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Two water bills die in House

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 by

Takings bill still alive as Senators work through wee hours

Two bills affecting water quality regulations in Texas died on the House floor last night without coming up for a vote. One would have given the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality the authority to set statewide water quality standards, and the other would have collected a fee on water usage to support the state’s water infrastructure needs through 2040.

Tuesday was the final day for the House of Representatives to consider Senate bills. Both Senate Bill 1858 and SB 3 were placed on the House calendar for consideration, but did not come up before the midnight deadline, effectively killing them.

SB 1858, filed by Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria), was aimed squarely at Austin’s SOS Ordinance. The bill mandated that TCEQ develop statewide water quality standards that would supplant any regulations passed by local municipalities. As filed, the bill would have rendered most of the SOS Ordinance unenforceable.

However, during debate on the Senate floor, Senators Frank Madla (D-San Antonio) and Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) each offered amendments that weakened the bill. Madla’s amendment stated that if a municipality’s regulations were higher than the state standard, then the city’s regulations would prevail. Barrienton amended the bill so that that jurisdictions could adopt and implement water quality guidelines—if there was a perceived imminent threat to water quality—before the TCEQ gave its final approval.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst introduced SB 3 in early April as a major bill that would take care of the state’s water infrastructure needs through the year 2040. According to Dewhurst, it was the product of 18 months of hearings, testimony and meetings with stakeholders from around the state.

Armbrister, the bill’s primary author, said SB 3 also promoted water conservation and conjunctive use of water to maximize the efficient and effective use of water resources. He also said the bill modified rule of capture to protect historic, domestic and agricultural interests, making a high-volume water user liable for damaging a neighboring well, even in an area without a groundwater conservation district.

The measure was to be funded by a fee for commercial and residential water users. Called a Water Conservation and Development Fee, it would have charged 13 cents per 1,000 gallons of water sold per month, with the first 5,000 gallons per month exempt for residential customers.

SB 3 had been placed near the very bottom of the House calendar yesterday, virtually guaranteeing that it would not make it to the floor with a midnight deadline.

One other bill affecting Central Texas, House Bill 2833, known as the “takings” bill, was still alive as of early today in the Senate. It would require municipalities to reimburse landowners if their water quality regulations resulted in reducing the value of the property. The bill was still on the Senate’s intent calendar as of 1am Wednesday morning, with the Senate still in session..

Waste advisors work on long range plan

Committee members say they do not want to privatize department

Now that the City Council has postponed the expansion of the FM 812 Landfill, the work of the city’s Long Range Solid Waste Planning Committee has taken on an enhanced sense of urgency, according to several members of that panel. The move signals that the city is putting off any major solid waste projects until the committee submits its work, according to Vice Chair J.D. Porter.

“The decision to not consider the ISEI contract (See In Fact Daily, May 20, 2005) signals that the city is going to wait until the task force has completed its report,” said Porter at Monday night’s meeting. “That shows that the City Council is serious about long range planning. They expect us to provide a tool for them to use.”

The committee was set up in March to study the city’s options for handling and disposing of its solid waste and recycling in the next several decades. The initial mandate of delivering a plan in 90 days, according to Committee Member Rosemary Wyman, is not likely to be met, given the scope of the committee’s charge. “Six months is a more realistic time frame,” she said.

The committee includes members of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, waste disposal industry representatives, environmentalists, and citizen representatives. Subcommittees have been appointed to study four main areas: infrastructure, baseline data, technology, and public policy. The committees will analyze all four areas with respect to economic development.

To underscore the importance of the plan, Wyman said some Council members have already expressed concern that the committee is predisposed to recommend privatization of the Solid Waste Department. “(Council Member) Betty Dunkerly said that coming back with that recommendation would not go over very well,” Wyman said. “She said such a decision would not be politically popular, and certainly would not further our mission.”

Committee members asserted that there was no such predisposition. “What we’re doing here is a review of services in an attempt to make solid waste collection more efficient,” said committee member Gerry Acuña, who is chair of the commission. “We are considering all the options here, including a possible public-private partnership. But we are not attempting to do away with the city Solid Waste Department.”

Committee members voted Monday night to send out two memos. One will be sent to the City Council, reassuring them of the committee’s intention to stay within its guidelines to develop a long-range plan with a goal of “zero waste.” The other will be sent to Travis County and the Capital Area Planning Committee (CAPCO), making them aware of the planning process and requesting that they postpone any major decision on solid waste projects, recycling or landfills until the committee completes its work.

The committee will hold a special meeting on June 1 at the Barr Mansion in Northeast Austin to hear from consultants on solid waste issues. Its next regular meeting will be June 6.

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

They’re back . . . Bar owner John Wickham, who garnered about 6 percent of the vote against Council Member Betty Dunkerley on May 7, and attorney Marc Levin, who unsuccessfully sued the city over the smoking ban before it was enacted, are now threatening to sue the city and Place 3 candidate Margot Clarke over campaign finance funds. Clarke received $91,000 from the city for the runoff because she signed the Fair Campaign Finance pledge. The ordinance under which the fund is administered allows candidates to ignore the expenditure limits and contribute as much money to their campaigns as they wish–if they abide by their pledge until the filing deadline and another candidate in the race has not signed. That is how the city has interpreted the law and local campaign finance expert Alfred Stanley says that is how the group which wrote the 1994 ordinance intended it. Stanley was on the task force that drew up the ordinance. However, Levin has convinced fellow Libertarian Wes Benedict, who also ran for Place 4, to join in the lawsuit threat. When told that others disagreed about Clarke’s being entitled to the money, Benedict said, “Maybe that’s the way its going to turn out and I think Clarke believes that, so I don’t think she's done anything underhanded.” But that is not the tone of Levin and Wickham’s press release, which specifically accuses Clarke of “(misleading) Austin voters by violating numerous city and state campaign finance provisions in wrongfully obtaining public funds . . .” Consultant Mike Blizzard, who worked for former Council Member Bill Spelman in 1997, said Spelman and former Council Member Willie Lewis both signed the pledge, but neither was required to abide by it because their respective opponents did not sign. Lewis and Spelman split $36,000 that year. Clarke’s campaign manager, Elliott McFadden, opined, “They don’t understand the law. They don’t really have a case but I guess this is a publicity stunt.” . . . Knocking the CAMPO plan . . . Without an advance copy, In Fact Daily cannot know for sure that this morning’s briefing on the CAMPO 2030 plan will be long on criticism. But Liveable City is hosting a breakfast briefing on the proposed $22 billion plan for the members of CAMPO, their staffs and other local elected officials. The briefing will be held 8am to 9:45am in the Boards and Commission Room at C ity Hall. Promised speakers include former Rep. Sherri Greenberg, former Council Member Bill Spelman of the LBJ School and economist Michael Oden . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The City Council Audit and Finance Committee will meet at 10:30am in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure will meet at 3:30pm in the Council Chambers . . . The Building and Standards Commission will meet at 6:30pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. . . . LCRA business plan se t . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Board of Directors has approved a business plan that sets the agency’s operating budget at $644 million for FY 2006. That budget includes the agency’s electric generation and transmission affiliates. The Board also approved a capital budget of $380 million for LCRA and its affiliates for FY 2006. Nearly two-thirds of the capital budget, $244 million, will fund transmission projects to improve reliability and capacity of the electric grid serving most of Texas. The capital budget also includes construction and improvement projects related to water and wastewater utilities, power plants, the Highland Lakes dams and hydroelectric generation units, and parks.

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