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City eyes Guerrero Park for Green plant

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 by

Parks activists raise questions about plan, seek additional land to mitigate potential loss

The City of Austin’s Water and Wastewater utility is proposing to relocate the Green Water Treatment Plant (GWTP) to the Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park—a park that the East Austin community worked hard over many years to get. The plan will be presented to the city’s Parks and Recreation Board at noon today.

Utility director Chris Lippe said a consulting firm that looked at sites in the area, identified several that might be desirable for the plant. However, of those, the park land was the only land available. The land being considered is “down toward Longhorn Dam off Pleasant Valley road,” he said.

Lippe said one of the advantages of the site is that it is just across the road from Town Lake so that the utility would have to construct only a short pipeline from the raw water pumping station to the plant. In addition, Lippe said, there’s already a treated water distribution line in Pleasant Valley Road.

The utility hopes to begin use of the new plant by 2011, Lippe said, beginning with 25 million gallons per day (MGD) and expanding to 50 million when population warrants it. The current GWTP processes 42 million gallons per day.

Linda Guerrero, daughter of the parks employee for whom the park is named, is chair of the Parks and Recreation Board. On Monday, she said, “It’s vital for the community to have input into this decision making process. That’s my concern–that the information be put out there.” Guerrero said she is very curious to hear the plan, which would involve 30 acres out of the 363-acre park, and to find out what amount the utility is willing to pay for remediation.

Lippe indicated that the utility had talked to Council about spending around $5 million for remediation. He said funds would be spent in a way that could be amenable to parks supporters and the community. However, Guerrero seemed aghast at the number, saying “I don’t know if that would serve the community and their needs and I was raised by my father to guard the needs and interests of the community. I really want to hear what that number is.”

Mayor Will Wynn, who first floated the idea of moving the GWTP, pointed out that the decision on the amount—as well as the decision on whether to put the plant on parkland—is in the hands of the Council. While Lippe said he hoped to get the matter on the Council’s May 25 agenda, Wynn said he did not want to be perceived as being in a hurry to reach a decision. However, he said this Council, with Council Member Raul Alvarez and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas—as opposed to the next one—should make the decision.

Susanna Almanza of PODER told In Fact Daily, “We were kind of upset that they were even considering putting the plant there. We've been working for all those years to create a park there and then all of a sudden we’re going to get . . something they don’t want on the west side. Here we go again.” However, Almanza said she and other park supporters would go to today’s meeting, ready to listen.

Almanza said Alvarez, who pushed for the park, had drawn up a long list of questions and was very concerned . . .” I know that he’s not pleased,” about the prospect of losing the 30 acres, she said. Alvarez was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Wynn stressed the environmental benefits of putting the plant downstream of its current location. Barton Springs supporters have argued that the plant could not be moved upstream because the city wants to be able to point to the inflows, making the famous and sensitive springs a part of the city’s drinking water supply. The Mayor said that the move would enable the city to say that Shoal, Bouldin and Waller creeks are part of the drinking water supply and help “kick off a clean creeks initiative.”

He characterized the site as “an out parcel of that parkland that’s separated dramatically, both topographically and visually, from Roy Guerrero Park.” He also stressed that the water and wastewater utility would now become an obvious vehicle of funding for the park, which has no obvious funding…and of course serve our utility and our ratepayers very well.”

Ted Siff, former Executive Director of the Austin Parks Foundation and owner of Creating Common Ground, believes the utility could find another parcel of land and not diminish the park. Siff was involved in putting together the majority of the parcels that make up the park still feels passionately about it.

“It is truly astounding to me that the city staff is proposing this location for a water treatment plant, when the City is in the process of closing an energy plant immediately across the river,” Siff said. “I do not believe it is not possible to mitigate the taking of parkland to put a water treatment plant at the beginning of the free-flowing Colorado River, in a park named after the river.”

Siff also wanted to know why the utility needs 30 acres now when GWTP is currently only a fraction of that, and the utility’s plan will do to a planned western entrance to the park.

Lippe said the current plant poses security risks that would not be acceptable today. He said the plant requires a buffer zone for lights, noise and security. “Thirty acres is about the minimum you would want.”

