, who was joined by Central Texas RMA Chairman Bob Tesch, outlined the increasing need and dwindling funding for road projects to a sympathetic crowd. Heiligenstein said that current transportation needs for the region are equal to the cost of forty-five Ben White-I-35 intersections. That intersection is estimated to cost $167 million.

However, Central Texas receives roughly $40 million a year in transportation funding from the state, which covers only a third of the area’s annual transportation needs.

“You do the math,” Heiligenstein said.

And major highway projects, from start to finish, can take up to two decades to complete. The Texas Department of Transportation is in a situation of little money and long timelines, Heiligenstein told the group.

“Their situation is dire. They don’t have enough money to get the job done,” Heiligenstein said. “Can we wait 20 years to get a project done? I don’t think so.”

When Heiligenstein first lobbied for what would become State Highway 130 in 1984, he predicted dirt would be turned in 1989. In 1989, he revised that date to 1994. Real movement on the project has only occurred in the last two years.

The first four segments of the Central Texas Turnpike should be completed by 2007. That first phase will stretch from I-35 to US 183.

Approximately 90 percent of all highway projects over the next 20 years will be toll roads, Heiligenstein said. TxDOT officials have said no road project proposal will be considered by the state unless it has been studied as a toll road project, he added. TxDOT has said clearly that it does not have the money to fund new projects.

The regional mobility authority is the tool that can cut both time and cost on highway projects. US 183A, the first project for the CTRMA, was initially estimated at $261 million and 14 years in construction time. Under the CTMA, the 11.6-mile project from RM 620 to South San Gabriel will now be completed in two years. That brought applause from the audience.

Heiligenstein predicted more private sector involvement in road financing in the future. The state must find creative ways to fund what can now become billion dollar road projects, he concluded.

Waller Creek economic study update due next month

Downtown boosters say update should include sales tax implications of larger tunnel

Downtown business owners and city staff members met this week with representatives of two firms working on an update of financial projections for the area around Waller Creek if a tunnel is built to prevent flooding and enhance development options. The bottom line for many in the room was whether the new analysts, Steve Spilette of Spilette Consulting and Kent Dussair and Arlene Bradley of CDS Market Research, would focus on the differing economic impact of building a 22-foot diameter tunnel or a 15-foot diameter tunnel.

Charlie Betts of the Downtown Austin Alliance, Ted Siff of the Austin Parks Foundation and property owner Perry Lorenz were among those emphasizing the need for the comparison. When voters approved bonds to put Waller Creek into a tunnel, the city visualized not only a flood control project, but also an avenue to a vibrant amenity that would entice convention-goers and other visitors to the eastern side of downtown. But the price tag for the tunnel went from $25 million in 1998 to either $50 million or $68.3 million, depending on size and capture volume of the creek.

Last summer KBR (Kellogg Brown &Root/Espey Padden JV) updated their economic analysis, presenting numbers that did not please property owners and gave the city even more to ponder.

KBR concluded that “the most cost-effective flood control approach is to capture up to 55 percent of the 100-year flood event at the inlet facility in Waterloo Park, and convey flood flows through a 15.5 foot diameter tunnel . . . This options still protects over 98 percent of the creek corridor from flooding and uses the ‘bank full’ capacity of the creek channel.” The economic analysis assumed redevelopment of the flood plain and resulting increases in property taxes.

But that scenario did not take into account the increased sales tax revenues generated by restaurants, bars and shops that could be built within the banks of the creek with a 22-foot tunnel as opposed to above the creek with a smaller tunnel.

Lorenz said after the meeting, “I was delighted that they went to the trouble to hire those guys. KBR did a study and they only focused on the ad valorem taxes . . . For $75 million you can end up with a creek that sits in the bottom of its banks and predictably stays in its bed.” With the smaller tunnel, however, “you can’t get down there and build by the creek.” Even though the additional amount of land reclaimed may seem small—only two percent, he said, “that last two percent is where the bed tax, the liquor tax, the amenity value,” can be created. That more expensive scenario is more likely to pay the city back on its investment, he said.

