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Commissioners to help landfills relocate

Wednesday, February 4, 2004 by

Two options for BFI, WMI: Expand or move

Travis County Commissioners decided yesterday to assist landfill operators who find themselves as unwanted neighbors in Northeast Travis County in locating new sites in the region to replace existing landfills. At yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting, County Judge Sam Biscoe proposed working with Browning-Ferris Industries and Waste Management, Inc. to help them relocate.

The new strategy is intended to end a stalemate over a siting ordinance for landfills, which has been in limbo for more than a year. With little enforcement power over the landfill operators—and both operators threatening to file expansion permits if a siting ordinance is passed by Travis County—county commissioners have agreed to try to find new sites for regional waste disposal.

WMI, in particular, is only weeks from filing a land use application on the expansion of its current landfill. Nothing, other the word of WMI’s representatives to county commissioners, is actually stopping the company from filing an extension and adding another dozen years of life to WMI’s current landfill.

Both companies have agreed to hold off on expansion permits, although attorney John Joseph said he could make no promises to relocate WMI’s landfill. Those decisions, Joseph told the commissioners, belong to WMI’s corporate office.

The BFI landfill has another five to seven years of operation. An expansion permit could add another 10 to 12 years of life to the site. The WMI landfill has a dozen years of operation, which could be extended another dozen years. Biscoe’s proposal would be to find two suitable sites and relocate both landfill operators at the same time.

For the county, that means moving the landfills away from dense residential areas. For the landfill operators, it means an agreement from Travis County to use its power of eminent domain to find what it considers to be a suitable area for landfill sites. Biscoe called it a move to “sweeten the deal” for landfill operators.

That commitment on the part of Travis County could push the cost of land down and speed up the process for relocation, which BFI attorney Paul Gosselink said could take anywhere from 5 to 14 years to complete.

The commitment to assist with land acquisition was only one of a number of decisions county commissioners made yesterday. The commissioners also agreed to drop the pursuit of an odor study, which was eventually nixed by the landfill operators and the residents of the area around the two Northeast landfills.

Biscoe and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty will pursue funding for a regional landfill study. CAPCO has already set aside $11,000 for an in-house study of suitable landfill sites in the region. Biscoe and Daugherty, both of whom sit on the CAPCO executive board, will propose taking that money and adding funding from Travis County and possibly the area’s three landfill operators to complete a more comprehensive study.

Biscoe told his colleagues it would probably take $50,000 to do the job right. He added that it was only fair that the landfill operators contribute to the cost, since the study would ultimately benefit them. Activist Trek English told commissioners that even some local residents would be willing to offer some financial support if it meant the two landfills ultimately would relocate elsewhere.

The siting expedition is intended to replace the siting ordinance, at least for now, even though the county has devoted hundreds of hours to the cause. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said she would like to turn the county’s attention to efforts such as grant applications for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, rather than landfill efforts. Sonleitner said the ordinance had sucked plenty of time and energy out of the county.

Commissioner Margaret Gomez said simply that she was “tired of mulling” and ready to make some decisions on the landfill issue.

Commissioners agreed unanimously to move forward with the new strategy. A memorandum of understanding between Travis County and the landfill operators, outlining the commitment on both sides, will be back on the agenda on Feb. 24.

Hamilton begins to rack up endorsements

Three Sheriff's candidates lay out credentials for Democrats

Members of a number of Democratic clubs held a four-hour meeting Monday night to hear from candidates for a variety of offices before voting on endorsements for the upcoming party primary elections. While the candidates for Travis County Sheriff and Travis County Commissioner in Precinct 1 had the biggest crowds early in the evening, a good number of the party faithful stayed for presentations from candidates in the down-ballot judicial races.

Sheriff Margo Frasier’ s decision not to seek re-election has resulted in a crowded field of contenders in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Three of the four Democrats on the March 9 ballot spoke to members of the South Austin Democrats (SAD), Texas Environmental Democrats, Capital Area Progressive Democrats and the Black Austin Democrats gathered at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Facility. Greg Hamilton, Todd Radford and Raymond Frank all touted their previous law enforcement experience and outlined their goals for the office. Candidate Kyle Kincaid was not in attendance.

