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Neighbors fight Hays County rock quarry

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 by

Aquifer district considering how to react to potential threat

Residents of a rural subdivision located across from a proposed gravel plant have filed suit against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), alleging that the agency failed to follow its own rules by blessing a plan for preventing water pollution that would be created by the new facility. NOPE (Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment, Inc.), many of whose members live in the Ruby Ranch subdivision in Hays County, says the water pollution abatement plan for the proposed limestone quarry and rock crushing facility—to be operated by KBDJ, LP—is inadequate to protect their wells from contamination. In addition, they say, the TCEQ-approved plan poses a serious threat to the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. (See I n Fact Daily, May 21,2004, July 20, 2004.)

The Barton Springs section of the aquifer has been recognized as “the most vulnerable to pollution” of the state’s major aquifers, the suit notes. NOPE member Charles Kay told In Fact Daily he and his neighbors filed suit after TCEQ refused to grant a hearing on questions regarding the adequacy of the water pollution abatement plan — known in regulators’ parlance as a WPAP. Kay said the TCEQ has now also given preliminary approval for KBDJ’s air pollution permit. “We are again pursuing a contested case hearing” on that matter, he said.

TCEQ spokesperson Adria Dawidczik said the agency has received 129 requests for a hearing on the air permit, technically a new source review for construction permit, for the rock crusher. TCEQ’s general counsel will decide whether to place the matter on the commission's agenda, she noted. If commissioners agree, the matter would go to a contested case hearing before an administrative law judge. One of those requests was from the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD).

Last week, members of the conservation district’s board of directors expressed concern about KBDJ’s plans for operating the quarry—including detonation of explosives to a depth of 750 feet. According to a lawsuit, "(T)he potential is real for the quarry floor to be occasionally inundated by and to contaminate water in aquifer.” In addition, the lawsuit says that KBDJ plans to fill 15 sensitive recharge features with cement and isolate an additional 53 features, possibly diverting the flow from them permanently.

According to aquifer district geologist Joseph Beery, KBDJ would be allowed to process a maximum of 1,000 tons of limestone per hour and up to 3 million tons per year. It was noted at the meeting that the TCEQ had not consulted with the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. That may be important, because the aquifer is not only the primary source of drinking water for Buda and many rural residents of Hays County, but also provides the habitat for the endangered Barton Springs salamander.

Based on the size of KBDJ’s proposed quarry operation, which will be 50 percent greater than the CenTex quarry operation, Beery said he expects it to use about 300 million gallons of water per year. “We have had a meeting and talked about their water needs,” Beery said. “We recommended they go down to the Trinity” aquifer for water. That water is of lower quality and serves fewer people than the Edwards Aquifer. Beery said during conversations with the TCEQ he had been able to convince the agency that KBDJ should be required to put in a monitor well to determine whether the aquifer is being polluted by construction and operation of the quarry.

BSEACD Director Chuck Murphy asked whether the district has any regulatory authority over the operation. “What options do we have?,” he asked. “Can we sue?” After a short discussion, directors decided that they should seek legal advice during an executive session. Planner Timothy Riley said the district might decide after that to file an amicus brief on behalf of plaintiffs in other lawsuits, or take formal legal steps to oppose the quarry’s plans.

CAMPO board begins work on 2030 road plan

Members of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Transportation Policy Board barely had a chance to catch their breath after the toll road controversy before work began on the group's next major project – the creation of the CAMPO 2030 Plan.

Although the plan rarely receives much attention from the general public, road projects completed by the region fan out from the 25-year master plan that is advanced every five years. For instance, the CAMPO 2025 plan, which was intended to project what road construction would be crucial to the development of the region, cites as needed every project in the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority's toll plan.. While the new report will not be formalized until next April, the initial draft shows that the region has $14 billion in transportation needs, says Senior Planner Stevie Greathouse, who will oversee the vetting of CAMPO 2030.

CAMPO 2030 estimates an additional 1,200 additional lane miles for the region, mostly dedicated to upgrading roads from major arterials to main lane freeways. By the time the plan is complete, for instance, State Highway 71 and US 290 are expected to be main lane freeways that pass through the region, with no stops for traffic lights, CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick said after the meeting. A couple of new projects already proposed to the community are on the books for Round Rock and Georgetown.

