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Parks board declines to act on water plant

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 by

Council scheduled for executive session on Green alternatives

Saying it simply did not have enough information to vote, the Austin Parks and Recreation Board tabled a measure recommending that the Green Water Treatment plant be relocated in Roy Guerrero Colorado River Park near Town Lake.

The board met Monday night to hear a second presentation on the Austin Water Utility plan for the Green plant, hold a public hearing on the plan and consider a recommendation to the council on the project. The board agreed to hear the 40 plus people who had signed up to speak at the public hearing, but decided before that they would not be taking any action.

The board was considering a plan, first presented a week ago, to decommission the 82-year-old Green Water Treatment Plant on Cesar Chavez near City Hall and build a new facility on 30 acres of undeveloped park land near Lakeshore Drive and Pleasant Valley Road.

City staff basically repeated its presentation from last week, but did provide some additional information on the four other areas studied and rejected as possible sites. AWU Director Chris Lippe said two of the alternate sites were city-owned land: the old Govalle Wastewater Treatment Plant below Longhorn Dam, and another tract in Guerrero Park. Two other sites were presented as Private Site No. 1 and No. 2. Both were listed as 40 to 50 acre sites. Little information was given, but Lippe said both were judged to be too far from the intake source at Town Lake.

Board members, led by Vice Chair Mark Vane, picked up where they left off after last Monday’s initial staff briefing on the project, peppering staff with pointed questions over why the Guerrero site was chosen.

Vane called for an independent third-party to assess the numbers that city staff was providing on the project costs and particularly on how they valued the park land.

“Our board is not getting enough information,” he said. “I’m hesitant to go forward without an independent third party analysis of all this. It just seems to me that $5 million is woefully low for this land and it’s an insult to people to whom the park belongs.”

Vane was referring to the $5 million the city is planning to use as mitigation for the loss of the park land. Vane and others on the board think that land is considerably more valuable that that, but city staff could not give them an estimate of its market value.

“It’s designation as park land makes it very difficult to determine a market value,” said Junie Plummer with the city’s real estate office. “But we not had an independent entity looking at this.”

Other questions for staff included how the city’s legal staff has handled the project, why the need for a large security buffer and why so much of the planning for the project did happen outside of public view.

Citizens show up en masse to register their displeasure over the proposal. Several groups, such as PODER, SOS Alliance, Austin Neighborhoods Council and the Austin Parks Foundation, spoke against the plan. Most speakers were concerned about the loss of park land.

“Guerrero Park is not for sale,” said Susana Almanza of PODER, who talked about the joys of walking though the natural area of Guerrero Park. “This would not only eliminate the pristine land, but it would take away the habitat on the deer, rabbits, and other animals that live in the area. People are not the only ones being displaced here.”

More than 40 people signed up to speak, and almost all of them opposed the city’s plan for the water plant.

In making a motion to postpone action on the plan, Board Member Jeb Boyt said he wanted the city’s Water and Wastewater Commission to study the plan and make a recommendation before the Parks Board makes any recommendations. The motion was accepted unanimously. No other commission has considered the matter. The Water and Wastewater Commission is scheduled to look at the matter on May 3.

The City Council is scheduled to take the matter up in executive session on Thursday. The item is not scheduled for any action.

For information on the Green Plant relocation, go to

Notes from the campaign trail

NXNW Dems hear candidates on replacing Green; no endorsement on Props 1 and 2

During a candidates’ forum sponsored by the North by Northwest Democrats Monday night, all of the candidates for Place 6 on the City Council spoke out against the proposal to build a new water treatment plant in the Guerrero Park on the Colorado River. The group questioned all of the candidates attending the forum about their stance on the new plant, which would replace the Green Water Treatment Plant on Town Lake.

“I am against the proposed relocation for that facility,” said DeWayne Lofton. “It’s in an established park. It affects families, it affects quality of life, and it leads into a long-standing tradition of putting stuff that west Austin generally doesn’t want in east Austin where the elected officials feel there would be less resistance.” Lofton said he would favor a study of other possible locations, including whether the Green Water Treatment Plant should be re-built at its current site.

Sheryl Cole also took a stand against the proposal. “The parks community is concerned about that, the neighborhood community is concerned about that, and I believe that those two communities absolutely must be heard in every major decision that comes before them,” she said. “So I am against the location.”

