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Study implicates parking lot sealants

Thursday, June 23, 2005 by

Contaminated sediment impacting aquatic life

A joint study by the City of Austin and the U.S. Geological Survey has identified pavement sealants—particularly those which are coal-tar based—as a “significant” source of contamination of the sediment in Austin area creeks and streams. Based on the results of the study, city officials are studying a possible ban on the use of asphalt sealants.

A memo to the Mayor and City Council, released yesterday by the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR), says the study finds that such sealants are likely the source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ( PAHs), a pollutant that is degrading local streams and is toxic to aquatic life.

The study, which is scheduled for publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in August, is considered significant new information. According to the WPDR memo, it identifies a previously unknown source of a toxic pollutant, and may change the approach environmental science employs for controlling PAHs, a known carcinogen.

“It’s very interesting, important research,” said Bill Bunch, Executive Director of the Save Our Springs Alliance. “We’re lucky to have both the federal USGS and the local City of Austin technical staff doing such high level research that’s important for protecting not just our own local waterways but potentially watersheds all over the world. I'm impressed with the work and very appreciative of it.”

The study, released by department Director Joseph Pantalion, estimates that more than 600,000 gallons of coal-tar based parking lot sealants are used in the Austin area annually. Information released this week generally supports earlier concerns by city officials and others that pavement sealants were the possible source of high concentrations of PAHs in several Austin streams, including Barton Creek.

“The most important thing we did is to identify a potent new source of PAHs and how it is getting into our streams,” said WPDR Assistant Director Nancy McClintock. “We’ve also done a series of biological studies. Our preliminary analysis is that it matters very much that it's getting into our streams. We’re seeing impacts on aquatic life.”

At the request of the City Council, a preliminary study was conducted during the summer of 2003, with initial results pointing toward coal-tar based sealants as the source of PAH contamination in sediments. At that time, city staff proposed a two-line study: one line the USGS and the city to document the connection between stream sediment contaminants and sealant, and the second to document the environmental impact on aquatic life of coal tar sealants and alternative asphalt sealants.

Some of the major findings of those studies include:

The problem is not isolated to the Austin area. Coal tar-based sealants are used over a large portion of the country, according to McClintock.

“A huge amount of this is used all across the country;” she said “So, you can imagine this probably does have national repercussions and there is a lot of attention being paid to it by EPA and USGS and the Department of the Interior. Pavement sealers are used everywhere but the coal tar ones are used mainly in the south and east because that’s where the coal tar supply is.”

The memo notes that WPDR staff and the USGS will give a presentation to a pavement coatings trade group on July 18, with a presentation to the city’s Environmental Board set on July 20. In the interim, WPDR and Law Department staff members are discussing the possibility of recommending a ban of the pavement sealing products with the greatest potential for impacting the environment. Staff will then return to City Council in the fall with a recommendation.

SOS opposes office zoning neighbors support

The City Council today will have an opportunity to decide whether to grant a zoning change that would allow construction of a 344,000-square-foot office building on Southwest Parkway—a proposal that nearby neighborhoods support, but some environmentalists oppose. The previous Council granted preliminary approval for the zoning change on May 12, almost missing comments from citizens who had signed up to speak both for and against the change.

At that meeting, the Council had already approved the matter, along with a number of others, on consent, before Colin Clark of the SOS Alliance got to the microphone to say that he and a few other citizens wanted to speak against the zoning. Mayor Will Wynn apologized because his computer screen did not reflect that anyone had signed up to speak on the matter.

Clark told the Council they should zone the 48-acre horseshoe-shaped tract for large lot single-family development since offices would generate more traffic and act as a magnet to bring more development to the sensitive region. The site currently surrounds a tract with offices on it. Silicon Labs occupies those offices, but evidently has no interest in expanding at that location.

After Clark spoke, Carolyn Parker of the Oak Acres Neighborhood Association told the Council her neighbors supported the office zoning. The tract “comes very close to our neighborhood (which) was platted in the 1940s,” she said, making hers one of the oldest neighborhoods in Oak Hill. Parker praised the property’s developers for listening to their neighbors’ concerns and responding with a sensitive plan. She described the planned 750-foot natural landscaped setback from the neighborhood as “very generous,” also noting that there would be height limitations. She said Oak Acres’ residents did not want a residential development. “From experience, we know when you build nice, big expensive houses on large lots, our property taxes go up. Also, it’s easier to negotiate with one owner, than several, about noise,” she said.

At the time, then Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman told Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Director Alice Glasco she needed answers to questions about traffic. She also asked for more environmental information. “I don’t think it’s necessarily an absolute that large lot residential is less detrimental to the aquifer than office,” she said. However, Goodman said she was concerned about the number of vehicle trips that would be generated by each type of development.

