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Board says city should delay WTP#4

Thursday, July 20, 2006 by

Members of the Environmental Board, who scuttled plans for Water Treatment Plant #4 in April of last year, are calling for the City Council to put plans to revive the project at a new location on hold for 30 days to allow them to study it further.

In a reversal of policy, on June 22 the Council ordered the City Manager to instruct staff to begin work on developing WTP#4 on a 45-acre parcel of land known as the Cortaña Tract a few miles southeast of the original location. (See In Fact Daily, June 23, 2006) That was a change from the Council’s earlier pursuit of a replacement for the aging Green Water Treatment Plant on Town Lake near Longhorn Dam.

Austin Water Utility Assistant Director Reynaldo Cantu and William Conrad with the AWU Wildlife Management Division presented a preliminary report on plans for the new WTP#4 to the Environmental Board last night. They noted that the original 102-acre site for the plant would be dedicated to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in exchange for 45 acres on the Cortaña tract, which is currently considered habitat for the endangered Black-Capped Vireo. The city also proposes to designate 928 acres of water quality protection lands along Barton Creek as BCP habitat.

However, comments from two former BCP wildlife biologists about environmental concerns over the new site seemed to cement the board’s opposition.

"I’m very please that they have moved WTP#4 out of the Bull Creek Watershed," said Jackie David, who was a biologist with the BCP from 1993 to 2004. "But what they appear to be doing is saving the Jollyville salamander at the expense of the Black-Capped Vireo. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul."

She said the city’s plans to create new Vireo habitat could be too little, too late, unless they create it first and make sure the endangered birds are established before they begin clearing the new site.

Melody Lyttle, another former BCP biologist, said previous attempts at creating new Vireo habitat has been a mixed bag.

"In my opinion, this will be a disaster for the Vireo," she said. "A full 35 percent of the nesting pairs on the city’s BCP land are on the 45-acre Cortaña site. This fast-tracking is just not appropriate."

Jeff Munday with the Audubon Society said the board should ask the Council to delay next week’s planned vote to go ahead with developing plans for the plant.

"It may be a good project but it needs to be better thought out," he said. "Taking at least 30 days would be prudent. There are a lot of thoughtful political, legal and moral issues that need to be considered."

From that point on, board members were only willing to argue over how long to ask the Council to wait. Board Member William Curra said he was wary of the city’s prior dealing on the WTP#4 issues.

"I was the chair of the subcommittee we had last year to look into issues surrounding the treatment plant," he said. "I would remind you that it was the work of that committee that got the project delayed then, and elicited a promise from the water utility that it would conduct a genuine study of alternative sites. We never saw that report, yet here we are again, looking at this project."

Board Member Phil Moncada moved that they recommend that the City Council delay any further action on the project for 30 days. Curra offered a substitute motion to recommend a 60-day delay, but it failed on a 3-4 vote.

Board members then approve the original motion on a 7-0 vote. Chair David Anderson recused himself.

City to back county redistricting plan

Council voices strong objections to Abbott map The Austin City Council voted unanimously Wednesday—with Mayor Will Wynn absent—to endorse a congressional redistricting map submitted by Travis County in the latest round in the on-going court battle over the state’s 2003 redistricting plan. The county last week filed two maps in U.S. District Court as possible options to fix problems identified by the U.S. Supreme Court with the map adopted in 2003. (See In Fact Daily, July 18, 2006.)

Both of Travis County’s maps propose keeping Congressional District 25, the seat currently held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett, anchored in eastern Travis County. Instead of stretching down to south Texas, the district would only include portions of Bastrop, Caldwell, and Hays Counties. Under the Travis County plan, Districts 21 and 10 would also cover parts of Travis County, but District 25 would have more than half of its population within Austin. The difference in the two maps has to do with how the changes in Central Texas would affect Laredo.

Council members also strongly objected to the map proposed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, which also splits Travis County three ways but prevents the city from being the majority player in any district.

"I would like to express a strong concern and dismay at the state’s plan," said Council Member Sheryl Cole. "It does not protect Austin in a solidly anchored district. This has been the city’s criteria for quite some time. I also would like to express disdain and concern that the state’s map would essentially split the African-American community into three districts…where none of them have an effective voice. I do not believe that is what the Voting Rights Act was intended to do."