Greg Hamilton

Hamilton stepped down from a position at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to launch his campaign. He had previously worked in the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, starting as a correctional officer at the jail and then becoming a Deputy Sheriff. While at the TABC, he served as the chief of that agency’s law enforcement division, winning national recognition for the department.

“One of the things I learned at TABC was that for law enforcement to truly make a difference, we’re going to have to reach out into the community,” Hamilton said. “Too often, we in law enforcement go into a community and think that we can arrest our way out of a problem. There are some people that need to go to jail, but we’re not going to be able to address all of society’s ills by throwing people into jail.” Hamilton, who has supported Sheriff Frasier in the past, said he would work to help build community support for law enforcement. “I think it’s all about building relationships,” he said. “Quite often, law enforcement (officers) have stayed in those two-ton vehicles riding around aimlessly. I’m not saying that’s what’s happened in Travis County or in Austin, but I’ve seen it around the country. Community-oriented policing, to me, is a philosophy that needs to be embraced from the top all the way down to the bottom. Right now, I think that Chief Knee is working on that and it’s going to take time. If I’m fortunate enough to be elected Sheriff, I will start on day one building relationships in the community.” Hamilton is African-American.

Hamilton also said he would consider adding staff to the department’s environmental crimes unit, which currently consists of one deputy who investigates complaints of illegal dumping. Hamilton said he would look for other programs that are over-staffed and consider redeploying those resources to assist that deputy.

Todd Radford

Radford is also a former employee of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, having spent ten years as a deputy and training instructor. He left the department in the late 1990’s to teach at Texas A&M and has lectured across the country on anti-terrorism. He currently works for his family’s mortgage company securing loans for families purchasing manufactured housing. Radford pledged to be a good steward of the county’s resources, and to put a priority on fiscal responsibility.

“It’s your tax dollars and my tax dollars . . . it’s an 87 million dollar budget that we deal with every year,” he said. “It’s important that we’re accountable for every dollar we spend. If there’s waste we’ll find out ways to cut it, and if there’s not we’re going to go to the Commissioners Court and find out how they can best assist us.” He agreed with Hamilton that the single deputy investigating illegal dumping could use some help, but like Hamilton stopped short of offering a guarantee that more resources would be diverted to that office. And improving relations with minority groups, he said, would be a challenge for the next leader of the department. “I think if any of us read the paper or watched television last week, you know that trust in the law enforcement community right now in our neighborhoods is a little damaged,” he said. “We need to be able to step forward with strong leadership and mend that trust. It’s not going to take place overnight.”

Raymond Frank

Former Sheriff Raymond Frank, who served as Travis County Sheriff from 1973 to 1980 is also seeking the Democratic nomination. He used much of his time to recount some of the more high-profile cases of that time period, including testifying before a legislative committee about reducing criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. He also reminisced about arresting an undercover agent at UT for desertion from the U.S. Navy, arresting a prominent handball player visiting UT for a tournament, and facing political pressure over Hippie Hollow. “We had a lot of nude bathing going on at Hippie Hollow,” he said. “A lot of people wanted to arrest them, a lot of people didn’t want us to arrest them. My response was, respectfully, that we didn’t have the resources to arrest anybody out there. We had a lot of other stuff to do.”

Frank did touch briefly on some of the issues that would face the next sheriff, including improving race relations and raising the level of trust within the community. “How to get all that back? I don’t know. I’m everybody’s sheriff and I will meet anybody,” he said. While he had little to say about the possibility of bringing in new technology to the department or how he would prioritize enforcing environmental regulations, he did outline some goals for the sheriff’s office. “I don’t want any intimidation, no high-speed chases, no arrogance and no lying,” he said.

When the votes were tabulated that evening, Greg Hamilton was the favorite of SAD and the Texas Environmental Democrats. He has previously won the endorsements from the local chapter of the AFL-CIO, the Hispanic Bar Association, the Austin Black Lawyers’ Association, the South Austin Tejano Democratic Club and the Black Women’s Political Caucus. The Tejano Democrats, a separate organization, endorsed Todd Radford.

