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Mount Hutto has area residents fuming

Wednesday, February 16, 2005 by

Group has asked TCEQ to reconsider landfill expansion

A group of angry citizens are raising a stink over a plan by Williamson County to expand a landfill just north of the small but rapidly growing town of Hutto. County officials have applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to expand the facility by 373 acres and raise its elevation as high as 140 feet.

A group calling itself the Mount Hutto Aware Citizens (MHAW) is opposing the expansion, saying the landfill is already too big, and that the county needs to find another site for its solid waste. The group has voted to contest the case before the TCEQ, and has filed a Request for Reconsideration, claiming there were errors in the permit application filed by Williamson County and Waste Management, Inc.

A spokesman for the TCEQ said no date had been set for a hearing on the request, which was submitted late last week.

Orlynn Evans, spokesman for the MHAW, said the county appears to be ready to expand the facility despite the group’s opposition. “The county has put the matter in the hands of (Precinct 3 County Commissioner) Frankie Limmer, because the landfill is in his area,” Evans said. “But we have no assurances from him or anyone else that they are going to do something about the problems.“

Limmer says the county’s plans are firm. “We’re going ahead with the expansion and the permitting at this point,” he said. “I wanted to get that permit started so that everybody within so many miles would know about it if they were going to put a subdivision there. That’s saying “Hey, there’s going to be a landfill here. Don’t give me hell about it after the fact.’”

Evans said that’s not necessarily the case. “Certainly the people who have lived out here for a while are aware of the landfill and the problems we have with it,” Evans said. “But what we have discovered is that many of the people who have moved into the area recently have not been told about it. Some of them didn’t know about it until we had a permit hearing here last year.”

The current landfill has grown to more than 65 feet high—thus the name Mount Hutto—and Evans says it is not only an eyesore but also a routine source of foul odors in the area. The site, owned by the county and managed by Waste Management Inc., is supposed to be covered daily by soil, but is often just covered by a tarp, Evans said, a shortcut by the operators that violates their permit.

He said the battle over the landfill is nothing new to residents in the area. “The fight over this landfill has been going on for over 20 years now,” he said. “Originally, back in the 1980s, it was only supposed to be a three-foot mound. But what they did was just keep re-permitting and re-permitting and making it larger. So the citizens of Hutto have been at odds with the county commissioners over this thing for a long time now.”

Evans says his group is also concerned that a change in the permit in October 2003 would allow the site to accept waste from outside of Williamson County, making it a regional landfill. That would increases the traffic of garbage trucks and other vehicles carrying waste through the communities around the landfill, he said.

“What is amazing is that, apparently, Waste Management made that change in the contract, and no one at the county noticed it,” he said. “They just took their word that it was routine and didn’t bother to read it.” He said that in its annual report, Waste Management has stated that it has taken in waste from about eight other counties in the past year.

Limmer said he plans to rectify that mistake. “We’re going to take that wording out of the contract,” he said. “I’m sure Waste Management will agree to some modified working in that regard.”

Evans said he has yet to see any such changes take place in the contract and there is concern that as Travis County begins to shut down its aging landfills in Northeast Austin, that refuse would be shifted to the Hutto site. They are also concerned that raw sewage sludge from a pit near Granger will be dumped there.

Limmer says the expansion is necessary to keep up with growth. “We still have a minimum of 15 years life in the part we are working on now,” Limmer said. “That’s at the current rate of usage. But Georgetown and Round Rock don’t bring their waste to this dump now. If that changes, the useful life of the landfill could only be 8 years. So that’s why I started the expansion. We’ve got to have some place to put it.”

Commissions pondering design standards

The two halves of what used to be whole – the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP) and a Planning Commission subcommittee – both looked at the proposed commercial design standards last night. ZAP members made few comments and appointed a subcommittee. The Planning Commission’s subcommittee began what members anticipated would be a lengthy process to review aspects of the proposed ordinance.

The two commissions were true to their purpose. The Planning Commission, geared to consider the city’s “bigger picture” development guidelines, will consider, weigh, slice and dice the guidelines in light of staff recommendations and comments from the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA). On the other hand, those who deal with city guidelines on a day-to-day basis are more heavily represented on ZAP, and that commission is likely to put the task force recommendations to tougher reality tests.

Planning Commissioner Dave Sullivan led the discussion on the commercial design guidelines in the Codes and Ordinances subcommittee. At the end of the two-hour meeting, Sullivan picked out some rough areas of agreement: The group supported a “menu” approach to the guidelines, with some things mandatory and other things optional. More flexibility for site characteristics was considered a plus. On more minor details, the group supported increases in bicycle parking in proportion to parking increases.

Planner George Adams agreed the menu option was preferable and that the list was still a work in progress. He noted that even those projects in the Central Business District that are considered highly desirable – mixed-use projects with structured parking and reduced setbacks – would have a difficult time getting the points necessary for approval under the current point system proposed by city staff.

The subcommittee rejected the RECA recommendation of an “urban/suburban” approach to design efforts. The group did support the proposed sign guidelines and roadway connectivity to the surrounding right-of-way.

