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KDBJ rock quarry shut down

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 by

State agency acts on heels of judge's order

Following Travis County District Judge Margaret Cooper’s ruling that KDBJ LP’s water pollution abatement plan (WPAP) is invalid, the executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has ordered the operators of the Hays County quarry and rock crushing plant to cease operations.

TCEQ Executive Director Glenn Shankle wrote a letter last Friday to Joe Jackson, president of KDBJ, informing him that the court ruling reversed all previous TCEQ rulings and that all regulated activities at the site must halt. The letter was issued after State Rep. Patrick Rose (D-San Marcos) contacted TCEQ, asking for clarification on the issue.

The order is another victory for Neighbor Organized to Protect the Environment (NOPE). “We’re very pleased with the ruling,” said NOPE Director Dick Schneider. “Obviously, they will have an opportunity to appeal or pursue whatever their legal rights are, but in the meantime, they have to shut it down.”

Kirsten Voinis, spokeswoman for KDBJ said Monday that the company had ceased all operation at the plant. She said company officials have declined to say what, if anything, their next move might be. KDBJ has 30 days from the date of the ruling to file an appeal.

NOPE’s first victory was Judge Cooper’s September 15 ruling that KDBJ’s WPAP was not valid as a result of a lawsuit filed against the TCEQ, which issued the permit. The WPAP was a temporary permit under which KDBJ had been operating for the past two years. The company still has well drilling permits pending before the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 19 and 23, 2005)

NOPE and other groups in Northern Hays County have opposed the quarry and rock crushing operation since it opened, claiming that it endangered the drinking water supply for thousands of citizens who use water from the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer. Local citizens also complained of the noise from blasting and other operations, and the traffic dangers posed by large gravel trucks on small, two-lane roads in the Ruby Ranch area where the plant is located.

“We feel pretty good about this, obviously,” Schneider said. “We still have more work to do. We are waiting to see what their intentions are. Our goal is to get them to fold their tent and steal silently into the night. Whether that will happen or not is the big question.”

Schneider said NOPE’s attorney told him that if KDBJ chooses to appeal, it would have to post a bond in the amount of estimated damages that could be caused while operating during that period of time. He said given the potential cost of remediation of environmental damage to the Edwards Aquifer, the amount of such a bond could be prohibitive.

Schneider said the ruling was the result of a lot of hard work by his organization.

“We seem to be making some progress,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of big wins here. It’s about time. We started this thing in July of 2003 and we’ve spent a lot of money, but we feel it’s well spent at this point.”

Divided commission OKs Waller Creek tunnel

The Downtown Commission had one of its more heated discussions in recent memory last week over the need to include the Waller Creek tunnel project among those it would support in the upcoming city bond issue. After strenuous arguments on both sides, the Commission voted to include the tunnel project in its bond recommendation.

A subcommittee on the bond package did not choose to recommend the project, mainly because of the cost associated with it. Beth Ann Sprengel of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, who chaired the subcommittee, was concerned with the cost of the project, which would push a $499 million proposal up to $600 million.

“We have a lot of qualms and questions about using this financing mechanism for this tunnel,” Sprengel said. “Citizens already have approved it once. We’re not sure we need to be going back for money at this time.”

Jeb Boyt of the Parks and Recreation Board, who served on the subcommittee with Sprengel, agreed. The city should put more time into finding more support for alternative mechanisms for funding, including federal funding or county support for the project, which has been stalled for some time, Boyt said.

That opened a heated discussion on the project. Some, like developer Tim Finley, pointed to Whole Foods on Fifth Street as a “catalytic project” in the west end of downtown, leaving a wake of development of other projects in its path. Downtown’s east end, long dormant and populated by homeless shelters, drug dealers and the convention center, deserved a similar catalyst for future development, Finley said.

Finley reminded his colleagues the city had pushed hard for a new federal courthouse location on the northeast side of downtown. Even federal judges had refused to move the federal courthouse site to the east end of downtown. Nobody wants to go there, he said.

Finley represents the Downtown Austin Alliance on the Downtown Commission. The DAA has expressed its support for the Waller Creek project. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce will consider its resolution of support in October, which Sprengel admitted was likely to be a topic of lively discussion.

Sprengel expressed concern about the financial impact of expanding the bond package, especially mindful of the county bond election and the nominal tax rate adopted by the city in recent weeks. Sprengel urged fiscal caution in the commission’s support. She added that even if new money were added to the project, it offered no guarantee that the Waller Creek tunnel project would actually be completed.

Anticipating resistance, Sprengel offered to pull the Waller Creek tunnel project out for a separate vote, which failed to win support. She also asked for suggestions on what to cut from the total. No one volunteered a particular project that should be struck from the list.

