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LCRA offers new design for power line in habitat

Thursday, June 16, 2005 by

Environmental Board OKs plan, calls for more study

High-power electric transmission lines and endangered species habitat generally don’t mix well, but a plan by the Lower Colorado River Authority to upgrade a major power line across the Barton Creek Wilderness Preserve received conditional approval from the city Environmental Board last night.

The proposal involves some unique engineering techniques by the LCRA’s Transmission Services Corporation (TSC) subsidiary in order to increase the capacity of the 16.5-mile line known as the Hi-Cross to Marshall Ford to meet the region’s increasing energy needs. The line is jointly owned by LCRA-TSC and the City of Austin, and is one of the major sources of east-to-west power flow in parts of Austin and surrounding counties.

The project would consist mainly of upgrading the wires to expand capacity and replacing existing steel lattice towers with single pole structures.

In order to minimize the impact of the project on Balcones Canyonlands Preserve land, wind-displaced transmission lines will be used, according to William Conrad with the Wildland Conservation Division of the Austin Water Utility. “The LCRA plans to use aerial easements to stretch the new liners further across the BCCP,” he said. “That will prevent the need to build any additional transmission towers and the related access, reducing the number of trees that need to be removed and minimizing the impact on the environment.”

Aerial easements are the amount of space needed—about 100 feet—to account for the swing of the wires in extreme wind situations. Conrad said the wires must be able to withstand 90 mile-per-hour winds, similar to a Category II hurricane. The easements will be negotiated with the 28 owners of the land over which the lines will run, with a license agreement being signed with the City of Austin.

Dennis Palafox, an engineer with the LCRA, said the terrain over which the lines run varies widely, and the easements fall 50 feet either side of the center line of towers. “The license agreement also improves the safety and reliability of the line by disallowing construction of facilities close to the transmission line,” he said. No structure taller than 30 feet can be in the 100-foot easement, and vegetation can be no taller than 40 feet. “That leaves approximately 20 feet of clearance to allow for future growth of trees during a 5-year maintenance cycle without encroaching on the danger zone.” he said.

Palafox said the once the new towers are in place, new lines will be pulled from one tower to another, minimizing the amount of work to be done on the ground, thus keeping any disturbance to the environment to a minimum.

The BCCP Coordinating Committee has recommended the project with some conditions. They include using funds from the easements and license fees to preserve the habitat and provide public access, to hire a professional arborist to monitor the trimming of any trees to accommodate the plan, and a ban on the use of herbicides and chemicals in managing the vegetation.

One other suggestion was to use a portion of the license fee to conduct a study of how the electrical lines affect Golden Cheeked Warblers and their nesting habits. That suggestion brought a reaction from Vice Chair Karin Ascot, who was told that such a study would only be done after the project was complete.

“Isn’t it kind of backwards to do the study after the fact?” she asked. “What if we find out that what we’re doing here isn’t so good? It’s probably too late by then. I would really like to see issues like this come before us with more time for us to consider them”

Ascot was joined by several other board members who commented that, too often, the board is asked to consider a project just weeks or days before it is scheduled to go before the City Council, making an in-depth study very difficult. Chair Mary Ruth Holder said a recent example was the city’s plan to go ahead with an engineering study of the Travis Water Treatment Plant #4, which was postponed after the board expressed concerns to the Council.

Despite the time crunch, board members voted unanimously to recommend the project with all of the conditions recommended by the BCCP committee. . The Council is scheduled to consider the project on June 23.

Panel wants more housing funds for poorest

Hilgers argues city needs latitude to select best projects

Members of the Community Development Commission (CDC) continue to support affordable housing goals for the lowest-income Austinites, urging the city to devote more dollars to affordable housing options for those who fall well below the poverty line.

The CDC is charged with reviewing the city’s annual plan on how it intends to spend federal dollars on affordable housing and community development programs. At a meeting this week, the commission had an extended discussion on the city’s action plan for using federal dollars next year.

The commission's Subcommittee on Affordable Housing, headed by Karen Paup, is urging city officials to support more housing options for those who fall below 30 percent of median family income. Popp said that is a level that falls between a shelter and transitional housing, usually some kind of single-room occupancy ( SRO) options, which Austin lacks. The subcommittee would recommend going so far as to dedicate $1 million to support rental housing development assistance for the lowest income Austinites.

Community Development Officer Paul Hilgers, who addressed the priorities of the commission, said the city is committed to SRO and lower-income options, but he was opposed to putting money aside quite yet. Three options for lower-income housing are currently in the works – Hearthside SRO, LifeWorks Project and Salvation Army – but none are ready for completion, and Hilgers did not want to tie up the money.