Transportation Planner George Zapalac told In Fact Daily Wednesday he calculated the property would generate 2,021 trips per day if it were zoned Single-Family 1 “if it builds out to the full intensity allowed.” The planned office building would generate about.3,454 trips per day, he said.

SOS argues simply that “less traffic means less oil and grease from cars dripping onto roadways in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone,” according to a email the group sent supporters yesterday.

Attorney Jay Hailey, who represents the developer, said he had worked with the neighborhood to agree on a list of prohibited uses on the tract and a restrictive covenant. That agreement, which runs with the property, includes covenants to do integrated pest management ( IPM), the Grow Green Program and a prohibition on use of coal tar based sealants, Hailey said. “All of those are things you cannot enforce with respect to a single-family project,” he said, stressing that the proposed project will comply with the SOS Ordinance.

Clark said SOS would hope a single-family developer would be responsible enough to avoid coal tar based sealants and do IPM and Grow Green also.

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

Feds still thinking about Longhorn decision . . . Damon Hill, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation in Washington, DC said Wednesday that the Office of Pipeline Safety is evaluating whether to allow Longhorn Pipeline to delay in line inspection of the pipeline between Houston and Austin . . . Color them annoyed . . . In Fact Daily reported earlier this week that the City Council subcommittee on Telecommunications would not meet yesterday—even though the item was posted on the city’s website—so that Council members could attend the funeral of former Congressman J.J. “Jake” Pickle. But nobody told the group of citizens, including several ACTV producers, who had come to City Hall in order to address the Council committee on the citizens’ communications portion of the agenda. Just speculating here, but it seems likely they were going to complain about the lack of public information on the city’s long drawn-out investigation of misuse of public funds at ACTV. Stefan Wray, one of the group’s leaders, has shot off a number of emails to City Manager Toby Futrell and City Auditor Steve Morgan requesting more information. Producers say they have learned a considerable amount about alleged fraud from former ACTV board members, but nothing from city investigators. The city is currently pondering bids from ACTV and other groups to manage Channels 10, 11, and 16 . . . Today’s City Council meeting . . . There will be plenty of tough issues to ponder. Sal Costello’s Austin Toll Party generated more than 200 emails yesterday urging the Council not to approve an amendment to its contract with TxDOT. But not approving the changes could cost the city millions of dollars . . . The Law Department is requesting approval of more funds for three law firms who represent the city on land use, water rights and a lawsuit by a former APD officer. The biggest increase goes to Bracewell & Giuliani for representation and advice on permits the LCRA has pending at the TCEQ. That firm will receive an increase of $295,000 for a total contract of more than $1 million . . . The Council probably will not linger over the items relating to clarifying the City Council’s “statement of public purpose” in 27 eminent domain cases . . . They may not even have time to smile as they approve a measure waiving provisions of an ordinance that prohibits jumping or diving into, or swimming in, Town Lake so that Storie Productions can film “ Jumping off of Bridges” here in July and August . . . Potential zoning headaches involve whether to zone several houses historic over the opposition of the owners; whether to allow an East Austin dentist who flaunted zoning rules before seeking a zoning change to have that change . . . At 6pm, the Council is scheduled to hear an appeal from Mike McHone from a decision by the Historic Landmark Commission. McHone is essentially seeking permission for his client to build condos on the back yard of the historic Maverick Miller House in the UT area . . . Also scheduled for 6pm is a public hearing on changes to city rules relating to accessibility for mobility-impaired persons for housing constructed with public money . . . The last item on the agenda, optimistically set for 6:30pm, is a public hearing on recommendations relating to African Americans’ quality of life in Austin.. . . Hospital Board to meet. . . The Travis County Hospital District Board of Managers meets at 6:30pm at 1111 E. Cesar Chavez. The board has a mostly routine agenda, with discussion of restructuring the board’s standing committees as the main item. . . Aquifer District to meet . . . The Board of Directors of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will meet at 6pm at the district headquarters at 1124 Regal Row in Manchaca. On the agenda is a discussion of the district’s precinct boundaries and the election of board officers. . . . Pledges grow for Long Center . . . Boosted by a $500,000 matching grant from the Meadows Foundation of Dallas and a series of corporate gifts, the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts has so far received more than $2.2 million in new pledges in the last quarter of its fiscal year, which ends June 30. “With the very important help of the Meadows Foundation, Applied Materials, Wachovia Bank, Winstead Sechrest & Minick, Sage Land Company, the Stephen and Deborah Yurco Family and an anonymous major gift along with other large contributors, we now have raised more than $61 million to help build the Long Center,” said Joe Long, chairman of the center’s board of trustees. “We are deeply grateful for the endorsement of this project by these organizations and every one of our nearly 2,900 contributors.”

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