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Wastewater station threatens Town Lake Park schedule

Thursday, January 13, 2005 by

Construction of a temporary wastewater main and tunnel sections planned to relieve the Barton Creek Lift Station may delay work on the new Town Lake Park (TLP), much to the consternation of some park supporters.

, division manager for planning, design and construction in the Parks and Recreation Department, estimated that the new lift station could delay work on the park for four to six months. He told In Fact Daily on Wednesday that both the park and the wastewater facility are high priority projects, but replacing the lift station is critical because it’s in poor condition.

When the City Council held a public hearing on the matter last summer, Chris Lippe, director of the Water and Wastewater Utility, explained that the new main was “a critical project” to replace the aging station. At that time the station had already experienced major overflows and was so corroded that the city was forced to remove parking from the area to avoid collapse. He assured the Council that they would have other opportunities to review the project “as the design comes forward or as the bids for the construction come forward. No one—including Town Lake boosters—spoke up on problems the wastewater main might cause park designers and the Council approved it unanimously. At the time, they had no reason to worry.

Strong said that his department was informed about the wastewater project last summer but did not see design plans until December. At that time the utility had requested easements on two sites, one on the north side and one on the south side of Riverside Drive near Dawson Road, for a tunnel that will be 60 feet underground and associated buildings. However, the site closer to Town Lake was not suitable, he said, “because the closer you are to the current bed of the lake, “the less stable the soil. The utility chose the site now interfering with park development in part because of the need for hard soils or rock, he said.

According to an email from Gopal Guhthikonda, division manager for wastewater collection systems, to Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, “We have evaluated alternatives for the proposed temporary lift station that will be located in the Town Lake Park. We have to deal with many constraints. To name a few, geological, railroad, flood plain, groundwater, and other.”

Goodman replied, "This is a pretty significant, long time park plan, and it can’t be that they didn’t know what they were plopping down in the middle of."

Stakeholders knew about the need to replace the lift station but neither they nor the Parks Department staff realized until last month what that might mean for park development.

Activist Jeff Jack explained, “The (TLP) stakeholder group did not know about this until about three weeks ago. We were informed that the wastewater department was,” moving forward with taking bids on the project, he said, but had not discussed its impact on the park with the TLP landscape manager “until very recently.” Jack and Strong both said that installation of the wastewater station would require redesign of a drainage pond for the park.

Strong said when the wastewater project is completed it would cover a 9,000-square-foot fenced area. Within that area will be a concrete pad with a manhole cover for access to the tunnel, as well as an 8-foot by 10-foot building to house the pumping apparatus and a smaller corrosion control building. Guhthikonda said that in addition to the pump building, the utility would need to install a zip crane in order to deal with any pumps that need repair. Finally, there will be a grass-crete driveway so that utility employees can check the station on a daily basis.

Brigid Shea, a consultant on the city’s massive Austin Clean Water Project, said “It’s a tunnel with an underground lift station. People won’t see it and it’s going to be removed in 2010 at the latest.”

Jack wrote an email to Shea last month asking the Water and Wastewater Utility to make what amount to financial reparations for the park. Jack asked that utility cover any redesign costs as well as additional construction costs related to those changes. Jack, who is an architect, also asked for a commitment from the utility to cover maintenance in the area, rather than asking the Parks and Recreation Department to do so.

Town Lake Park stakeholders Larry Akers and Kay Trybus spent Wednesday afternoon talking to Council members and their aides about the delay that putting the wastewater facility in its planned location would cause. Akers pointed out that park development had already been delayed due to budget constraints. He said, “We were promised it would go out for bid in February ’05 and be done in September ’06.” He asked why stakeholders did not find out about the problem until a day after the utility had sent out bid packages. In addition, Akers said he and other stakeholders have asked the utility to consider putting the new facility west of the park, on Lee Barton Drive or on private property. Guhthikonda said last night that he would be investigating that possibility in the next few days and would report to Akers and Jack at a meeting on Tuesday. City Manager Toby Futrell also told Akers and Trybus that they should be considering what financial assistance the city’s economic development funds might provide to improve the park or ensure its timely completion.

Jail crowding a worry for urban counties

Texas’ major population center will face a serious crisis if the state’s prisons reach capacity, the state’s coalition of urban counties will warn lawmakers this session.

