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Board seeks to stop vote on water plant today

Thursday, February 17, 2005 by

Panel worried about Balcones Canyonlands Preserve

The Environmental Board is requesting that the City Council postpone action today on a request from the water utility to authorize spending $6.5 million for preliminary engineering design services for the Travis Water Treatment Plant #4 (TWTP). The proposed facility would be built on part of a 240-acre tract of land located next to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. The Water and Wastewater Commission agreed with the staff’s selection of Carollo Engineers for the job.

Even though plans for the water plant have been around since the mid-1980’s, several members of the Environmental Board said last night was the first they had heard about the project. Chris Lippe, director of the Austin Water Utility, said the land for plant, located just east of the intersection of RM 2222 and FM 620, was purchased in 1984 for $14.7 million and in 1987 voters approved $147 million in bonds to build the plant.

Board members learned of the plant as part of a briefing on the Upper Bull Creek watershed. Much of that concerned the plight of the Jollyville Plateau Salamander and the deterioration of its habitat due to construction sedimentation in the Bull Creek habitat. Information about the TWTP was apparently meant to be an update on an ongoing project, but when it came up, some board members reacted with surprise and outright shock over the plans.

“I am dismayed over learning about this just two weeks before you are ready to start your preliminary design work,” said Vice Chair Karin Ascot to water utility engineer Charlie Mattox. “This is a huge project in the middle of a very sensitive area, and I think we need to look at this very closely.”

Board Chair Mary Ruth Holder said she had heard of the project previously and had requested a report on the plan on more than one occasion. “But I never got one,” she said. “This is our first opportunity to hear about the plan. I feel like I failed by not pressing harder to get the information.”

Bill Bunch with the Save Our Springs Alliance and Skip Cameron, president of the Bull Creek Foundation, both addressed the board. Bunch said the project was a serious threat to the Bull Creek watershed, and there is no information showing that city needs the extra water treatment capacity. Cameron agreed saying the board needed to step back and see if the project is really need.

The TWTP will initially be built to deliver between 50 and 100 million gallons per day, with room to expand to more than twice that capacity, according to Mattox. The plant will draw raw water from Lake Travis through a 2.5-mile, 9-foot-wide underground tunnel, process it, and distribute the treated water through four transmission pipelines to Northwest and West Austin customers.

The site for the plant is a 240-acre tract just north of RM 2222 and east of FM 620. Of the 240 acres, 102 acres will be used for the actual plant facilities, and 138 acres for “ Endangered Species Act mitigation.” Mattox explained that the mitigation land must be used to offset the loss of any habitat destroyed in building the plant under the Habitat Conservation Plan. He said the city has already received all clearances necessary to proceed with the plan.

In his presentation, Mattox showed a number of steps the city has already taken and more that are planned to build the plant with the least disruption to the surrounding area. He said clearing for construction would be halted during the Golden-Cheeked Warbler’s nesting season; buffers would be built to protect all sensitive environmental features, and advanced sedimentation and erosion controls would be put in place during construction.

Board members spent almost two hours questioning staff from the Austin Water Utility and the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department about the water plant, and many still had a long list of questions when Holder pointed out that it was clear more time was needed to study the project.

Board Member Mary Gay Maxwell moved that the Chair write a letter to the City Council, requesting they postpone approving the funds for the design work while the board forms a subcommittee to study the plans for plant, water quality issues, species protection, and the need to improve water capacity. The motion passed with David Anderson abstaining. Subcommittee members include Holder, Maxwell, Timothy Riley, and William Curra.

Activists question CAMPO 2030 plan

A public forum on the CAMPO 2030 plan drew several long-time activists – but no Austin Toll Party members – to the Carver Library last night.

Two television news crews, a radio station and a Spanish-language newspaper all showed up to cover the event that turned into a dialogue between a dozen residents and staff from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. The CAMPO 2030 plan will be scheduled for a public hearing in March, with possible approval in April or May.

The project includes the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s toll road plan, as well as an interregional passenger rail system between San Antonio and Austin. Other highlights of the plan included 971 additional lane miles of freeways and parkways; 3,948 additional lane miles of arterial roadway capacity; and approximately $262 million in stand-alone bicycle and pedestrian projects. CAMPO also is proposing studies of 11 critical corridors throughout the region.

Audience members included activists Ora Houston, Patrick Goetz, Girard Kinney, Roger Baker and Bo McCarver. So it was no surprise that the main question posed to CAMPO staff was why so little of the $21 billion the agency will spend over the next 25 years will go to mass transit and bicycle-pedestrian projects.

Only one- fifth of the money will go to projects other than road building. Houston said it was hard to believe, in the year 2030, Austin would still be relying almost solely on roads. The 25-year plan devotes $13 billion to building new infrastructure. Another $9 billion is estimated for the maintenance and operation of existing roadways.

