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Water utility reconsiders options for plant

Monday, April 4, 2005 by

Lippe says preliminary study will look at alternatives, mitigation

The city Water Utility—under pressure from the city’s Environmental Board to find possible alternatives—is proposing major changes in its plan to build the Travis Water Treatment Plant #4. Water Utility Director Chris Lippe put forth the proposal last Thursday to a subcommittee of the Environmental Board charged with studying options to the controversial plant, planned during the 1970s for a spot near Lake Travis in the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Preserve (BCCP).

Voters approved borrowing funds to build the plant in a 1984 bond election. The land for the plant—240-acres north of RM 2222 and River Place Blvd.—was purchased for $20.6 million before the BCCP was created.

At the request of the Environmental Board, the City Council postponed approving a $6.5 million contract amendment on February 17 for Carollo Engineers to do a preliminary engineering study on the site. The board named a subcommittee to look into a number of questions about the project and possible alternatives to building in a sensitive wildlife habitat.

Lippe told the panel, headed by Environmental Board Chair Mary Ruth Holder, that AWU was proposing to change the scope of the preliminary engineering phase of the project to investigate alternative sites, understand mitigation requirements and allow time for a study to investigate water conservation options. “We plan to break the preliminary engineering into two phases,” he said. “First: a four- to five-month period to study alternatives, mitigation, and begin looking at the environmental impact. Then, during the second phase, we’ll complete the environmental study and do a preliminary engineering design.”

Lippe said the project needs to go ahead with some funding to begin doing the preliminary work, and proposed a timeline to get the project back on track. After Thursday’s meeting, the subcommittee will look at the proposal on Thursday, and then the full environmental board will consider it on April 20, before it goes to City Council on April 28.

Holder said she welcomed AWU’s willingness to address the Board’s concerns, but still had several pointed questions about the proposal. “I don’t want the results of this to dictate that this is the only possible site,” she said. “I’m concerned that the study will come back and say that there are no other sites that we can afford.”

Lippe said the scope for Phase 2 of the preliminary study would not begin until findings from Phase 1 and demand management options are presented to the City Council.

Current plans are to build the initial treatment plant to produce 50 million gallons of water per day (MGD), with the ability to expand output capacity up to 300 MGD at a later date. The intake system, which will be an 80-foot-deep, 2.5-mile tunnel from Lake Travis to the plant site, will be designed to handle 300 MGD at the outset, because of the expense involved in expanding it at a later date.

According to Lippe, AWU would go back and reanalyze criteria for the size of the plant. “We will be looking at security needs, buffer zones, future regulatory requirements and mitigation issues, “ he said. “We will also study the criteria for the plant’s elevation. It’s currently planned for about 1000 feet to take best advantage of gravity to distribute the treated water.”

He said they would also identify and screen alternative sites based on factors such as the impact on the BCCP, other sensitive environmental features, accessibility, availability of power, relationship to the water distribution system and economy of operation.

Notes from the campaign trail

Tejano Democrats reject smoking ordinance

The smoking ban on Austin’s May 7 ballot topped the agenda of the two Tejano Democratic clubs—the South Austin Tejano Democrats and the Austin Tejano Democrats—at their meeting Wednesday night at the Little Mexico Restaurant. Candidates seeking endorsement all faced questions from Lori C. Renteria about their position on the smoking ban, and the group heard from former Mayor Gus Garcia and Beerland owner Randall Stockton, offering different sides of the controversial issue.

Garcia, who championed a stringent smoking ordinance during his final months as Mayor, urged people to support the proposal. "When I left the Council, the Council that came in rescinded that ordinance," he said. He said the proposal on the ballot would restore those restrictions, which were never put into effect after an outcry from bar and nightclub owners. "I don't think it's an issue of rights…it's an issue of health," he said. "It's been proven that second-hand smoke is dangerous to people's health. The science is clear." Claims by those businesses that the loss of income from smokers would be critical, Garcia said, were similar to those claims made by business groups whenever the city tried to tighten other regulations. He cited the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance and the Save Our Springs Ordinance as cases in which business groups had predicted dire consequences, but those predictions had not come true.

Arguing against the smoking ban, bar owner Randall Stockton said it would inevitably affect his bottom line. "Eighty-seven percent of my clientele smoke," he said. "Ninety percent of the bands include smokers. I'm not sure who these people are that the ban is supposed to be protecting." Stockton said "smoke-free" nights at his club had been poorly attended. "All I'm asking for is the ability to do what my customers want." He also raised the specter of a protracted legal challenge against the ordinance lead by some of the 211 businesses where smoking is currently allowed.

After the debate, the group voted to take a position against the proposition. But that didn't stop them from endorsing two candidates for City Council who said they would be in favor of the smoking ban. The group's endorsements went to Lee Leffingwell in Place 1, Mandy Dealey in Place 3, and Council Member Betty Dunkerley in Place 4.