Austin Parks Foundation Executive Director Charlie McCabe said his group is “obviously concerned” about the possibility of losing 30 acres of parkland. “What we’re most worried about is if the city insisted on going forward with development of 30 acres, we need a like exchange with 30 acres of parkland somewhere nearby . . . This is a big deal,” he said, noting the effort that went into putting together the 363-acre, undeveloped, park in an underserved area of town. In 1998, the foundation was also instrumental in a successful effort to get voter approval for $10 million in bonds to develop the park. The city is going out for bid for the first phase of that development this summer.

As for the utility’s proposal, McCabe said, “It doesn’t smell too good. Well have to see, but my thought is we have to oppose this” if the reason for taking parkland relates solely to the price of land. “Parks are seen as a thing the city can take away and use, especially if it’s not developed,” he said. “We have no choice…we have to have an equivalent amount of parkland; fair is fair.”

CAMPO board splits over US 290 design

Even members of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board are split on some of the design elements of the proposal for the US 290 East toll road.

Business owner Bill Milstead, a vocal opponent of the specifics of the US 290 toll road plan, spoke to the Transportation Policy Board last night, citing his concern that underpasses on the US 290 project would go in at Tuscany Way and Arterial A rather than Springdale Road. County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner and Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) sparred briefly over the underpass issue, with Dukes supporting a Springdale underpass and Sonleitner noting concerns of residents to the north.

Milstead owns a distribution warehouse at the intersection of Springdale and US 290. According to current plans, Springdale will be at grade, divided by the toll road, with underpasses planned at Tuscany Way and, to the east, on Arterial A. Springdale carries about 17,000 cars a day in traffic. Tuscany Way, which dead ends into a cul-de-sac, carries little traffic, said Milstead, adding that he had contacted city officials who said the city had not acquired right-of-way and had no current plans to extend the road.

“I think the current plan is a bad plan,” Milstead said.

Dukes said she wouldn’t be invited to Easter dinner at her parents’ house if she didn’t defend Springdale as an exit off the toll roads. She cited language from CAMPO’s guiding principles that stated that tolling alternatives should avoid closing or removing current exits off existing roadways and minimize the hardship on residents.

Dukes said she, as someone who drives through the area on a regular basis, recognized that Springdale is a popular bypass for people who want to get off Interstate 35 and Cameron Road to get to Hutto, Pflugerville and Round Rock. Shutting down Springdale only burdened a community already overburdened by proposed toll roads.

But that cut-through traffic is just what the Walnut Place Neighborhood Association wants to avoid, especially when it comes to 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles. It was the strong input of local residents that put Tuscany Way, and not Springdale, on the map for an underpass in the current toll road plan, Sonleitner pointed out.

District Engineer Bob Daigh prompted Texas Department of Transportation staff to note that CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board agreed to take Springdale off the CAMPO 2030 plan as a major arterial. If the committee wanted serious consideration of an underpass, the first thing to do would be to put Springdale back in the plan.

Dukes said she would love to work on that. Sonleitner said she looked forward to a “vigorous discussion on the issue.”

Austin Council Member Brewster McCracken and Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) were on last night’s Transportation Policy Board agenda to present an update on the mobility alternatives study. That item was postponed, however, because McCracken is in New York City for a trip with the city’s bond counsel.

Because the update was not provided, Dukes moved that a vote on the inclusion of the Phase II toll roads be excluded from a vote on CAMPO’s two-year transportation improvement program. Daigh did warn that a delay for the approval of toll roads past June – the next meeting for the group – could mean a delay in construction on some toll road projects on the list, specifically, US 183 South and US 290 West.

Notes from the campaign trail

McCracken targets Public Works’ authority

Council Member Brewster McCracken, asked at a weekend forum which city program he would end if given the choice, said he would end the Public Works Department’s authority to design infrastructure projects such as electric substations and water towers.

Last week’s contentious Council discussion of the design of the 51st Street water tower clearly still irked McCracken, who has taken the lead on design guidelines. McCracken told the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition that it was be better to move infrastructure projects over to the Planning Department, where architects would be used in addition to engineers. Without it, those same projects easily could “reduce your quality of life and reduce your property values,” McCracken told the group at Cornerstone Church.

For the record, Place 5 opponent Kedron Jerome Touvell called for the end of meter maids downtown – actually a parking garage-centric approach, rather than surface parking. Colin Kalmbacher wanted the public order ordinance repealed, saying that homelessness was a grave problem that should not be swept under the rug. And Mark Hopkins, who showed up later in the forum, said he knew it was unpopular but that would cut $3 million from traffic calming and devote it to the extension of roads.