Darrell Pierce also cited the process used to select the location as his primary objection, saying neighbors should have been allowed to provide input much sooner. “I don’t support it based on the information that I’m aware of, and I think that’s kind of been the frustration of the community itself,” he said. “People didn’t feel like they were able to see what steps the city did go through to make that decision. So I think we should back that process up to a point where the city is very open with the community, and talk about what’s the best decision.”

In Place 2, both Eliza May and Mike Martinez have previously announced their opposition to the Guerrero site. Late Monday, Martinez sent out an e-mail detailing an alternate proposal. “It puts it on a utility site at Decker Lake and allows us to create transmission lines that will pump water from the Colorado river, maintain a strong commitment to Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs,” he said. “I’m not saying I have the solution, all I’m saying is we need more conversation. We need more community input than what’s happening right now.”

Incumbent Place 5 Council Member Brewster McCracke n, who has previously listed reasons to support the Guerrero site, indicated he would like to receive further information before making a decision. He said he would pay special attention to the recommendations of the Parks Board, Environmental Board, and Planning Commission. He also expressed frustration that the public was not given more details about the possible alternate locations for the new treatment plant. “What in the world is going on that we ask the Parks Board to give input on where the Green Water Treatment Plant successor should go, and we wouldn’t tell you what the alternatives were? That’s not the way we need to be doing business,” he said. “The first thing we need to do is make all the information available public, so we can get input.”

At the close of the meeting, the NXNW Democrats endorsed Mayor Will Wynn, May in Place 2, McCracken in Place 5, and Cole in Place 6. The group also took votes on endorsing the various charter amendments, but was only able to reach a decision to endorse Proposition 6. That amendment would allow the city to offer additional health benefits to many city employees, including those gay employees who would like to extend benefits to their partners.

Transportation Commission studies bikeway

The Urban Transportation Commission reviewed the latest map—only two days old—of the oft-delayed Lance Armstrong Bikeway Project, which still includes an undefined path through downtown until Capital Metro makes a firm decision on its streetcar plan.

The bikeway, which crosses the city from Lake Austin to East Austin, is not always a dedicated bike lane. Sometimes it’s a bike lane. Sometimes it’s a bike route with no dedicated lane, marked only by a bikeway sign. Sometimes, including along a portion of Cesar Chavez, it’s an off-street trail. Construction on each end of the bikeway – minus downtown and funded by a federal grant – could begin by year’s end. Project Manager Louis Lindsey estimated construction would take nine months.

Lindsey, who outlined the proposed map to UTC members, walked the route across the map: The west end starts at the intersection of Lake Austin Boulevard and Veterans Drive and follows Veterans Drive. Then the bikeway swings under MoPac and passes south of the Stephen F Austin High School campus. Once past the high school, the pathway crosses up the north side of Cesar Chavez Street to the Shoal Creek Trail then turns up to either Third or Fourth Street. The path is uncertain through downtown and depends on Capital Metro’s final decision on a streetcar system, a proposal that must be approved by voters and would connect downtown to Mueller, Lindsey said.

After the bikeway passes downtown, it will cross Interstate 35, said Lindsey. Initially, the bikeway will be on Fourth Street, cross down to Comal and become an off-street trail until Capital Metro’s redevelopment of Saltillo Plaza is complete. The pathway, once it is past Saltillo, will go out Fifth Street. Once the bikeway hits San Saba, it will have dedicated bike lanes again out to Shady Lane, where it turns into an off-street path until the bikeway hooks up with the Montopolis Bridge, Lindsey told the UTC.

Plans are prepared for the west and east ends of the project, Lindsey said. The Texas Department of Transportation, which administers and disburses the federal funds in the project, is currently reviewing those plans. As soon as the plan review is complete, the project will go out for bids, possibly in September, Lindsey said.

Bike advocate Tommy Eden questioned the project coordinating, asking whether the delays in starting the project put funding at risk. Lindsey said “no,” that the statute mentions three years, but it doesn’t mention that ground has to be broken in three years. TxDOT has indicated it will continue to support the project as long as there is progress, in some manner, towards the construction of the bikeway.

Colly Kreidler, the city’s bike program coordinator, noted that the portions where bike lanes are proposed would have a separate, striped bike lane. The bike routes would have signs that note the bikeway’s path. And the off-street bike trails will be concrete paths that would meet federal requirements to be considered a dedicated “bike path.”

To comply with maintaining the historical context of the Seaholm Plant – and get past its surrounding historical fence – Lindsey and Kreidler have agreed to include a small “pullout” area with a historical plaque noting the history of Seaholm.

The project’s funding also will include $88,000 toward the city’s Art in Public Places program, which Kreidler said would be used as seed money to encourage the local community to provide artwork along the bikeway’s route.