The Attorney General’s proposed map was the focus of the Council’s public discussion after an executive session that lasted nearly three hours. "This plan basically adds insult to injury. This means that no one congressman is responsible to the interests of Austin," said Council Member Lee Leffingwell. "Austin is the only city in the state of Texas that does not have a congressional district firmly anchored, substantially anchored within the city…and by substantially, I would suggest that a reasonable criteria would be two-thirds."

Council Member Brewster McCracken blasted the AG’s proposed map as the "son of Tom Delay," mentioning the former House Majority Leader ten times during his remarks on the dais. "The County’s plan gets us very close to what was taken from us in the original Tom Delay plan," he said, "and that is to take us back to a 75 percent anchor district in Travis County."

The Council voted 6-0 to instruct the City Manager and the city’s attorneys to submit a brief in support of the County’s proposed maps by the Friday deadline. Mayor Will Wynn, who was present for the start of the special called Council meeting, left to take care of family obligations. Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley read from a prepared statement on the Mayor’s behalf. "My guiding principle remains that the City of Austin should have an anchor district…that is to say, a majority of the voters in that district be City of Austin residents. Ultimately I and many others believe that this is the only fair way to insure that our city has an elected representative in Congress who truly reflects the values and priorities of our growing and diverse city. . Again, while I cannot be present for this vote, I trust the judgment of my colleagues on this important issue, and I will be supportive of the position that the Council and the city ultimately adopts."

After the meeting, Council Members stressed that the endorsement of a particular map should not be taken as an endorsement of any particular Congressional representative or candidate. "The three Congressmen that we have right now have done a pretty good job serving the people of Austin," said Council Member Leffingwell. "But this plan has to be a long-term plan, and it shouldn’t be taking into account individuals that you might like or dislike. Congressmen are elected every two years and they can change, the majority party can change…so looking at the long term…what we needed was a district that is firmly anchored in Austin."

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

Web site advice . . . Staff of the Austin City Council have been hearing about the ethics questions associated with governmental web sites. City Ethics Officer John Steiner said Wednesday that City Council members’ city web sites should steer clear of linking to their own personal or campaign sites in order to avoid the prohibition on political advertising. Although Steiner said there is no Texas Ethics Commission ruling or caselaw on what constitutes political advertising, it is like pornography, "you know it when you see it." Steiner did not raise questions about any Austin Council Member’s web page but maybe he has not reviewed Council Member Brewster McCracken’s page yet. It features the television ad that McCracken ran during this spring’s campaign. . . . More on ethics . . . Steiner is the city’s only ethics person and is called on advise the members of the city’s more than 50 boards and commissions, as well as City Council and members of the staff, on ethics questions. He has created a booklet called Keep Austin Ethical for members of the Council and is currently working on a video for members of boards and commissions to give them the basics . . . Moving day(s) . . . Richard Arellano has already left Mayor Will Wynn’s office and Matt Curtis is on his way out. Curtis has taken on the tough assignment of helping Capital Metro improve its public image, while Arellano will join the Austin Housing Authority. McCracken aide Rich Bailey will become the Mayor’s Chief of Staff and Curtis says there is a "short list" of candidates to fill his own job . . . That leaves McCracken, who just two months ago had two experienced aides, with one new hire, Rachel Procter May. He will be looking for someone with political savvy and a desire to deal with CAMPO issues, among other things . . . Environmentalists, others attack Reliant Energy's opposition to renewable energy . . . Reliant Energy of Houston has asked the Public utility Commission to derail the planned requirement that Texas utilities purchase 5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2015. "With Houston 's air quality as bad as it is, it is unconscionable that Reliant would work to cripple the growing renewable energy market," said Luke Metzger of Environment Texas. Joining Metzger in the statement were Beth O'Brien of Public Citizen, Bee Moorhead of Texas Impact, a statewide interfaith advocacy group, and Jayne Junkin of ACORN . . . Baker leaves hospital . . . Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Betty Baker, who had surgery earlier this week, has been released from South Austin Hospital. We wish her a speedy recovery . . . Planning ahead . . . Those who must wait for matters to come before the City Council next week should bring dinner and perhaps a sleeping bag. The preliminary agenda includes 137 items.

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