The winner of the Democratic Primary will face one of the following Republicans in the General Election: Former Pct. 3 Constable Drew McAngus, Joe Martinez, A.J. Anthony Johnson or Duane McNeill, an Austin Police Department Commander on leave of absence. None of the campaigns reported raising more than $500 on the most recent contribution and expenditure report filed with the county on January 15.

Fishing expedition . . . The Daily Texan evidently has decided to look in depth at American-Statesman Editorial Page Editor Arnold Garcia’s relationship with City Hall. The campus newspaper sent a public information request to a number of City Council offices asking for correspondence, including emails, between Council members and Garcia beginning in 1999. There’s more than one reason to recycle your computer frequently . . . Capital Area Progressive Democrats' endorsements . . . This group heard all the candidates at the South Austin meeting Monday night, but has different endorsement rules than many organizations. Susan Daniels explained that the group’s rules require a two-thirds majority vote. So, they endorsed only those candidates that had very strong support, including Congressman Lloyd Doggett for District 25, Stephen Yelenosky for Judge of the 345th District Court and Maria Canchola for Constable of Pct. 4 . . . Environmental Democrats' endorsements . . . This group endorsed also Doggett,Yelenosky, Gisela Triana for 200th District Court Judge and Nancy Hohengarten for County Court at Law # 5. The group split evenly over Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis and challenger Celia Israel, and opted for a dual endorsement. As noted above, they also endorsed Greg Hamilton for Sheriff . . . More Democratic endorsement meetings . . . The Austin Progressive Coalition, members of the Central Austin Democrats and University Democrats, Capital City Young Democrats and the North X Northwest Democrats will meet at 6pm at the UT Teaching Center, Room 4.134. The building is next to Perry Castañeda Library. At the same time, the Stonewall Democrats of Austin and the Austin Lesbian-Gay Political Caucus will hear candidates at the Travis County Commissioners Court Room, starting at 6pm. There may be a shuttle between the meetings. Parking for the UT meeting will be available in the state parking lot at MLK and Congress . . . Voting test today . . . County ClerkDana DeBeauvoir’s office will test the eSlate system at 9am this morning at the Election Division Office, 5501 Airport Boulevard. Candidates and representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties will be present to review the accuracy of the ballot order and candidate names. The media and the general public are also invited to attend . . . Party for Stick . . . Attorney David Hartman reports there will be a fundraiser for Rep. Jack Stick (R-District 50) tonight from 6-9pm at Moonshine Patio (303 Red River, behind the Convention Center). Live music and complimentary appetizers will be provided . . . City meetings . . . Both the Environmental Board and the Water and Wastewater Commission will meet at 6pm tonight . . . Doggett fundraiser . . . Mick Long, Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s new campaign manager, says his boss will have a fundraiser at 5:30pm Friday at Nuevo Leon, 1501 E. 6th Street . . . ACC to enlarge reach . . . The Austin Community College System’s service area could grow a bit larger in May. County Commissioners have agreed to review a petition calling for the annexation of the Del Valle school district. If commissioners validate the petition, the vote will go out on May 15. The only other question now is whether ACC will volunteer to pick up the $16,500 tab on the election. Otherwise, Travis County will have to foot the bill . . . Early voting . . . Expect a few more early voting locations. County commissioners are expected to approve two or three additional mobile voting sites for the March 9 Primary next week. Those locations would include the new Elections Office at the Travis County Airport Boulevard Annex at 5501 Airport Blvd., as well as the Four Points Shopping Center in Commissioner Gerald Daugherty’s Precinct 3. Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis also would like to see a mobile voting location added to the south . . . Water line move approved . . . Travis County has signed an interlocal agreement with the City of Austin to move a water line in the way of the county’s Anderson Mill road project. The multi-million dollar project will expand a portion of Anderson Mill from two to four lanes. The cost of the relocation, at $37,000, will only be a fraction of the construction price tag..

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