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

PAC using Green controversy to push amendments. . . The Save Our Springs Alliance sent out an e-mail to members yesterday urging recipients to come to last night's public hearing at the Parks Board. "This latest secret deal is a perfect example of why we need Prop 1, the Open Government Online charter amendment," the message says. That part of the email was paid for by the Clean Water Clean Government PAC, according to the message. Several SOS members were also participating in a news conference prior to last night’s meeting, calling for the City Council to table the Green Water Treatment Plant project. The coalition was comprised of a number of different activist groups . . . Paperwork still in the mail?. . The City Clerk's office still has not received the contribution and expenditure report from the pro Proposition 1 and 2 PAC, although they have received all the other C&Es due last Thursday . . . Place 5 candidate Mark Hopkins, who is running against incumbent Brewster McCracken, filed his report yesterday. Hopkins reported loaning his campaign $250 and receiving a $100 in- kind donation for web page design. He said he spent a total of $722.58 as of April 3 . . . What’s happening today . . . Candidates will be busy as they run from endorsement meeting to candidate forum this week. The Real Estate Council of Austin will host a luncheon to hear from the candidates beginning at 11:45 a.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel . . . The South Austin Civic Club, made up of high school students will also hold a forum at Akin High Schoo l at 5pm today and the Milwood Neighborhood Association will host a forum at the Milwood Library . . . Meetings. . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioner s meet at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th Street . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in Pct. 3 JP Court Room on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . . Appraisal caps bill filed . . . Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Republican member of the House from Houston, has filed local-option appraisal cap legislation during the special session. The bill still has two sticking points, though. First, it’s the choice of county commissioners, not city council, to call an election. And, second, Gov. Rick Perry issued a call today that did not include appraisal caps and is not likely to do so before a tax bill is passed. McCracken issued a statement Monday thanking Rep. Riddle. “I appreciate Rep. Riddle filing a bill to give communities the option to lower appraisal caps. I also appreciate the efforts of Rep. Bohac and Sen. Janek to introduce legislation in the special session that will give Austin and other local governments the authority to protect homeowners from rising tax appraisals. We are working with Rep. Bohac and Sen. Janek and recognize their longstanding leadership on this issue. I look forward to working with Rep. Riddle, too.” . . . Arts Commission . . . The Austin Arts Commission intends to draft a reply, along with the Arts in Public Places Program, to a letter sent by the Design Commission that criticized the Art Commission’s decision to reject certain proposed artwork at the corner of Second and Congress, artwork intended to serve a functional purpose as a water fountain. After last night’s Arts Commission meeting, Chair Gloria Mata Pennington said discussion of the Design Commission’s letter was brief, but that the Arts Commission was concerned that fellow commissioners did not have all the facts. At the same meeting, the Arts Commission approved a new artist, and alternate, for the intersection of Congress and Second Street. Artist Lars Stanley was approved for the Second Street Corridor Improvement Art project, with artist John Hernandez as the alternate . . . SOS back in court . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance’s case against Lazy Nine MUD will be argued before the Third Court of Appeals on Tuesday morning. SOS will claim that the Lazy Nine MUD, which would serve the proposed Sweetwater community, was illegally formed. The Lazy Nine MUD has proposed issuing tax-exempt bonds to build a new water treatment plant and water lines from Lake Travis up to SH 71. . . Kitties for sale . . . The Austin Humane Society is assisting PAWS of Kyle in placing 21 of the more than 80 cats that were seized from a Kyle woman on Friday of last week. The cats are all spayed/neutered, and are on sale for $65 instead of the regular $90 because of these special conditions. . . Clarification . . . Mario Espinoza of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority wanted In Fact Daily to make it clear that planning for the expanded US290 West at Oak Hill is being done by the Texas Department of Transportation. CTRMA is not working on the project but will take over before the toll road is open to the public. . . Old hands help new ones . . . Members of the Travis County delegation to the Texas Legislature helped their newest member through the first day of her first special session. Democrat Donna Howard, elected to fill the District 48 seat vacated by Todd Baxter, has been studying the complicated issues relating to school finance—but had not had the opportunity for some hands-on study of the controls at her seat in the House chamber. A fellow Representative helped her register her attendance as Speaker Tom Craddick called the session to order. “It’s been very exciting and even overwhelming at the same time,” Rep. Howard said. “There are a lot of things to learn… but it’s been wonderful. Everybody’s been so helpful.”

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