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District moves ahead with conservation plan

Monday, May 10, 2004 by

Reimbursement contract still pending at Parks & Wildlife Department

Although officials at the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District stress they have a good working relationship with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the fact that the state agency has not released a $516,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service caused some consternation at last week’s meeting. The agency’s attorney, however, says there is no cause for concern.

The district executed a contract at the beginning of April with consultant Kent Butler, an expert on community and regional planning, to direct the Habitat Conservation Plan, an ongoing project to analyze aquifer recharge, water levels and how pumping affects the habitat of the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. Butler has agreed to begin work although the district cannot pay him until TPW releases the grant.

BSEACD Water Resources Planner Timothy Riley said he was unsure of the cause of the delay but said he did not think it was specific to the district. Riley said the state agency, like all Texas agencies, is experiencing drastic cutbacks in funding and personnel.

BSEACD President Jim Camp asked Riley if the delay was caused by concerns raised by TPW legal staff. Riley said a staff attorney for TPW had raised questions. Riley described receiving a proposed memorandum of understanding from TPW in April that was copied directly from an agreement with some other entity, referred to the district as a non-profit corporation and had a clause that required the district to pay back child support. The district is a governmental authority and has no offspring, so Riley said he rejected the memorandum prima facie.

The district received an interlocal agreement from TPW after Riley suggested the less complicated document would be appropriate because the district has such agreements with its other major partners, the City of Austin, the University of Texas at Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Riley said he had received word that an interlocal agreement could not be used. Riley added that the attorney had not seen the draft until she was contacted, and then she said the state agency needed a memorandum of understanding. Riley said the “third iteration” has been sent and he expects an expedited review.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” Riley said. “Technically, the clock started March 1st.” Riley said Fish and Wildlife released the money to TPW and “as far as I know, it’s collecting interest in a state account.” Riley said he is “in the dark on why.”

The money, when released, will be matched by money from BSEACD and other partners, both private and public. The fund is to be managed by TPW, which will be billed monthly for expenses related to the habitat plan.

The attorney in question, Judi Doran, told In Fact Daily yesterday that there is no problem with the contract. The final details just need to be agreed upon. She explained that the district would spend the money and submit documentation to TPW, which will reimburse BSEACD for expenditures. There is no reason to delay the work, she said, since payment is made after each stage of the contract is performed.

The matching funds include in-kind contributions of $381,806 and a cash contribution of $137,000, for a total of $518,806. The district itself will contribute $62,000 in cash and $138,100 in-kind of that matching fund total.

Riley produced three charts that detailed the proposed budget for the plan from 2004 through 2007. “We have a million dollars we have to allocate,” Riley said, explaining the temporal distribution charts and the 20-some special line-item accounts.

Butler said that the plan would develop best management practices dealing with low-flow issues and pumping, pursuant to maintaining the salamander’s natural environment in accordance with the strictures of the federal Endangered Species Act.

Butler explained that the plan requires an “incidental take permit” which allows the district to allow pumping that might inadvertently affect the natural habitat of the salamander, but only after “a fully exhaustive assessment of the state of the species.”

He pointed out that the legal terminology involved does not lend itself to strict interpretation. “When is the species subject to take?” Butler asked. “i.e., how much or how little water” must be maintained to ensure the salamander’s success “in the wild.”

Riley said the three-year project represents “virtually everything the district is about.”

The board also retired into a lengthy executive session with no final action taken, and Camp mentioned his impending retirement after former Buda City Council member Chuck Murphy takes his seat.

The BSEACD canceled May 15 elections back in March because Board Secretary Jack Goodman and Precinct 3 Director Bob Larsen are running unopposed. Murphy was the lone Buda-area candidate that filed when Camp announced he was not running.Camp said he wants to spend more time with his family.

Commission OKs water, sewer projects

Eastside work would require additional funding

Projects recommended by the Water and Wastewater Commission last week include an adjustment to a revitalization project in East Austin, a service extension into the Drinking Water Protection Zone and a lift station for an 800-home development near Manor.

The non-profit Austin Revitalization Authority’s development efforts stretch down 11th and 12th Streets through East Austin. ARA is redeveloping four acres between 11th Street and Juniper, Interstate 35 and Navasota Street. The area is inside the Central Urban Redevelopment Combining District, falling under CURE zoning.

Redevelopment included the replacement of 70-year-old water lines in the area. Once ARA began to explore the infrastructure, however, it became apparent that Juniper Street water lines had serious leaks. That meant shifting some money, which required the review of the Water and Wastewater Commission and will next require approval by the City Council.

The additional work will also require an extra $150,000. The original upgrade was calculated at $863,384 in hard and soft construction costs. Because the cost was less at $738,000, an extra $25,000 could be devoted to soft construction costs. The extra funding will cover construction, as well as engineering, design and management of the project.

The Water and Wastewater Commission also approved a service extension into the Drinking Water Protection Zone. Owner Leon Schmidt wants to put a restaurant and an office building on the 12 acres of land just west of the Barton Creek Mall. The plans are currently in the preliminary plat phase.

The development must comply with the SOS Ordinance. Under an agreement between the city and environmentalists, the property is ineligible for central sewer service so it will t be served by “decentralized” wastewater services. That means service latrines, septic tanks, drain fields and pumping and storage facilities for wastewater

Construction, paid for by the developer, will include 1,640 feet of 16-inch water main construction from an existing 12-inch water main on Loop 360 west of Walsh Tarlton, following northwest along Loop 360 to the western edge of the property.