The Conference of Urban Counties (CUC), which focuses on the issues of the state’s largest counties, met yesterday at a legislative luncheon to review this session’s priorities. Along with indigent health care and transportation funding, CUC also wants to raise awareness of an impending report by the Legislative Budget Board on prison overcrowding.

Executive Director Don Lee of the CUC told member counties that the LBB is expected to project that the state’s prisons will reach capacity sometime this spring, rather than the anticipated October 2005 date. At a time when state lawmakers must take up emergency issues such as funding for Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services and public education, Lee said lawmakers also need to be aware of the impending capacity issues in state jails.

“You need to talk to your lawmakers about addressing the prison overcrowding situation,” Lee told the counties represented at the luncheon. “We need to act proactively as soon as possible and not go back to the situation we had 15 years ago.”

Prison overcrowding is an issue to the counties because too few state beds mean that inmates are going to be spending more time in county jails. State law has limited that time to 45 days. As state prison beds fill, it’s likely many urban counties will see inmates spend time closer to the 45 days and sometimes beyond those 45 days.

For Travis County, which has been warned about overcrowding by the state Jail Standards Commission, the prison issue could have a real impact on the local jail.

Another related hot-button issue for urban counties is the cutting of mental health funding. Representatives of a number of urban counties expressed concern that cuts to mental health care funding were leading to jail overcrowding. Compounding the problem for local governments is that fact that that once an inmate is in jail, the county is often cut off from reimbursable mental health care services.

The burden of health care on urban hospital districts is another issue the CUC will present during the session. Lee said the need is real but complete consensus on particular bills may be difficult because urban counties are in so many different situations. Lee has proposed the group settle on a possible regional or statewide trauma care authority in order for counties to leverage more funding for trauma care.

Lee also reviewed a number of issues that other related associations have raised as important for the 79th Legislature. Those issues, among others, included requiring businesses to pay for utility relocations, clarifying decisions on the use of inmate labor and giving more contract control to mental health authorities. The CUC reviewed more than 70 items being considered.

West Austin group fights for dilapidated historic house

Members of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association (OWANA) have two more weeks to come up with information to convince the Planning Commission that a dilapidated, 110-year-old house at 609 West Lynn St. can be preserved. The owner and prospective buyer of the property are requesting a demolition permit, citing the unsafe condition of the house, but OWANA and the Historic Landmark Commission are supporting historic zoning for the structure, which would prevent it from being torn down.

"The house was built around 1893," Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the Planning Commission this week. "It was associated with Timothy Brown, who was the principal of the West Austin (now the Pease) School. His wife, Mary Brown, was the founder of Kirby Hall Dormitory on the UT Campus, now the Kirby Hall School." Although the house was once an ornate example of Queen Anne architecture and the Brown family lived there for 20 years, Sadowsky noted the structure is in serious disrepair. "The house has serious structural problems. It's in a severely deteriorated shape," he said. While it was the staff recommendation to support the historic zoning request for the Brown-Ledel-Silverman House initiated by the HLC, Sadowsky noted, that came with a warning that "the house is in very bad shape, and the potential for preservation may be very, very limited."

Henry Goodwin, who is in the process of purchasing the lot, told commissioners the home was literally crumbling under his feet. "I myself have fallen through the second story twice and am not going back in there myself, due to the fact that it is very dangerous. There's so much termite damage in the interior walls…there's so much water damage to the house. The roof has leaked for maybe 30 years. Most of the structure that holds up the roof and the support system that holds up the walls has got to a point beyond rotting. It's to the point where I can take my finger and literally peel away at the interior boards. If you were to remove a board, it wouldn't even hold its structural integrity, it' so filled with water and so far past the point of return."

Goodwin said he had worked closely with the current owner of the house, who was seriously ill and had several other problems which prevented him from performing the appropriate maintenance on the structure. "Currently, there are tenants in the building. They are sometimes paying rent and sometimes not. The property is in such condition that they have been showering outside," he said. "They are showering amongst the bamboo." Consultant Sarah Crocker, who represented Goodwin, presented reports from structural engineers who had toured the site and concluded that restoration was not viable.

"We've been told by a lot of specialists what I can and can't do. I've been told that it's past the point of fixing no matter how much money I throw at it," said Goodwin, who added that he was committed to closing on the property next week. "I've got so much front end expense invested that it's past the point of no return."