On other questions, Touvell said he was a strong supporter of the Save Our Springs Alliance charter amendments, calling himself the strongest pro-environmental candidate in the race and the one candidate endorsed by the Sierra Club. He said he would target any surpluses or tax benefits for low-income members of the community.

Asked whether day labor sites should be located away from neighborhoods, Kalmbacher said he didn’t think there was a magic wand to wave over the issue, but that day laborers probably ought to be located next to businesses where they were anyway – Home Depots. If there is an area of strong day labor activity, “you can’t shrug your shoulders and act like it doesn’t exist,” Kalmbacher said. Home Depot has strongly objected to laborers trying to get jobs in their parking lot on I-35 near the 51st Street day labor site.

Hopkins has made it clear he’s running as an anti-toll road candidate and frequently returned to the topic during his discussions at the forum. Because he showed up late, he was paired with Place 2 candidate Eliza May for his questions, which were slightly different than those for the candidates in Place 5. He stressed the need to put more money in the bond package toward the construction of streets. Hopkins said he could identify $100 million from past and current bond proposals to spend on streets, primarily the extension of existing streets rather than the construction of new streets.

McCracken touted his support of appraisal cap limits. With the launch of Mueller – which will bring an additional $2 billion in construction to the neighborhood – appraisals are likely to rise in neighboring neighborhoods. Neighbors should not be forced to bear the burden of supporting revitalization in inner-city neighborhoods, he said.

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

Slusher and Garcia v. Bunch and Maxey . . . The Environment Science and Policy program of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences at St Edwards University will host a debate between long-time Austin environmentalists on proposed Charter Amendments 1 and 2 on the May 13 ballot. The debate and discussion, which is open to the public, will be 6:30 – 8:30pm Thursday. SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch and political consultant Glen Maxey will argue in favor of the amendments and former Council Member Daryl Slusher and former Mayor Gus Garcia will argue against the amendments . . . Pierce receives association endorsement . . .The Austin Apartment Association (AAA) PAC has endorsed Darrell Pierce for City Council, Place 6. An email from Pierce notes, "The Campaign received the news from Amy Word-Michalowski, Director of Government Relations for the PAC who states that "PAC members were all very impressed with Darrell!" The group is a local trade association affiliated with the Texas Apartment Association and the National Apartment Association . . . Meetings. . . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 12pm in the Parks and Recreation Department Board Room, 200 South Lamar (See above.) . . . The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission meets at 6pm in room 104 at Waller Creek Center . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am in the Pct. 3 JP court room on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown. . . . The Residential Development Regulation Task Force, which routinely meets on Tuesday mornings and Friday afternoons will instead meet only once this week, on Thursday at 1:30pm in the Boards and Commissions room at City Hall. . . New LCRA EOC groundbreaking . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority will break ground today on its new Red Bud Emergency Operations Center. LCRA General Manager Joe Beal, Board Chair Ray A. Wilkerson and a representative from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security will speak on how area residents will benefit from the center during floods and other emergencies. The facility will house LCRA's emergency management, public safety and river management operations. Having a centralized site for emergency operations will help streamline communication and coordination within LCRA and also with local and state emergency management agencies. Ceremonies are planned for 11:45am at the corner Lake Austin Boulevard and Red Bud Trail . . . List of preferred puppy patios . . . The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department (HHSD) has implemented a voluntary registry of restaurants allowing dogs onto outdoor dining areas in compliance with a new city ordinance. The registry, initiated when the new ordinance was passed in March, utilizes a list to be posted on the Health Department's web site. In order to add a restaurant to the registry, owners or operators simply fill out an online form, accessible at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/health/doprr/register_info.cfm, and submit it to the city. The form will then be sent to HHSD personnel for telephone verification. Once it has been confirmed that the restaurant does allow dogs onto outdoor eating areas and does want to be listed on the registry, HHSD will add the name and phone number of the establishment to the online listing . . . Safe, but still unloved . . . The folks who operate the controversial KDBJ Rock Crushing plant near Buda are probably looking for any kind of positive publicity they can get. That may explain their recent news release noting that the plant has been nominated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to apply for the federal agency's Sentinels of Safety award in recognition of the company's "perfect safety record" in running the KBDJ quarry. Winners will be announced the fall. We'll keep you posted. . . . Election Day . . . It's runoff Election Day. Republicans in House District 50 and voters in both parties in House District 47 have a few extra reasons to go to the polls.

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