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Rock crusher denied water permit

Friday, January 13, 2006 by

KDBJ loses vote on well to pump 25 million gallons per year

A rock crushing operation lost its bid to drill an industrial water well at its site near Buda last night making it extremely difficult—if not impossible—for KDBJ Inc. to continue to operate. The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors voted 3-1 to deny the permit.

KDBJ planned to pump up to 25 million gallons of water each year from the middle level of the Trinity aquifer to wash clay from the aggregate it produces and to control dust from its operations. The slurry created by that process would then be allowed to accumulate in a quarry pit. Area residents have been fighting the rock crushing operation for more than a year. They have 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. Although the district’s vote was only on the well application, it could have a dampening effect on the entire operation.

Tommy Matthews of Westward Environmental of Boerne presented KDBJ’s case for the permit, noting that the planned use of the water was “beneficial,” according to BSEACD’s own definition. He also said the production of the water was essential to the production of aggregates. KDBJ has been trucking water to its site for the past two years, limiting the amount of aggregate it can produce.

The permit application heard last night was only for the right to drill the well; a second permit would have to be issued at a later date for KDBJ to begin production from the well. The board tabled consideration of a second permit application to drill a non-producing test well on the same site.

But Board Member Craig Smith, who put the motion on the table to deny the permit, said there was only one reason for KDBJ to drill the well, and that was to use the water in a way that runoff was likely to pollute the Edwards Aquifer and subsequently, Barton Springs.

Just before the vote, Smith summarized his reasoning, saying “I’m going to quote an old Gospel song: ‘Ain’t no right way to do wrong.’”

About 100 people attended the special Board Meeting, held in a meeting room at the Manchaca United Methodist Church instead of the district’s headquarters building, which will only accommodate a crowd of a dozen or so people.

District staff had recommended that the board approve the permit application with special conditions. That recommendation was based on the completeness and accuracy of the application, and the fact that once the well was drilled, the agency could gather data on flows and water levels in the area.

Charles Kay of Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment, or NOPE, had filed an official protest against the application, and spoke on behalf of the group.

“This is just the first stage of a major experiment,” he said. “We don’t really know what the outcome will be, but if things don’t go as planned, the outcome could be devastating for the area.”

He said more than 100,000 people depend on that part of the aquifer for drinking water, and the KDBJ operation could either pump the aquifer dry or pollute the source.

About a dozen citizens, most of them residents of the Ruby Ranch area where the KDBJ plant is located, spoke against granting the water well permit. Most said they were concerned about the future of their water supply

“Everyone here concedes that this is an experiment,” said Patricia de la Pena. “I’m don’t feel secure at all that this will work.”

An attorney for KDBJ protested Smith’s motion to dismiss, saying his rationale included an assumption of how the water was going to be used. She said KDBJ had not come to the hearing prepared to discuss water usage, only the posted issue of drilling the well.

Board Member Chuck Murphy made a substitute motion to postpone the vote on Smith’s motion to dismiss and consider hearing both the drilling and the usage permit applications at a future meeting. But other board members did not support it, and voted 3-1 to deny the permit. KDBJ could ask the board for a rehearing at a future date, but had no comment on the future of its operations after last night’s vote.

Vote clears way for starting Town Lake Park

The Council on Thursday unanimously approved an extra $1.8 million for the new Town Lake Park. That vote, along with the unanimous approval of a contract with Constructors and Associates, clears the way for work to begin on the park this spring.

“Hopefully, we’ll break ground on the park in a month or 60 days,” said Parks and Recreation Department Director Warren Struss. “In about 12 months, we’ll complete one of the best urban parks in the country.”

Voters approved the park as part of the 1998 bond election, and work began late last year on changes to Riverside Drive related to the park. Struss was excited that the park is now close to becoming a reality.

“I think this is a testimony of how great our city is…the support and endorsement from all of the stakeholders and the citizens…to see this dream come true has been amazing,” he said. “It’s going to be an urban park downtown that’s going to provide amenities for children, spontaneous recreational opportunities, biking, hiking, and simply going out and relaxing.”