One suggestion that sparked discussion was Sullivan’s proposal that guidelines should be based on future, rather than current, roadway designations. Last week, developer Tom Terkel suggested that it made no sense to suggest pedestrian orientation for roadways that were clearly more rural in nature. Last night, Sullivan said it might make more sense to look at the intentions for roadways.

For instance, Terkel suggested that pedestrian-oriented guidelines for outlying roads such as Camp Ben Cullough made no sense. Sullivan pointed out, however, that the road was slated as a four-lane major arterial under the city’s own plans, pointing to likely development sooner, rather than later.

RECA appeared to have the most problems with development orientation and parking requirements under the list of guidelines, Planner Katie Larsen told the subcommittee. Committee members, however, did not appear ready to back away from the task force recommendations, even when it came to maximum parking.

Council Member Brewster McCracken is hosting an open house on Monday night. The Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances subcommittee will continue to meet. The initial Council presentation on design standards has been pushed back to March 24.

Notes from the campaign trail:

City lawyers doubt new recall strategy's legality

The city’s legal department has raised questions about whether plans by the Austin Toll Party to turn in two different types of recall petitions would pass legal muster, and whether they will be able to make the deadline for the March 7 ballot.

The anti-toll road group’s leader, Sal Costello, announced Monday night that they were dropping Council Members Brewster McCracken and Danny Thomas from their recall efforts and focusing on Mayor Will Wynn (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 14, 2005). Costello said the group has changed its petitions to name only the Mayor, and those signatures collected in the next few days will be combined with earlier petitions. The result, he hopes, will be enough signatures for a recall election on the Mayor, with signatures for the Council members falling short, keeping them off the ballot.

However, Assistant City Attorney Jenny Gilchrist told In Fact Daily Tuesday that although there there's no Texas case law on cumulating ballot votes, there is case law in other states. Based on that, she said, “We don't believe the different petitions can be cumulated to extrapolate part of one of the petitions, because that doesn't accurately reflect the will of the individual voters who signed the petitions.”

Gilchrist said the law gives those who signed the petitions certain rights. “We can't presume that a person who signed the petition to recall all three City Council Members who are on CAMPO would be satisfied to recall only one of those members,” she said. “The actual right to sign a petition and to get access to the ballot belongs to the individual voters. It doesn't belong to the organizer of the petition drive.”

Even with that potential complication, time is running short for the recall effort. According to City Attorney David Smith, the last day that the City Council can add anything to the May 7 ballot is March 7, which is a Monday. The Council has its last regularly scheduled meeting before that date on March 3.

Time running out for recall on May ballot

If and when signatures are presented to City Clerk Shirley Brown, Smith said, she would have 20 days to examine them and determine whether there are enough signatures to force a recall election. After that, any Council Member who is the subject of the recall will have five days to resign. Then, it becomes the duty of the Council to call an election on the issue. So, if a group turns in signatures today, the Clerk would have 20 days to count them, including weekends. The law does not count weekends when prescribing these actions, but from experience it is safe to say that Brown and her staff would work overtime to verify petitions. However, that time frame alone would mean that the Clerk would have until March 8, one day after the final date for putting items on the May ballot.

Petition consultant Linda Curtis has said she would expect Brown to be able to verify toll party signatures within five days because that is how long it took her to determine that the anti-smoking group Onward Austin’s petitions were lacking. However, that group put voter registration numbers alongside signatures, cutting city staff time and effort. Onward Austin has until Tuesday to come up with additional signatures to put the anti-smoking referendum on the ballot. If the Clerk were faced with counting signatures on two separate ballot proposals it would probably retard the process for both.

Onward Austin leader Rodney Ahart said Tuesday,” We’re collecting, collecting, collecting.” Ahart said the Clerk’s office never gave him an exact number of additional signatures needed but Onward Austin is shooting for an additional 2,000 to 5,000. He said the group remains hopeful that the referendum will make it on to the ballot.

In explaining why the Austin Toll Party had decided to target only Wynn, Curtis said, “I’m not in McCracken’s political camp. But he’s doing the right thing and I don’t give a damn why he is doing it. He uses us. We use him.” As for Thomas, Curtis noted that she had gotten to know him during the 1999 campaign. She ran against Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman that year. “He’s not much of a politician, he’s more of a religious man. I think he’s honest. He made a mistake.”

But the Mayor is another case entirely, she said. “I think Will Wynn is a very disingenuous kind of guy.” She then criticized the Mayor for his chief of staff’s response to allegations the recall group made against mayoral staff member Matt Curtis. She also said, “We’d love to stop the recall,” but that Wynn was not interested in talking to anti-toll road activists. Curtis characterized the toll road plan as “the worst Austin bashing since I’ve been here,” and called on Wynn to “represent his constituents. “

Curtis also revealed that those signing the petition seem not to be the kind of people who have paid attention to City Council races in the past. “A lot of people don’t know who the Mayor is . . . and don’t care, so it doesn’t make any difference in terms of the petition,” she said, whether it has one name or three. Curtis said the group had not consulted an attorney before deciding to focus their final days of signature gathering on the Mayor only. However, she said they believe that putting the two different kinds of petitions together is legal. “ Is it legal? Yes, we think it is. Will they challenge us? Yes, we think they will,” Curtis concluded.