Chris Riley of the Planning Commission, rarely one to raise his voice on an issue, was clearly agitated by the exclusion of the Waller Creek tunnel project from the resolution. In the first round of funding on the project, downtown neighbors had been strongly in support of the project, even if it meant demolishing 88 homes. The tunnel had been downtown’s premier issue for decades, he said, an obstacle that clearly held back development in the east end of downtown.

Of all the projects on the table, the Waller Creek project was one the Downtown Commission had a history of supporting, Riley said. It was the only project that, thoroughly vetted, still appeared to recoup its costs by bringing new land to the tax rolls.

“We need to stay on the record being in strong support of the Waller Creek tunnel,” Riley said. “I can’t vote for any package that doesn’t vote for the Waller Creek tunnel.”

Riley brushed off Boyt’s insistence that the bond package would provide $4.3 million in landscaping and drainage improvements along lower Waller Creek. Minimal, Riley said.

A motion to add the Waller Creek tunnel to the bond recommendations passed easily. The commissioners also agreed to support $9 million for trail improvements, struck language that encouraged moving the proposed animal shelter somewhere else other than downtown and supported additional repairs for the Austin Recreation Center and Old Bakery on Congress Avenue.

Many of the commissioners, however, were eager to see the numbers scrubbed one more time on some of the projects, including the Old Bakery, Austin Recreation Center and the proposed animal shelter. Finley, for instance, said he found it difficult to believe an animal shelter should cost the city $22 million. That was $400 per square foot. “We can do something a lot cheaper than that,” said Finley, whose concern over the project costs were so strong he abstained on the final vote.

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

Spring all over . . . Last night while developers Perry Lorenz and Diana Zuniga represented the partnership planning to build the Spring condominium project downtown, consultant Mark Nathan appeared before the Design Commission and consultant Mike Blizzard talked up the project at the Save Barton Creek Association . . . Worker protection . . . State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos has written to members of the Texas Workforce Commission asking that they issue a press release on protections provided by state labor laws for those evacuating ahead of a hurricane. According to Barrientos, the Texas Labor Code prohibits the termination of an employee who leaves work to participate in a mandatory evacuation. Barrientos, who was born in Galveston, remarked. “We should be doing everything we can to limit suffering and promote a return to normalcy for those Texans who have been impacted by the storm” . . . Police honors announced. . . Although the Austin Police Benevolent Society will primarily be giving awards to those who have shown exceptional bravery and humanitarian services, they will also be honoring former Mayor Roy Butler and Joe McBride on Saturday. Butler and McBride will receive the society’s 2005 Lifetime Patron Awards at the annual Police Officer’s Ball on Saturday night. Go to www.austinpolice.com for a list of all the award recipients and a complete description of their contributions . . . A helping hand with stress . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez welcomed representatives of the International Association for Human Values at City Hall on Monday. The Association has an office in Austin and has been working with people affected by Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina. Volunteers have been teaching people evacuated from hurricane-affected areas breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques to deal with the stress they've experienced in the past few weeks . . . Billboard rules return . . . After a lengthy rework, new regulations for billboard locations within the city will return for City Council consideration this week. Council Member Lee Leffingwell said yesterday that he has proposed some amendments for second reading of the ordinance. He said his amendments would require that new signs be placed no less than 500 feet from a residence and no less than 500 feet apart. He is also proposing that billboards either be replaced at a ratio of two to one—two coming down and one being erected—or that there be a time limit, such as 20 years, at the new location. He is also making a proposal that could be used if a neighbor and a sign company came before the Council together with a proposal to move a sign. . . Meetings . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in the Council Chambers at City Hall. In addition to hearing several routine cases, the Commission will also hear an update on the "Future Connections Study" to evaluate future transportation options for connections to and between commuter rail, rapid bus and other transit services in Central Austin . . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 6:30pm in the board room at 200 South Lamar . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am in the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 324 W. 11th St. . . . Movies in the Park . . . A special Hurricane Relief series of the Movies in the Park series is planned over the next few weeks. The free outdoor screenings in Republic Square Park are designed to provide family-oriented entertainment for hurricane evacuees and let them get to know their neighbors in Austin. The event is appropriate for all ages and open to the public. The Steven Spielberg classic ‘The Goonies’ will kick off the series tonight. A pre show “Truffle Shuffle” contest starts at 7pm. The film starts at dusk. More movies are scheduled on October 4 and 11 . . . Record electric usage . . . If you thought the triple digit temperatures we’ve been having the past few days were setting records, you’re right. Not only are the temperatures a record, so is the amount of electricity Austinites are using to try and cool off. According to Austin Energy, the peak demand for electricity on Monday was 2,434 megawatts (MW), the highest it’s been in the 110-year history of the utility. But, officials say, the system has plenty of capacity to handle the load, as it was nowhere near its top generating capacity of 2,840 MW.

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