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Clean air plan wins initial TCEQ approval

Thursday, July 15, 2004 by

Yesterday the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) gave an initial nod to a revised State Implementation Plan (SIP) for the Austin-Round Rock area, as well as for the regions around San Antonio and Tyler. All three areas are considered by the state to be near non-attainment, the government’s term for areas where air pollution is close to a level that triggers federal action.

Final approval of the SIP will not come until December. Yesterday's action by the three-member panel of commissioners put the plan in motion for the public hearing process. During the meeting, Cathy Stephens of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) read a letter into the record from the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition.

In the letter, Mayor Will Wynn, the coalition chair, thanked commissioners and commission staff for their guidance, but expressed continuing disappointment over the exclusion of two progressive measures of the Austin-Round Rock MSA proposal: emissions point-source balancing and commute-emission reductions. Wynn promised continued dialogue on those two measures, with the hope they could be included in the final plan.

Commissioner Larry Soward told Stephens that while the two measures may be off the list they were not off the table. Soward encouraged the Central Texas delegation to find new ways "to at least implement the intent of those other provisions, if not the actual letter of those, down the line." He stressed that a cooperative effort be continued between the TCEQ and the region as the Central Texas SIP goes through the public hearing process.

The federal government gives non-attainment areas far more latitude than near non-attainment areas to enforce clean air measures. Ramon Alvarez, staff scientist with Environmental Defense, called such a strategy counter-intuitive. The Clean Air Act was intended to empower local communities to both choose the measures they consider best for meeting clean air guidelines and add tools to each region's toolbox to maintain compliance, he said.

Alvarez said getting the governmental, environmental and business communities on the same page on measures to avoid non-attainment in Austin was a significant achievement. Combined, the measures had the confidence of the stakeholders and were intended to get the Central Texas region to attainment and keep it there, long term.

After the meeting, Chair Kathleen Hartnett White said the commission's role is to implement federal requirements, as driven by existing law. In a non-attainment area, the law gives the region more latitude on what it can do to achieve compliance. Non-attainment is triggered by what is considered "harmful air" and measures are expected to protect the most vulnerable population. The law gives the region not merely highly protective standards, but mandatory controls that it can implement to bring the region back into compliance.

A non-attainment area can enforce policy that controls point-source pollution, such as a plant, just outside its boundaries. A near non-attainment area cannot. To do so would require the region to force restrictions that are not found in the law, which would likely lead to litigation and court challenges rather than compliance.

The law is not as clear about near non-attainment areas, except for inspection and maintenance of vehicles, White said. This is a place where local policy must take the place of federal law. White said she also encouraged the region to bring forward any legal standards or rulings it thought might make their case for more stringent standards. White said the panel was open to all feedback on the plan that might make it stronger within the bounds of the law.

According to the material presented to commissioners, the intention of the Austin-Round Rock MSA is intended to demonstrate attainment of the 8-hour ozone standard by 2007 and maintain it through at least 2012. Larger measures under the plan include mandatory vehicle emission inspections, restricted heavy diesel idling and vapor recovery controls at all gas stations that dispense at least 25,000 gallons of gasoline per month.

St. Tropez condos denied boat slips once more

The owners of the St. Tropez Condominiums have not given up on the hope that they can put slips for 45 boats along the shoreline of their Lake Austin condominium project.

The argument over the boat slips is interesting, if only because well-known lawyers represent each side. Terry Irion represents the St. Tropez Condominium owners; Jay Hailey represents the neighbors at the Peninsula Condominiums who oppose the proposal.

So far, the decisions have favored Hailey, mainly because the number of slips has been non-negotiable. Each proposal has been a variation of 45 slips, which Irion argued met the standards of 20 percent of the property. One proposal even had a 3-level dock, which provided a smaller footprint but a height that irked neighbors in nearby condos.

Last week, St. Tropez took another swing at the dock issue at a lunchtime meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board's Navigation Subcommittee. Nothing much in the plan has changed: the St. Tropez owners still want 45 slips. The homeowners continue to oppose it. Members of the subcommittee, headed by board member Clint Small, asked St. Tropez to consider a number that was no more than 20 percent of the shoreline density, about 18 slips.

Safety was raised as one issue. The inlet where the slips would be located bottlenecks before it hits open water, a situation opponents considered a serious problem, especially if multiple boats are trying to get out on the lake.

Acting Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald mediated the meeting. He said the subcommittee needed to consider that the interests of all users of the lake, and not just the neighboring condominium owners, needed to be considered in the discussion.

Board member Jeff Francell said it was his impression that most users of the lake would like to see fewer, not more, boats on Lake Austin. The subcommittee took no vote at the meeting.

After the meeting, planner Randy Scott said the consistent policy of the Navigation Committee has been to approve single-lot boat docks or, at the most, two boat docks per single lot. The St. Tropez condominiums are located on what is considered one lot.

Other condominium projects in the area, which sit alongside Westlake Drive, do have docks. The Orleans Harbor Condominiums can moor boats in wet storage. The Peninsula Condominiums have a dock for each of the 15 units. There is no word yet on whether those seeking the boat slips have decided to lower their expectations.

More on Loop 360 . . . Rep. Todd Baxter, who adamantly opposed the toll road plan approved Monday by CAMPO, called In Fact Daily to point out an error in Tuesday’s story. Loop 360 is definitely in the plan as a future toll road, Baxter said, but it is not in the 2025 Transportation Improvement Plan. “What that means,” said Baxter, “is that there will be follow up public hearings by the Central Texas RMA. Instead of asking the question, ‘Do you want toll roads,’ those attending the hearing will be asked to say how they want the road designed.” It will take a great deal of evidence to convince the RMA not to move ahead with a toll road plan for Loop 360, even though the vast majority of those commenting on the plan oppose it . . . SWAC wants to be heard . . . The city’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission wants to raise its profile with Travis County and the region about solid waste issues. Chair Gerry Acuña made the suggestion last night that the group needed to open the door to communication with the region regarding issues such as the siting for a regional landfill . . . TCEQ announces new Executive Director . . . Members of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) voted unanimously yesterday to appoint Glenn Shankle Executive Director of the agency. Shankle took over as acting Executive Director when Margaret Hoffman resigned in May. He served as deputy executive director for six years prior to Hoffman’s resignation . . . Tonight . . . The RMMA Plan Implementation Committee will meet at 6:30pm at Waller Creek Center. No other city meetings are scheduled for today. The next Council meeting is two weeks from today.

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