"I've had the opportunity to vote on this thing twice," said Dunkerley. "I'm not going to get out and lobby for either side, but personally, my brother died of lung cancer…so I'm going to be in favor of the ban." Dunkerley's opponent, Wes Benedict, has made his opposition to the ban a major part of his campaign. The former Libertarian Party of Texas Executive Director got a laugh from the crowd when he originally appeared to endorse the idea on the grounds that it would protect people's health. "I'm concerned that live music is damaging the hearing of everyone in Austin, including the employees…and we all know the effects of alcohol. So I think we need to ban smoking, music, and everything," he said. "I'm joking. I'm against the ban. I realize smoking shortens lives. But I think people should have the ability to make those decisions on their own."

In the Place 3 race, Mandy Dealey took a strong stand in favor of the proposed smoking ordinance. "I see this as a real public health issue, not as a private business issue," she said, "and for the public health, I am in favor of the ban." Margot Clarke, making her second run for Austin City Council, told the crowd the issue would not even be on the table if she had won her previous race against Council Member Brewster McCracken. "If I had been elected, the original smoking ordinance as passed by Gus Garcia would not have been altered, and we wouldn't be going through this again," she said. McCracken opposed the Garcia ordinance during his 2003 campaign against Clarke, and joined Mayor Will Wynn in voting to postpone implementation of the rule, which was eventually modified to the regulation currently in place (see In Fact Daily, July 18th, 2003). Given her previous stance on a smoking ban, Clarke said, "I will be voting for it."

Candidate Gregg Knaupe said he didn't like the proposal on the table, since changing the rules so soon after the previous ordinance was adopted would be tough on bar and nightclub owners. "As a City Council Member, I will support what the voters do. At the same time, I am concerned about over-regulating small businesses," he said. Jennifer Kim also expressed concern for small businesses, but said that should be balanced with a concern for their employees. "I personally will vote for it," she said, "but it's not a position that I'm taking for the public. It's really out of our hands right now, so my personal vote…I don't want that to sway anyone."

Place 1 Candidate Lee Leffingwell held fast to his commitment to remain neutral on the proposition. "I've said consistently every time I've been asked that question that I'm not taking a position either for or against the citizens' referendum. I am on the same ballot, and I feel it would be improper for me to take a position, just as it would be improper for me to publicly support one of the candidates in Place 3 or Place 4."

Members of the audience also asked the candidates for their thoughts on the recent controversy surrounding the Midtown Live nightclub. Two candidates directly tackled the question of a forgivable loan for the club's owners, a subject which has generated a flood of e-mail to the current occupants of City Hall. Council Member Betty Dunkerley defended City Manager Toby Futrell for bringing the item forward for consideration. "I think when she responded, she responded from the heart. She knew that this was an important venue, and that was her response." But Dunkerley also declared that she would not support giving the club money to rebuild and expand, especially since much of the money would come from the city's ending fund balance. "I don't support a loan of $750,000 that is forgivable. I met with the NAACP and told them that. I think we have a broader issue here," she said. "Let's look at the context in the community as a whole and see what we need to do."

Kim said the Midtown Live incident could have some unexpected repercussions on the city's economic development efforts. "This is our national reputation," she said, describing a scenario in which the publicity about the remarks made by some police department employees during the fire could influence the decision of corporate CEOs to locate here. "This hurts our economy." But the plan for a forgivable loan, Kim concluded, would not be one she would support. "I think we need to look at all solutions and all different types of funding, but I oppose using general tax revenue…general revenue funds for that."

The recipient of the group's endorsement in Place 3, Mandy Dealey, did not specify whether she would be in favor of loaning the club owners money through a city program. She did, however, reiterate her call for a more forceful apology from the Austin Police Department. "I think that the loan is missing the point. What nobody has said is that there is racism in Austin and in the Police Department. I have been absolutely outraged that nobody has accepted responsibility, and furthermore nobody has bothered to say 'I'm sorry'. I think it's important to look at what the real issues here are," she said, "and try to deal with those…and not distract by doing something else." She later told In Fact Daily that she opposed the loan. South Austin Tejano Democrats endorsed Dealey, but the Austin Tejano Democrats did not make an endorsement in Place 3 because none of the candidates received two-thirds of the vote.

In Fact Daily contacted some of those candidates who did not answer the question earlier. Futrell announced Friday that she was shelving the item permanently. However, that may not stop supporters of the nightclub from asking the City Council to place the item on a near-term agenda. Place 4 candidate Wes Benedict said, “No. For consistency, I am against handouts to any business large or small. However, I can't blame Midtown Live for asking, since the City Council so generously gives away taxpayer funds and tax abatements, as they just did for Freescale.“ Benedict is running against Dunkerley.