“We don’t see a major shift in a lot of the funding of transit projects,” Executive Director Michael Aulick agreed. “We do see more rapid bus lines, the commuter rail line and toll roads. I’ve been at CAMPO since 1992, and I can say we’re moving closer to what we’ve been trying to do for a long time now.”

McCarver and Kinney had questions about the status of the I-35 project. Neighbors, especially around the Mueller project, spent a number of years working on a major investment study for the freeway. Under the original MIS, the plan was to depress the interstate to push the noise “below grade,” elevate an HOV lane and then reconnect many of the east-west arterials through the area, Kinney said.

TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh, who stopped by the meeting, said TxDOT will most likely upgrade the freeway plan, turning the one-way “unidirectional” high-occupancy vehicle lane – into downtown in the morning and out of downtown in the afternoon – into two managed lanes, with one lane in each direction. Daigh said the work of the community on the future configuration of I-35 would not be discarded.

“I don’t think of the work as being scrapped,” Daigh said. “We’re going to build upon all the excellent work today, and look forward to what we need to do for the future… We’re going to take all those comments and all those concerns and move forward.”

The CAMPO 2030 plan has estimated the price of the project at $183 million. Aulick warned that the number is not based on the actual parameters of the future project; instead it’s an estimate based on the lane miles to be addressed. Daigh had no timeline on the Interstate 35 project. Aulick pointed out that it was likely the I-35 project would be addressed later in the CAMPO 2030 plan, once alternate routes such as State Highway 130 and US 183-A are completed, as well as the addition of managed lanes on Loop 1.

Notes from the campaign trail:

Business group announces endorsements

The City Council endorsement dance continues and three candidates far outstrip their opponents in the battle for support. Yesterday, the Building Owners & Managers Association of Austin announced that they too were endorsing Lee Leffingwell, Gregg Knaupe and Betty Dunkerley. This association represents professional real estate management companies and is probably the most conservative of the groups which have announced their choices so far.

Not that any of the candidates in any of the three Council races would be called conservative outside of Austin. Leffingwell has also won the support of the Central Labor Council and the Small Business Group in his quest to succeed Council Member Daryl Slusher in Place 1. Dunkerley, one of the most popular incumbents, also has support from labor and the Small Business Group.

In Fact Daily will not be surprised by Central Labor Council endorsements, which the group plans to announce at a news conference at City Hall this afternoon. They have also decided to endorse Knaupe in the crowded contest for Place 3.

Place 3 candidate Jennifer Kim, who garnered support from the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters, is holding her official campaign kick-off tonight from 5:30 to 7:30pm at El Sol y La Luna, 1224 S. Congress.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

. . . Ted Siff, who has worked for a number of public interest groups over the years, has announced that he will be leaving the Austin Parks Foundation this week. Siff, a tireless worker on behalf of parks and public land, has accepted a job as chief operating officer of the Texas School Administrators’ Legal Digest. Those interested in applying for Siff’s old job, executive director of APF, may contact the organization at . . . Today’s Council meeting . . . The Council may have to decide whether to approve a new billboard ordinance. They may also have an opportunity to hear myriad groups of disgruntled neighbors from the Bunny Run neighborhood and an equally adamant bunch of supporters from St. Stephens Academy. The question at issue is a zoning change that would allow property currently zoned for offices to be developed as apartments. Area property owners received assurances from St. Stephens that the restrictive covenant they entered into would protect them from such intrusive changes. The Zoning and Platting Commission voted in favor of the change and then was besieged by angry Bunny Run residents. (See In Fact Daily, January 20, 2005.) . . . The 2pm time frame includes briefings on the sustainable yield for the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer and a briefing on the proposed creation of the Winfield Municipal Utility Districts. Finally, several groups of developers will present their proposals for redevelopment of the Seaholm Power Plant on Cesar Chavez . . . Culture and politics . . . Former Kansas legislator Sandy Duncan will share his insights into contemporary politics and “how many Americans have been convinced to vote against their own personal financial interests in the name of loosely defined cultural values.” He will speak at 11:30am Sunday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, 4700 Grover. Duncan is currently a trainer and consultant at the Nonprofit Center in Austin. . . Pay your tickets . . . Austin Police are warning folks who have outstanding warrants for traffic tickets or other city ordinance violations to take care of them soon. Otherwise, they could find themselves being arrested at their home or place of business. APD will hold a news conference Friday morning to talk about a planned warrant round-up soon, which means there is likely to be a rush at Municipal Court and the substations to take care of fines. So save some time (and maybe some jail time too) and pay up now. Call 974-4800 or go to for more information.

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