While the current property owner and Goodwin are opposing the historic designation, OWANA is supporting the proposal to designate the structure as a landmark. "It's pretty clear that it meets enough criteria for historic zoning," said Steve Colburn, chair of the OWANA zoning committee. "It has a very, very special place in the hearts of the neighbors and the neighborhood." OWANA members have collected hundreds of dollars to pay for their own engineering study of the house, which should be done within the next week. "From OWANA's perspective, it is a significant property, and one that is essentially a gateway to the neighborhood," said Colburn. "We have seen ourselves houses that have been claimed to be beyond repair and people buy them and fix them up."

The commission voted 5-2 to delay a decision on the historic zoning until its January 25 meeting at the new City Hall. That would allow them the opportunity to review the neighborhood-commissioned report while still making a recommendation to the City Council by the Council's Jan. 27 meeting.

Commissioners Cid Galindo and Matthew Moore opposed the delay. "We've been presented with overwhelming evidence this evening that, as much as we would like to preserve this structure, there's no hope that would ever happen," said Galindo. Moore noted that while he personally would like to see the home saved, that would not happen even if it were zoned historic. "I'm of the opinion if somebody was willing to do it, it could be saved…but who's that going to be?" The price tag for such a restoration, he said, would be beyond the scope of even a well-organized neighborhood association such as OWANA. "It's taken them over three months just to get an engineering report. The concept of raising money to actually restore a house is non-existent. It's not going to happen." Goodwin estimated the restoration cost at about $2 million.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved Firefighters announce endorsements . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley and candidate Lee Leffingwell are on a roll. Yesterday, the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters endorsed both for election in next spring's City Council races. On Monday, both the Austin Police Association and the EMS employees association endorsed incumbent Dunkerley and frontrunner Leffingwell. Leffingwell's father was an Austin firefighter and AAPF President Mike Martinez said, "I know that firefighters will be able to count on Lee to deliver the tools we need to keep the community safe." In announcing their support for Dunkerley, Martinez said, "Betty knows what it takes to keep this community safe and she has delivered for public safety time after time. We're behind her candidacy 100 percent." . . . Big day at City Hall . . . Today's first ever Council meeting at the new City Hall will begin with a multi-denominational blessing at 9:55am. At 5pm, business will stop so the Council can ensconce various objects into a time capsule to be buried for 100 years. Here are a few objects that various Council Members plan to bury in the capsule: Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman is contributing the final issue of In Fact Daily for 2004 and a baseball cap labeled South Austin. Council Member Daryl Slusher planned to put in a copy of the Austin Tomorrow Plan and his famous list known as The Top Ten Ways to Spot a City Hall Boondoggle. Council Member Brewster McCracken plans to put in various film related objects, including at least one poster, perhaps of his favorite show," Dazed and Confused." Council Member Danny Thomas will include a scrapbook of his public service and his wife's recipe for pound cake. At 5:30pm, Grammy Award winner Ray Benson will perform. Proclamations will follow and sometime after 6pm, there will be two public hearings. The first authorizes conveyance of 0.117 acres of parkland for right-of-way for U.S. Highway 183. In exchange the city will get an easement across Little Walnut Creek. Finally, the Council will hear a proposal to change the city's billboard regulations . . . . Musicians' loading zones . . . The Council will also take up a proposal to create special loading and unloading zones in the Warehouse District for musicians. The city already has a policy allowing clubs on 6th Street to provide temporary parking placards to musicians to allow them to load and unload their equipment. Council Member Brewster McCracken is co-sponsoring a measure to extend that program to a section of West 4th, 5th, and 6th Streets. "Musicians were telling us they were losing their entire night's salary on parking tickets," McCracken said. . . . A nother City Hall first . . . The Mayor and several members of the City Council held the first-ever proclamation on the south steps of the new City Hall on Wednesday to honor James Farmer, the civil-rights leader who once lived in Austin. "James Farmer was ahead of his time," said Council Member Danny Thomas. "We still need to work together and reach those goals and dreams that he had…we need to still realize we have a long way to go." The ceremony included remarks from Austin resident Detine Bowers, who studied and worked with Farmer, plus music by the Greater Calvary School Singers lead by the Rev. Sterling Lands.. . . Tonight's entertainment . . . Beginning tonight at the Zach Scott Theatre is the new play, " Blown Sideways Through Life." This show features the hilarious employment history of a woman who performed duties as varied and bizarre as whorehouse receptionist, Wall Street proofreader and Italian B-movie star. For more information call 476-0541

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