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Pfluger Bridge extension faces changes

Monday, May 22, 2006 by

The costly relocation of Austin Energy utilities likely will mean some changes to the Pfluger Bridge extension project where it connects to Third Street.

Construction on the first phase of the two-part project is slated to begin in March. The $3 million bridge extension will be substantially the same as it was when it passed out of the community advisory group, except for the connection at Third Street, where utilities have interfered. Project Manager Greg Kiloh calls it a "refinement" of the plans due to the fact that the relocating an Austin Energy duct bank and vault would simply be too expensive, possibly several million dollars in additional cost to the project.

In the original plan, the extension of the Pfluger Bridge would pass over Cesar Chavez Street and under both the Union Pacific Railroad line and Bowie Street. The proposed refinement, which the city is choosing after meeting with Austin Energy officials last week, would have the extension passing under the road but ramp up to grade before Third Street. The changes will be taken to the Pfluger CAG in mid-June.

The first phase of the project will cross Cesar Chavez and will land on the Sand Beach Reserve, where it will hook up with a network of surface trails, Kiloh said. The Gables project has dedicated a bike easement between the project’s buildings, which will take the project to the second phase.

The Lance Armstrong Bikeway initially was planned along Third Street, but the street did not provide a fully dedicated east-west access. Through the downtown area, the Lance Armstrong Bikeway will now pass in a dedicated pathway along Cesar Chavez, although cyclists may choose to bike up to Third Street and take that across downtown.

That second phase of the project, which should be under construction in July, would push the bike trail up under Bowie to grade before Third Street. The total cost of the two-phase extension to the Pfluger Bridge will be somewhere around $3 million. The majority of the funding will come from the Capital Metro quarter-cent sales tax.

The original Pfluger Bridge overpass, intended to make biking across Town Lake safer, cost about $9 million.

SW Travis County residents ponder water district

State, local and county officials and members of the public gathered in Bee Cave last week to study various options for protecting the groundwater in the southwestern portion of Travis County. The area is currently unprotected by a Groundwater Conservation District (GCD), which controls the amount of water pumped from aquifers.

Residents in the area recently raised the issue with Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who organized a forum to gather information.

The area is bounded on the north by Lake Travis, on the south by Hays County, on the west by Burnet County, and on the east by the border of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD). The area is designated as a Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA), meaning that the state has determined that groundwater supplies are threatened with shortages or pollution and is eligible for a GCD.

About 50 people gathered Monday at a meeting sponsored by the Hill Country Alliance. A panel of experts from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and the BSEACD outlined the rules, regulations and methods for creating a GCD, should the residents in that area want one.

Kelly Mills, a senior staff geologist with the TCEQ, noted that the area in question is surrounded by GCDs, including Barton Springs, Trinity-Hays, and other districts in Burnet and Blanco counties.

"There are four major ways by which a GCD can be created," he said. "They can be created by an act of the Legislature, through a petition by property owners, through administrative action by the TCEQ or annexation by an existing district."

Mills said the majority of GCDs have been created by the Legislature, while a small percentage has been formed by landowner petition. In all cases, the local population must approve the formation of any district.

Kirk Holland, general manager of the BSEACD, explained that agency’s role in monitoring the Barton Springs zone of the aquifer, and permitting the major users of water from the area. He said while the BSEACD is studying the possibility of annexing southwestern Travis County, there are no firm plans to do so.

"We are in the exploration process to decide if it’s even feasible," he said. "About one-third of the area in question is in the Barton Springs contributing zone. It becomes a question of whether it is more cost effective to annex, or form a separate district."

Holland said the size and complexity of GCDs could vary greatly. He said the BSEACD currently has a board of five volunteer directors, nine employees and an annual budget of about $1.5 million, which is earned by permit fees to users. Conversely, according to Andrew Bacchus, president of the Hays-Trinity GCD, that agency has one part-time employee and five volunteer board members.

One reason the area has not had a GCD up to now is that most of the customers in the area get their water from surface sources, such as Lake Travis or the Pedernales River. However, without the protection of a district, the so-called "Rule of Capture" applies, allowing any landowner to pump as much water as they want out of the aquifer.

No action was taken at Monday’s meeting but several area residents and the Hill Country Alliance say they plan to follow-up on the meeting to further explore the possibility of a GCD in the area.

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

Beck seeks dismissal of charge . . . An attorney representing James Beck, who served as treasurer of the Austin Police Association Political Action Committee (APA PAC) during the 2005 City Council election, is arguing that the city’s campaign finance law is too vague and that the charge should be dismissed. Libertarian activist Arthur DiBianca, who has filed complaints against various Council Members and organizations with the Texas Ethics Commission, may have filed the first of its kind complaint dealing with the failure of a PAC to file a report with the City Clerk. On March 15, 2006, DiBianca filed a complaint against Beck, alleging that the PAC’s former treasurer failed to file a report with the city after the 2005 runoff, which was required under the city’s election regulations. In fact, the report was not filed until after DiBianca filed the Class C Misdemeanor charge against Beck But attorney Tom Stribling argues that the city election law gives the PAC responsibility for filing the campaign finance reports. "It does not state who or what individual may be held criminally liable for the alleged failure, so were not sure why James Beck was the one chosen," Stribling said. "Why pick out one particular individual when the state doesn’t say who has the legal responsibility for performing these acts?" After Stribling brought up the argument in court last week, the judge gave prosecutors time to research the question. Beck, who is now Vice President of the Austin Police Association, no longer has a position with the PAC. He will return to court on June 28 . . . Tax collection firm may be near goal . . . Word around Travis County offices is that the Linebarger firm—which has pursued Travis County like an ardent suitor—has convinced three county commissioners to award them a contract to collect delinquent taxes. The matter is scheduled for consideration Tuesday . . . Puppies need help . . . Saddled with the care of 47 dogs seized from a puppy mill last week, the Austin Humane Society is in need of donations. Monetary donations are the best way for the Humane Society to care for these animals' needs. The AHS is also in need of blankets, towels, sheets and cuddle beds. Monetary donations may be made online at www.austinhumanesociety.org/donate and blankets, etc. can be brought directly to the shelter at 124 W. Anderson Lane . . . Meetings . . . The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors meets at 4pm at Capital Metro Headquarters 2910 East Fifth St.

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