It is likely that the city will create a TIF (tax increment financing) district within the Waller Creek area to help defray the cost of the tunnel. Assistant City Manager John Stephens provided In Fact Daily with updated figures on the costs and financial benefits of the tunnel based on KBR’s study. With the larger diameter tunnel, KBR projects the city to come out about $11 million ahead over a 20- year period under a conservative development scenario. That scenario envisions 35 percent buildout. Under the “most likely development scenario,” with 65 percent development along the creek, that figure jumps to nearly $68 million.

It is, of course, the idea that even the conservative scenario might be too optimistic that bothers Stephens. For that reason, he says the city needs the participation of Travis County. Originally the city thought the county would issue half the debt, but the county rejected that idea. He said he thinks that county commissioners are now looking at the project in the same way they looked at The Domain. They may agree to some tax abatements when the project is completed and property values go up. But the city is not likely to commit to building the tunnel without county participation.

County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner bristles at the idea that the county is in any way responsible for what the city does on the tunnel. “We have made zero commitments because they have not given us a proposal . . . It’s inappropriate to shift the burden of success or failure onto the county. We don’t know if they want a smaller or a larger tunnel. I’m trying to keep an open mind. They need to get their ducks in a row. Everybody’s talking about an invitation to the dance. Don’t ask me what I want to wear, I haven’t gotten the invitation yet.”

Stephens said he is expecting to have a report from Spilette and CDS by the end of February or early March.

Ortiz returns, Casias departs . . . Planning Commission Chair Lydia Ortiz returned last night after missing a few meetings for maternity leave. The commission now has seven members. Michael Casias, who had previously announced his intention to step down, turned in his official letter of resignation. “He helped us out a great deal by agreeing not to resign until now. We needed him to help us deliberate through several cases,” said Commissioner Niyanta Spelman. Casias received a brief round of applause from the audience. With only seven members on the commission, the minimum number for a quorum now will be four. Also, four votes will be necessary for an item to win commission approval . . . Design changes OK’d . . . Developers of the Pleasant Valley Courtyards on St. Elmo Road made another appearance before the Planning Commission to get approval for some changes to the project. On the site where they had wanted to build a pool and clubhouse for the affordable-housing apartment complex, they now are asking to build one more apartment building with a maximum of seven units. The move is to comply with a directive from the TDHCA. The developers and attorney Nikelle Mead are working out agreements with the surrounding neighborhood associations, since their previous agreement won support based in part on the site plan showing the pool and recreation area. The Commission voted unanimously to support a change for the conditional overlay on the site, which will allow the developers to make the appropriate design changes . . . Adelante (Onward), they say . . . Paul Saldaña and Trey Salinas of Martin & Salinas Public Affairs have formed a new entity, Adelante Solutions, to focus on public relations issues for clients working in the minority community and issues particularly affecting minorities. Saldaña and Salinas will continue to work with Don Martin, the founder of Martin & Salinas, but Saldaña, the president of the new company, will concentrate on bringing in clients for Adelante. The new company got a little boost at yesterday’s RECA luncheon with recognition of Adelante as the PR firm for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Saldaña noted that he is now free to lobby at City Hall without worrying about running afoul of a city ordinance that prohibits some city employees from lobbying on certain issues for one year after leaving the city . . . Speaking of the RMA . . . In Fact Daily mistakenly identified Brian Cassidy, the RMA’s attorney, as Mike Weaver of Prime Strategies in the original edition yesterday. The error has been corrected. Cassidy was most gracious about the mix-up . . . The RMA will meet at 9am this morning at the Lower Colorado River Authority board room . . . Today’s other meetings . . . The City of Austin Community Care Services Department will host a dedication ceremony for the Austin Women’s Hospital from 7 to 9pm at Brackenridge Hospital . . .The City Council committee on telecommunications infrastructure will meet at 3pm today at City Hall . . . The Historic Preservation Task Force is scheduled to meet at 6pm in Room 240 of One Texas Center. The hot topic on tonight’s agenda is the real meat of the commission’s business—tax exemptions for historic landmarks . . . Manor airport site meeting . . . Commissioner Ron Davis notified us that TxDOT will hold a public meeting at 6:30pm tonight at the Manor Middle School Cafeteria, 10323 US Highway 290 East to discuss a proposed airport site in Manor. The agency will discuss preliminary findings of a study of a site for a general aviation airport..

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