The challenge of a long-range transportation plan is to match revenues to expenditures so that the region's reach does not exceed its grasp. Right now, CAMPO can only come up with $8.3 billion in revenue, which means the region is looking at a $5.8 billion gap between what CAMPO's member cities and counties want to do, and the revenue available to do those things. The Transportation Policy Committee is not allowed to approve a plan with a funding gap, so the two sides must balance by April.

At this early stage, changes are still expected to occur in a number of ways. Early revenue estimates do not include Capital Metro's contribution to the kitty. A second draft also will account for adjustments that would come from the proposed toll road system, on both sides of the equation. Once those numbers are adjusted, projects will be whittled down to match the available anticipated revenues.

CAMPO 2030 is an overall framework of general expectations, based on what Greathouse calls "generic estimates" of the cost of desired projects. The real numbers come from the three-year Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) approved by CAMPO. The next TIP – for 2006-08 – is up for discussion on Nov. 8 and for approval on Dec. 13.

Tim Lomax of the Texas Transportation Institute set the stage for the CAMPO 2030 plan last night with a presentation stating that Austin congestion had grown from 2 million hours in 1982 to 22 million hours in 2002. Congestion followed growth, and Austin's growth outpaced most similarly sized cities in the state through the 1990s.

Lomax, who has noted that Austin is the most-congested mid-sized city in the nation, said resolving congestion is a combination of solutions that stretch beyond roads. Those solutions include increasing system efficiency, managing demand and diversifying development patterns. Ultimately, drivers have to accept that some level of congestion is inevitable, regardless of the measures taken.

All successful plans are a combination of these strategies. In Portland – held up as the model of urban smart growth – congestion has grown, but the length of trips has decreased. That means that more cars are on the road, but they are traveling shorter distances to their destination. Lomax said TTI has not conducted an extensive study of the Portland results, but partly attributed road conditions there to the mixed-use retail and residential projects the city encourages.

Expecting a full house . . . Hamilton Pool Road residents in southwest Travis County will go before Travis County Commissioners today in an attempt to block a subdivision request. Landowner Rebecca Hudson is requesting 468 lots of one-acre each, which neighbors argue would not be compatible with the limited development in the area. The matter is set for 10:30am . . . Mayor's Office baffled by Statesman headline . . . On Sunday morning, Mayor Will Wynn was surprised, to say the least, to read the headline, "Mayor Signs on for Tort Reform" on the front page of the daily newspaper. The Mayor made it clear Monday that he definitely did not sign on for the Republican-backed issue. "I've assiduously avoided taking positions on partisan issues as Mayor, because I don't believe that's what I was elected to do,” Wynn said. “Tort reform is a heated issue that takes on partisan overtones. What I signed was a proclamation regarding National Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week. Perhaps what I should have signed is a proclamation calling this week, ‘No Deceptive Headlines in the Statesman Week.’" The confusion came about when a group called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse attached Wynn's proclamation with a similar one signed by Gov. Rick Perry and sent the bundle along with a press release declaring victory on tort reform. As noted in the Statesman story, the Mayor signs about 1,800 such proclamations and congratulatory notes a year . . . DAA to honor those who make a difference . . . The Downtown Austin Alliance is honoring people who have made a positive impact on downtown. Award recipients will be recognized at a luncheon at noon at the Marriott at the Capitol, 701 East 11th Street . . . The Austin Police Department and a number of East Austin ministers will hold a panel discussion on the 9th Floor of the UT Club today at 11:30am. The Mayor is a member of the panel. . . Green Garden Party . . . This is not about the Green Party, but concerns the 4pm ribbon-cutting for Austin’s new demonstration garden at the Howson Library, 2500 Exposition Blvd. The garden will feature plants that thrive in our quirky environment, don’t use much water or require pesticides. Also part of the demonstration: drip irrigation, Dillo Dirt and shade trees . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Historic Preservation Task Force will host a hearing on proposed changes to the ordinance governing both the Historic Landmark Commission and designation of structures as historic—including the important question of tax abatements. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 6pm at the Kirby Hall School Cafetorium, 306 West 29th Street . . . The Planning Commission will also meet at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The commission will consider an amendment to the City Code relating to how many people may live in a duplex, otherwise known as a two-family residential use. Last week the City Council set a hearing on whether to grant an exception to the moratorium on building such duplexes. That hearing was set for November 20 . . . The MBE/WBE Council subcommittee will meet at 6pm at City Hall, Room 304.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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