Place 1 candidate Lee Leffingwell sent the following email response, “While I am very troubled by the incredibly inappropriate remarks made by some officers at the scene on the night of the fire at the Midtown Live, these remarks, to the best of my knowledge, in no way indicate culpability of the part of the city for the fire itself. Accordingly, I don’t think the proposal to give the owners of Midtown Live a $750,000 forgivable loan from the General Fund to rebuild the club is justified. I do recognize that there exists a critical lack of social/entertainment venues in East Austin which has a direct impact of the quality of life for our African-American community, and I do believe that it is important for the City to be of assistance in some practical way as we work to solve that problem. I am aware that the City Manager will be gathering community input over the next few months and intends to report back to the Council at the end of May with her findings and perhaps a revised proposal. I am open to any new facts or innovative ideas that may be presented then, but as of now, based on the facts as I know them, and the proposal as I understand it, I am opposed to it.”

One of his opponents, Casey Walker, said, “No. I came out vehemently against what the officers did…but I do not believe the current proposal is a viable solution to that problem.”

On Saturday, the Central Austin Democrats endorsed Clarke in Pace 3, after a runoff with Gregg Knaupe. The UT Democrats endorsed Dealey. Both groups also endorsed Leffingwell in Place 1 and Dunkerley in Place 4. The two groups act together as the Austin Progressive Coalition when they reach agreement on endorsements.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Today’s events . . . Solar Austin, Texas Impact and Austin Interreligious Ministries will hold a City Council candidate Clean Energy Forum tonight from 6:30 to 8:30pm at the University Presbyterian Church, 2203 San Antonio St. . . . The Music Commission will meet at 6pm in Room 1101 of City Hall. They will discuss soundproofing for downtown hotels and residences, among other things . . . . Mandy Dealey fundraiser . . . Dealey is having two fundraisers this week. Tonight’s event is from 5:30 – 7:30pm at the home of Deborah Green, 1601 Niles Rd. Tuesday night, business folks such as Jay Hailey, Steve Clark and Eddie Safady are hosting an event at the Headliner’s Club from 5:30-7:30pm . . . Vliet selected health CEO . . . The city’s Community Care Services Department has named David B. Vliet Acting Department Director/Chief Executive Officer. Vliet, who has served as the department’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) since July of 2002, takes over from Patricia Young, who became the Travis County Hospital District’s CEO on April 1 . . . Heritage Society awards . . . The 50-year old Heritage Society of Austin, the city’s largest preservation group, has announced awards it will be handing out on April 20. Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Betty Baker, who does heritage marketing at the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, won the Sue and Frank McBee Visionary Award and Professor Emeritus Eugene George, FAIA, will receive the D.B Alexander Lifetime Achievement Award. The awards for individual preservation of properties will go to those who restored the following historic buildings: Goodall-Wooten House, 1900 Rio Grande St.; Mary Perry Taylor House, 608 Baylor St.; the Allen-Von Boeckmann Building, 811 Congress Avenue; Kuehne-Moore House, 2303 Rio Grande St.; Robert Leon White House, 1503 Lorrain; Woodlawn (Pease-Shivers House), 6 Niles Road; The Tavern, 922 W. 12th St.; and the Ettlinger House, 3110 Harris Park Ave . . . Heritage Society luncheon . . . Mayor Joseph P. Riley of Charleston, SC, a preservation and design expert, will address the luncheon, which will focus on Congress Avenue. For more information, contact Jacqui Schraad at 474-5198 ext. 15 or check the web site www.heritagesocietyaustin.org . . . Gay marriage debate starts today . . . Texas anti-gay marriage amendment, HJR6, will be heard in the Texas House Committee on State Affairs today. Hundreds of members and supporters of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas say they plan to attend that hearing, which will be in the Capitol Extension E2.010 at 2pm or upon adjournment of the House . . . City staff wins award . . . The Government Finance Officers Association has announced that the City of Austin received the national Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for its current fiscal year budget. City staff will be recognized during this week’s City Council meeting during proclamations at 6pm. . . Same Commissioners, new location . . . If you plan on attending the Williamson County Commissioners Court in the next 18 months or so, be sure to go to the right place. The regular 9:30am Tuesday meetings have been moved to Justice of the Peace Pct. 3 Steve Benton's courtroom at the Williamson County Inner Loop Annex, 301 S.E. Inner Loop in Georgetown, beginning tomorrow. County offices have been relocated for the restoration of the historic Courthouse on the downtown square. The County Judge, County Treasurer, Justice of the Peace Pct. 3, Constable Pct. 3, County Auditor, Elections, Human Resources, Information Technology and Public Information now are located at the Inner Loop Annex.

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