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LCRA delays final approval for Hamilton Pool Road line

Thursday, May 20, 2004 by

Neighbors opposed to immediate service praise board for hearing their request

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) will eventually build a new water line to serve areas along Hamilton Pool Road. But the agency’s Board of Directors agreed Wednesday to wait until December before granting final approval for the project. The delay means residents of Southwest Travis County who are concerned about the impact of 1,300 new homes in their neighborhood will have several months to work out a plan to deal with the effects of population growth on traffic, water quality, and local schools.

“They were on the fast track, but to LCRA’s credit they did some genuine listening,” said Gene Lowenthal, who helped organize the Hamilton Pool Road Scenic Corridor Coalition. He applauded the agency’s decision to give the Regional Water Quality Planning Project organized by Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher and Hays County Judge Jim Powers more time before they take action. “We’re going to be heavily participating in (planning). There’s nothing like necessity to get people heavily involved.” Other Hamilton Pool Road residents were also impressed with the agency’s decision to delay action on the pipeline. “We’ve learned the LCRA really listened to our campaign to get this water line slowed down until we get a proper plan in place,” said Damian Priour. “They listened to us. We’re real proud of the LCRA.”

The board unanimously approved a resolution submitted by General Manager Joe Beal directing the staff to negotiate utility service agreements with the three major landowners who had requested the line, but to wait until December to bring those agreements back to the board for final approval. “It says that LCRA will provide surface water to the Hamilton Pool Road area, because this area deserves and needs a clean and ample supply of water,” said Beal. “LCRA is a utility provider, and we make our commitment to serve this area. There will be public input in this process.”

Hundreds of people had attended a pair of public meetings on the water line request. Several dozen of them attended Wednesday’s meeting at the Canyon of the Eagles Natural Science Center in Burnet. Board Chairman Ray Wilkerson praised the neighborhood for its involvement in the process. “The public input that we received was incredible,” he said. “This may not make everybody happy but I hope it’s a solution in the long run.” That input came pouring in right up through the final hour before the vote. Slusher, who helped organize the regional planning process, submitted a letter to LCRA Board Members that arrived less than one hour before the start of Wednesday’s meeting.

Slusher wrote, “In obtaining land owner agreement to abide by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) measures, the LCRA has made significant strides for water quality protection over the Edwards Aquifer. Discussions I have had with City of Austin staff, however, raise a serious concern. That is whether there is any provision to insure compliance with the measures.” He pointed out that two other proposed developments in the area which already have similar agreements with the LCRA— Estancia/Double L and Hazy Hills—have indicated a willingness to abide by the FWS measures. However, he said city staff have reviewed some of their plans and found them not compliant with the FWS measures.

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, whose district includes the Hamilton Pool Road area, urged the board to delay judgment on the water line. In a letter dated May 14, he asked them to hold additional public and private meetings with landowners, government officials, environmentalists, and representatives of Envision Central Texas, as well as of the Regional Water Quality Planning Project. Barrientos wrote about a number of quality of life and environmental issues affected by the water line. “Of course,” he wrote, “not all of (the issues) are within the LCRA’s control. However, to fail to recognize that the provision of water by the LCRA is the primary engine of residential development in this area is to ignore reality.”

Board members welcomed the opportunity to provide more planning for the area but warned against any further delay beyond the December date. “My personal observation is that the regional planning effort has stepped up to the bar dramatically,” said Beal, who noted that the planning process had gained a new sense of urgency in recent months. But he also cautioned that further delays could cost the LCRA the opportunity to provide surface water to the region, along with the stricter water-quality controls the agency would mandate. The LCRA, he noted, was not the only possible service provider for the area. “I just hope that with the delay that I am suggesting, that we do not lose the opportunity that we have to put these land use controls in place in trade for LCRA water,” he said. “But that is a possibility. Slowing down increases the risk that other providers will be found who will not support water quality controls and regional planning.”

Walker suggests review of Capital Metro fees

Service for disabled riders could also be changed

Rolling out Capital Metro’s long-range transit system vision may be an ideal time to review the transit authority’s current fee schedule, Chair Lee Walker told the Capital Metro board during a work session on Wednesday.