I an Davis, executive director of the anti-recall group Citizens for Responsible Community Leadership (CRCL-PAC) offered Tuesday to assist any voters who believe they may have been misled by the Austin Toll Party. Several publications, including In Fact Daily, have noted that petitioners have told members of the public that they should sign the petition in order to reverse the toll road plan, rather than telling them they would be signing a recall petition. Davis said his group is posting a form on its website, so that voters who wish to do so can request that the City Clerk remove their names from the recall petition. So, if the process were going to be speedy, this particular wrinkle would certainly slow it down.

Firefighters pick Dunkerley, Kim, Leffingwell

The three candidates for Austin City Council endorsed by the Austin Firefighters Association PAC offered their thanks for the union's support on Tuesday, as union leaders explained how Council Member Betty Dunkerley and candidates Jennifer Kim and Lee Leffingwell won their backing. The group made its decision after attending a series of candidate forums and sponsoring a forum of its own to review the candidates.

"With Council Member Betty Dunkerley, she's shown her commitment to the firefighters, the community and public safety," said APA President Mike Martinez. "As a retired employee of the city, she is also very well aware of the situations that our retirees face. She's committed to helping us improve the retirement system for all of our city employees, and even take a look at some of the harder issues like retiree health care." The Place 4 incumbent praised firefighters, noting she had worked with them as a city staff member well before being elected to the Council. "Public safety has a high ranking with me. I want our departments to be the best they can be, I want them to be well trained, well equipped, and the best paid in the state, and I've worked hard to do that," she said. The next step, said Dunkerley, would be to “strengthen our pension systems and our retiree health benefits…to see what we can do to make life better for our retirees across this city, particularly our firefighters.”

In the Place 1 race, the union selected former Environmental Board Chair Lee Leffingwell. "I want to thank you on a personal level," Leffingwell said, "because I believe that this endorsement honors my dad, who was an Austin firefighter many years ago. I still have fond memories of visiting him down at the old Central Fire Station, sliding down the pole and all those things."

Union leaders said their most difficult choice came in the Place 3 race, which is also the most crowded. "During our forum, it was evident that Jennifer Kim had thoroughly educated herself on the firefighter issues we feel are important," said firefighter Delia Garza, a member of the PAC's Board of Directors. "She had the best responses to our questionnaire, and she was able to follow up those responses with engaged discussion on each of the topics addressed. These included protecting firefighters from work-related injuries, the search for a new fire chief, and complying with national safety standards. In replacing Jackie Goodman, we believe she will maintain the long-held tradition of women being represented on the Austin City Council."

The criteria outlined by Garza for the union's support are some of the long-standing priorities of the firefighters. The union has supported strict adherence to a standard set by the National Fire Protection Association (, which calls for four on-duty fire personnel for each engine and truck company (See In Fact Daily, August 8th, 2003).

With the recent retirement of Chief Gary Warren, the union is also looking for a role in selecting his permanent successor. While City Manager Toby Futrell has not publicly outlined her timetable or process for selecting a new Chief, she has promoted former Assistant Chief Jim Evans to the position of Acting Fire Chief. "We want to be in the selection process of a new fire chief," said union leader Martinez. "It's been said that it could take six months to a year. I think our feelings are that a year might seem a little long, but obviously we don't know the entire process that's going to be laid out. But we certainly are looking forward to the opportunity to bring someone in that has a fresh perspective and different outlook,” he said, “and maybe come in with some new ideas and move this fire department up to the next level where we think we should be.”

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

CAMPO public forums . . . CAMPO will hold a public forum tonight from 6-8pm at the Carver Branch Library, 1161 Angelina St. The purpose of the forum is to hear from citizens about the draft Mobility 2030 Transportation Plan. There will be another forum at the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce on February 22 . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Downtown Commission will meet at 5:30pm in Room 1101 of City Hall. The agenda includes discussion and possible recommendation on both the Transit Oriented Development ordinance and proposals for developing Block 21. The Council heard presentations from three groups vying to purchase and develop the block directly north of City Hall last week . . . The Environmental Board will meet at 6pm in the City Council Chambers. They will hear a report on development in the headwaters of Bull Creek and also on the proposed design standards . . . ECT implementation . . . Mayor Will Wynn told members of the Mayors Alliance yesterday that he hopes the proposed E nvision Central Texas bond committee will include one ex-officio member from each of the five counties’ Commissioner’s Courts. Wynn spoke to the group about the need for regional implementation of ECT and received a positive response from those attending, including mayors from Round Rock, Pflugerville, Georgetown and Buda . . . Russians visit City Hall . . . A delegation of Russian journalists got an opportunity to tour the new City Hall Tuesday and talk to city officials about democracy, Austin-style . . . Atkins new parks director for Round Rock . . . Rick Atkins has been named director of Round Rock’s Parks and Recreation Department. Atkins has served 10 years in the department, most recently as assistant director. He beat out 79 other candidates for the position and will succeed Sharon Prete, who will retire next month.

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