The third project the Water and Wastewater Commission agreed to recommend was a cost reimbursement agreement with Austin Blue Sky Investments. Austin Blue Sky plans to construct 800 homes in the 9000 block of FM 969. Approximately seven percent of the land is located in the city; with the balance outside city limits.

Austin Blue Sky will construct a wastewater lift station, force main, 12-inch gravity wastewater main and appurtenances to provide wastewater service to the 155-acre Nelson tract. Current plans envision that a total of 1000 gallons of water per minute will be pumped to the property, where 800 homes will eventually be located.

The lift station will serve an area within the Desired Development Zone and the Elm Creek Watershed. The developer will build a lift station, as well as construction water lines. The construction is planned to roll out in two phases along FM 3177 near Decker Lane. The total hard costs of the project are estimated at $1.2 million.

The city will not reimburse the developer until construction of the houses is complete. Under the agreement, the city will reimburse Austin Blue Sky at $80 per living unit.

Volunteers . . . At the end of a long meeting last week, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman volunteered her services and those of Council Member Daryl Slusher to serve on a committee to meet with representatives of the Travis County Commissioners Court. They will work to resolve issues relating to a law requiring the city and county to combine regulations for subdivisions in the ETJ. The Council voted unanimously to accept her proposal . . . Casa de Luz battle returns . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board will meet at 5:30pm today in Room 325 of One Texas Center. A decision granting the operator of Casa de Luz on Toomey Road is on the agenda for reconsideration. Neighboring landowners have hired attorney Nikelle Meade, who joins Sarah Crocker in an attempt to get the board’s decision to grant a parking variance for the school and restaurant. They will bring a court reporter to make a transcript of tonight’s hearing. Also up for reconsideration is an interpretation of a section of the Land Development Code . . . CAMPO policy board meets at 6pm tonight . . . The Texas Department of Transportation, Travis County and Williamson County have requested amendments to the CAMPO 2025 Transportation Plan. A public hearing is scheduled for 6:45pm on toll road amendments to the plan and the FY 2004-2008 Transportation Improvement Program requested by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and TxDOT. The board will likely vote on those amendments at the June meeting. The meeting will be in LBJ Library Auditorium, not the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center . . . Toll road boosters . . . Pete Winstead, former chair of the Texas Turnpike Authority, is listed as the chair of a new privately-funded group, Citizens For Mobility, “formed to support the recently proposed $2.2 billion toll road funding initiative and to assist with privately-funded public education and support for the plan” More information may be found at http://www.congestionrelief.com. . . Firefighters alert to voters . . . Mike Martinez, president of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters was busy Sunday calling registered voters yesterday via pre-recorded message. Martinez’ message reminds voters that his members gave up a pay raise last year to keep the Hyde Park fire station open. Firefighters want to be able to engage in collective bargaining with the city. Currently, they negotiate with management under the Meet and Confer process, the same one used by the police. Firefighters say they want collective bargaining in order to be able to discuss whatever topics they choose, including enhanced health insurance benefits and staffing. Under Meet and Confer city management can choose not to discuss those matters . . . Slusher’s rebuttal. . . Council Member Daryl Slusher penned an editorial that appeared in Friday’s American-Statesman explaining why he opposes the collective bargaining bid by firefighters. He points out that Austin firefighters are the highest paid in the state, on average. What they want, among other things, Slusher writes, is “pay parity with police,” a health insurance policy that is separate from, and presumably superior to that of other city employees and four-person staffing per fire truck. Four-person staffing, Slusher said, would cost an additional $3 million and necessitate a one-percent property tax increase. Bringing firefighters’ pay up to match that of police officers, Slusher said, would cost an estimated $12.9 million. The editorial may be found at: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/auto/epaper/editions/friday/editorial_04b94332f61b709200b7.html. . . Protest scheduled . . . An unnamed group plans to protest what they claim would be a property tax increase if a county hospital district is approved. The group plans to gather at the intersection of Bee Caves Road and Loop 360 at 5pm today . . . Election update. . . Slightly more than 2 percent of Travis County’s registered voters had cast ballots early as the polls closed Sunday night. That brought to 12,014 the total casting ballots so far. Northcross Mall finally edged out the Randall’ s in Lakeway as the most popular spot to vote early. Those who wish to vote early for Saturday’s election—on two important propositions and a handful of ACC and school board races—may do so today and Tuesday. Saturday is Election Day . . . AMN news. . . Representatives of Austin Music Partners faced several questions from members of the Music Commission l ast week when they made their presentation about a plan to privatize the Austin Music Network. Former commission chair Kevin Connor received a request from current Chair Teresa Ferguson to provide more timely information, since the group had not been informed about the proposal when it was first drafted several months ago. Current AMN General Manager Louis Meyers also asked the board to review his group’s proposal for continuing to operate the network as a public entity, although one without dedicated funding from the City of Austin. “We would still absolutely need and like to apply for all the grants possible, but there would be no assigned funding,” Meyers said. “If the Arts Commission or other agencies decide what we’re doing is worth funding, great. It’s not a necessity in our plan to survive.” The item should be on the Commission’s next agenda for a recommendation to the City Council.

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