Council hears AMD complaints

Although yesterday’s meeting was marked by little in the way of controversy, the Council did hear from various environmentalists during Citizens Communications. Leaders of the Save Our Springs Alliance on Thursday called on the Council to use public pressure to convince AMD executives to drop plans to build new offices for the company at the Lantana development in southwest Austin. The site has grandfathered development rights, meaning the project will not require a zoning change or other new entitlements which would normally trigger a vote by the Council or one of the city’s boards or commissions.

“We’re asking you to set a public hearing and have this community discuss and debate the proposed AMD move, and to ask them formally as a community to choose another location outside the Barton Springs watershed,” said SOS’s Bill Bunch.

“Most of you, perhaps all of you, have said that you much prefer AMD to locate outside the watershed, and to follow the city’s tradition of steering major employers into our Desired Development Zone. Most of you insist that you have tried to encourage them to do this. But you did it in the back room. You did it without the support of the community,” Bunch said. “By taking it into the back room, you facilitated and you’re continuing to facilitate with your silence…the destruction of Barton Springs.”

The Council has declined to hold a hearing on the matter, saying that since there is no action the city can take to stop AMD there is no reason to hold a hearing.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thomas still hospitalized . . . Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas remained hospitalized at St. David’s Hospital last night. There was no word on when he might be released . . . Martin at Brown McCarroll . . . After four years as City Attorney for the City of San Antonio, Andy Martin has returned to Austin and to work on local land development issues. Martin, who was Austin’s City Attorney from 1994 through 2001, has joined the law firm of Brown McCarroll. Martin attended his first City Council meeting as a private attorney last night. He says he’s really glad to be back in Austin and looking forward to working on development cases from a different perspective . . . New ZAP commissioner named . . . The City Council appointed Stephanie Hale to fill the seat left vacant when John Donisi resigned last week. Hale, who is Thomas’ appointment, holds an MBA in real estate from UCLA. She is the owner of SW Hale Consulting . . . City, county to be closed Monday . . . City and county offices will be closed Monday for the observance of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, no board or committee dared schedule a meeting for today, Friday the 13th . . . Earle presents long endorsement list . . . House District 47 candidate Jason Earle last night released the names of 500 supporters, including Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, Sunset Valley Mayor Terry Cowan, and former Austin Mayors Roy Butler, Frank Cooksey and Bruce Todd. Supporters also include: Nick Krajl, Lowell Lebermann, Johnny Limon, Teresa and Joe Long, Jack Martin, Richard Moya, Bettie Naylor, Mary Ann Neely, Ken Oden, Deborah Peel, and Janis and Joe Pinnelli. Earle, 36, is a health care consultant. He is running against Valinda Bolton for the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Terry Keel, who is running for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals . . . Campaign events on the horizon . . . These City Council candidates are planning their campaign kick-off events in the next three weeks: Place 2 candidate Mike Martinez’ campaign officially starts with a fundraiser at Threadgill's World Headquarters on Wednesday, Jan. 25 . . . Mayor Will Wynn will launch his re-election effort on Friday, Feb. 3 at the Broken Spoke . . . Place 6 candidate Sheryl Cole’s campaign kick-off is scheduled for the Victory Grill on Wednesday, Feb. 1. . . . Early voting . . . Today is the final day of early voting before next Tuesday’s special election for the District 48 seat in the Texas House. As of yesterday, 3.54 percent of the 99,000 voters in the district had cast early ballots. Randalls on Bee Cave continued to post the largest number of votes, 1,204, while the Randalls on Research had 694 and the Howson Library Branch had 628 . . . No drought yet . . . The Board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District said last night it plans to wait two more weeks before deciding to invoke mandatory water conservation on those who pump from the aquifer. Test wells remained right on the trigger line during the past few weeks, but have not dipped significantly below that level for some time. They will check the numbers again on January 26.

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