The topic came up during a discussion of the costs of Capital Metro’s paratransit program. Capital Metro heavily subsidizes transit services for those with mobility impairments, including those who live in cities that withdrew from the transit partnership, as mandated by the Texas Legislature. Each of the four cities— Cedar Park, Pflugerville, Rollingwood and Westlake Hills—play a $30 flat fee per trip, which is far less than the cost of an actual trip. Paratransit riders can pay as little as 30 cents per trip when buying transit services. Capital Metro can provide taxi service, sedan service and fixed route service.

The agency’s paratransit trips have increased and are predicted to hit 570,000 trips this year. Capital Metro staff identified $2 million in added costs, including the service to withdrawn cities, same-day service and no-shows for paratransit service. Possible cost savings could include reducing reservation time and cutting service for door-to-door to curb-to-curb.

Ultimately, the goal is to shift as many passengers as possible to fixed route service.

The financial pro forma is based upon a flat $1 charge for commuter rail service. That means a rail rider could ride from Leander to the Austin Convention Center for $1. The commuter rail fee, plus the new fare box project, might make it an ideal time to talk about just what services cost and what Capital Metro should be charging, Walker said.

Capital Metro begins its six-month community outreach program on long-range transit next week. Open Houses, which are scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30pm, will be at Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs, on Tuesday; the Texas Department of Human Services, 701 West 51st Street, on Wednesday; and ACC Pinnacle Campus, 7748 Highway 290, on Thursday, May 27.

At a Downtown Commission meeting last night, Capital Metro community development officer Sam Archer said the line is at the “vision level” right now. The initial plan for commuter rail service is to use the rail line from Leander to downtown, with service terminating at the Austin Convention Center, although the transit agency is open to pushing the line further, possibly as far as Sabine, if they get positive feedback.

Likely stops will be where Capital Metro currently has property: the Leander Park and Ride, the Northwest Park and Ride (at FM 620 and US 183) and Plaza Saltillo.

The current proposal is to provide the service during peak commuter hours, basically the morning and evening commutes. Archer said Capital Metro wants to hear from the community on the issue of the frequency and hours of service. The commuter rail proposal will be on the November ballot. Without voter approval, commuter rail service would not be a possible.

Today’s meetings . . .The Board of Adjustment /Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The City Council has canceled this week’s meeting and will be back next week. Yesterday afternoon City Hall was quiet—no Council members, no development consultants, no neighborhood advocates hoping to communicate their needs . . . Noise headaches . . . Pursuing variances to the noise ordinance is difficult in the post- SXSW world, the Austin Music Commission’s Teresa Ferguson told the Downtown Commission last night. After the arrest of the band Ozomatli, the city has returned to a complaint-driven ordinance process. It’s now hard to talk about variances when the city is being inconsistent in the enforcement of the ordinance, Ferguson said. Still the Downtown Austin Alliance is reviewing the issue and City Council wants some kind of action to address the SXSW festival next year . . . No Waller Creek Tunnel study yet . . . The Downtown Commission is still waiting for a consultant’s report on the financial viability of Waller Creek. The consultant’s report has yet to make its way to city staff, which must happen before it is delivered to the commission, liaison Michael Knox reported last night . . . Boat race promoters look to the East . . . Plans for the controversial speedboat races that organizers wanted to put on Town Lake have now changed to Decker Lake, the Parks and Recreation Board’s Jeb Boyt told the Downtown Commission. Boyt said he had no objection to the Decker Lake location, noting that they would be adjacent to the future State Highway 130 and provide a favorable location for a possible new amphitheater… Movie night downtown . . . ‘Best of Show’ is tonight’s movie at Republic Square. The spring movie series, “Movies in the Park,” is co-sponsored by th e Austin Parks Foundation and Time Warner Cable. The Planning Commission’s Chris Riley told the Downtown Commission that the movie would be preceded by stupid pet tricks and said the weekly event was drawing plenty of families to the square at 5th and Guadalupe . . . Cool House Tour . . . On Sunday, the Austin Energy Green Building Program and the Texas Solar Energy Society are hosting a tour of 11 Austin homes that have been designed or redesigned to take advantage of renewable energy resources and sustainable design techniques. Tickets may be purchased at either Central Market location. The sponsors are looking for volunteers to assist with the tour, which will be from Noon to 6pm Sunday. Training is tonight or at Noon on Friday. For more information on volunteer opportunities, contact info@txses.org or call Katherine Houser today at 326-3391 or 800-465-5049.

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