The subcommittee also wanted to see federal home acquisition and development funds devoted to non-profit Community Housing Development Organizations (CHDOs), which are committed to larger projects in the Austin market. Rather than a handful of lots, the subcommittee wanted commitments to developers that would build larger projects.

Hilgers did not want to be so prohibitive. The city works with CHDOs on a regular basis, but it does not give preference based on such an affiliation, preferring to rely on the quality of the project. That could be a developer, a small non-profit or a CHDO. The city also is committed to a variety of funding options – and possibly cobbling together different revenue sources – when dealing with various non-profits.

Rather than tie the city’s hands, the subcommittee agreed to provide a less restrictive direction to encourage the use of money for those organizations that had sought the non-profit status. Other developers may have worthy projects to be considered, Hilgers said

“Our objective, our intent, our priority is to seek out the best projects,” Hilgers said. “We don’t want to have to say, ‘If you’re not a CHDO, we don’t want to deal with you.’ We would like the flexibility to fund those projects as they come to us.”

Hilgers fully supported a third recommendation, which was to extend the timeline on affordability. The subcommittee recommended at least five years of affordable housing, adding the intention of making sure property is affordable for up to 20 years. Trying to maintain affordability across owners is a serious goal of the city, Hilgers said.

“If you look at the Anderson Hill housing development, we would have a 20-year affordability period on those lots,” Hilgers said. “We want to preserve affordability. We really have to do something to limit the ‘flippability’ on the properties. Too often in this market today, even if you say you want to control the price, it’s impossible to hold down the price on the property when the market is going up so high.”

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

LULAC, Police Monitor to host meeting . . . The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) District 7 and the city’s Office of the Police Monitor will host a neighborhood meeting at 7pm tonight, concerning last week's police-involved shooting of Daniel Rocha. The group will gather at the Dove Springs Recreation Center, 5801 Ainez Drive. The discussions will focus on the status of the investigation and other public safety concerns. Those expected to attend include LULAC District Director Linda Chavez, Council Member Raul Alvarez, Deputy City Manager Rudy Garza, Police Chief Stan Knee, Police Monitor Ashton Cumberbatch, Jr., former Mayor Gus Garcia and Father Jayme Mathias . . . Juneteenth celebrations this weekend . . . Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) will hold a free picnic for local alumni of HBCU from 10am to 3pm at the George Washington Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina. Sponsors include the museum, the Austin Revitalization Authority and www.soulcity.com . The group aims to foster professional social networking amongst alumni of HBCU and to expose high school graduates to the opportunities offered by such colleges. Attendees will be offered old school music, spades and dominoes tournaments, face painting for kids, and a chance to network. Food vendors will provide refreshments for those who do not wish to bring their own lunch. For more information, contact D’Andra Ulmer at 689-2203 . . . Goodman party tonight . . . Departing Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will have a going-away party beginning at 6:30pm tonight . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher won’t have one until after he leaves the City Council. Both end their terms of office when their successors, Jennifer Kim and L ee Leffingwell take office Monday night. . . Holder to leave Environmental Board . . . Mary Ruth Holder, longtime member of the Environmental Board who has been the chair for about a year, announced last night that she will be resigning that post in July because she will be moving out of the city. Holder, an attorney who specialized in environmental law prior to devoting herself to public service, said she and her husband Philip, who is retiring from his law practice, are moving to Mt. Vernon, Washington. She said that they plan, among other things, to pursue their love of Irish music and dance. Holder also announced that the board would elect new officers at its next meeting in late June or early July. . . Superintendent search. . . Round Rock Independent School District board members have approved a timeline for hiring a new superintendent. Current Superintendent Dr. Tom Gaul will be leaving the district on July 31. Over the next few months, Harold Webb Associates, a superintendent search firm, will begin gathering information from board members, employees, and community members to develop a profile of a new district leader. The firm will then begin recruiting qualified candidates for the board to interview. The board set an application deadline of October 18, and hopes to announce a finalist around November 15. The law then requires the board to wait at least 21 days before actually making an offer, so expect a new superintendent to be announced in early December. . . Books for kids . . . First Book-Central Texas has announced that it is accepting book grant applications from local nonprofit programs serving children in need. First Book-Central Texas hopes to give grants for approximately 2,000 new books and hundreds of educational materials to programs in the community. Teachers and directors of local preschool, day care, after-school, tutoring, and mentoring programs are encouraged to apply on behalf of their programs Applications are due by Monday, June 27. To request an application or get involved with First Book, please contact Alexandra Purne at (512) 223-7975 or alexandrapurnetx@yahoo.com.

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