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BCP Committee OKs WTP4 at Cortaña

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 by

Travis County to vote on plan amendment today

Austin’s plan to build Water Treatment Plant 4 on the 45-acre Cortaña tract near Lake Travis won the approval of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Coordinating Committee Monday, but not without a few conditions attached.

BCP’s Coordinating Committee, which consists of Austin Mayor Will Wynn and Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, voted to "move the project forward" following reports from the BCP Science and Citizens advisory committees and an executive session to confer with city and county attorneys. Attached to the approval was a list of conditions tacked on by the two BCP committees, linking permission to build on the Cortaña tract with efforts to complete development of 2,000 acres of Black-Capped Vireo habitat and purchasing within three years the rest of the land to complete the BCP as planned.

Wynn said after the meeting that it was a big step towards getting WTP4 built. "I am pleased that we were able to get this critical step done today," he said. "We are under a deadline to get this plant built and operating, and I think the folks at Travis County understand the need for that."

Next up for WTP4 is a vote scheduled today by the Travis County Commissioners Court on applying for an amendment to the BCP permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Austin Water Utility plans to build the treatment plant on one of the highest points in the area in order to take advantage of gravity to distribute the water. An intake tunnel will be drilled underground from the Cortaña tract to Lake Travis to draw raw water for the plant. It is scheduled to go online sometime in 2013 with an initial capacity of 50 million gallons per day. It could eventually be expended to handle up to 300 MGD.

In a review of the BCP Citizen’s Advisory Committee Report, Ted Siff told the Coordinating Board that his committee supported the Cortaña site, if the 102 acres from the original site go to the BCP as a substitute for the Cortaña property; the Little Barton Creek tract being offered as mitigation be put under dual city-county management and its public access is grandfathered; and the City of Austin moves to develop comprehensive Black-Capped Vireo habitat by March 2007.

"On the Little Barton Creek access, we will revisit the tract after a period of time to see what impact opening the trails might have on the habitat," he said. "The trails will only be open from Sept. 1 to March 1."

The Scientific Advisory Committee had a similar list of conditions for its approval. They included a renewed commitment from the city to complete the BCP; city leadership to develop Black-Capped Vireo habitat restoration, with five acres of new habitat created for each acre of current habitat taken; and dedicating the Little Barton Creek tract to the BCP, with its 928 acres counting towards the overall preserve system’s acreage goals.

"Things have become a little complicated with the linking of the WTP4 to the completion of the BCP, but its something that we can work with," Wynn said. "It actually good that we are getting the opportunity to move forward on completing the BCP as it was planned."

Wynn added that if the county does not approve the project, the City of Austin will move the project back to its original 102-acre site in the headwaters of Bull Creek.

"That site is permitted and dedicated, and if necessary, we are ready to go ahead with the project on that site," he said. "We don’t see any other viable sites available."

Travis County Commissioners will take up the WTP4 issue at 3pm at today’s Commissioners Court meeting. The City Council is scheduled to consider the matter for a final time at Thursday’s Council meeting.

SH130 group eyes corridor development

The regional leaders' task force on State Highway 130 met Monday to discuss the strengths and opportunities of the proposed toll road – with a few detours for discussion of issues such as frontage roads and annexation – in an effort to launch a comprehensive regional plan on the impending roadway.

Kirk Watson, who is likely to replace Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos in the Senate and as chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board, is leading the meetings. Some of the issues that have risen to the top in recent discussions are the ways that cities such as Round Rock, Pflugerville and Georgetown are trying to get ahead of the development curve – annexation – and the concerns that many jurisdictions have about providing anything more than rudimentary services to the area that is expected to be the next major node of development in the region.

Round Rock also has serious concerns about whether regional water providers will be up to the task of providing expanded service to an area that is expected to see huge growth in the next five years.

Watson said he understood the real challenge of annexation for many of the smaller cities that had to struggle to provide services, knowing that the area may provide a limited yield to the city in the short term.

"I’ve been through an annexation or two in my time, and I’m just about over it," Watson said, drawing some laughs from others in the room.

Monday’s meeting included an overview of SH 130 preparations from Pflugerville, Lockhart, Round Rock and CAMPO. As might be expected given the size of the communities, Round Rock was much further down the road in terms of planning for SH 130, and other development, than Lockhart, which may be faced with major impacts from the toll road but is so small it had to hire its first planner to deal with the issue.

CAMPO, for its part, is launching an effort this week to discuss transportation planning that is more sensitive to land planning issues, Executive Director Michael Aulick told the group. That means launching a regional effort to discuss how land use policies can shape where development and roads go to more accurately reflect the vision of Envision Central Texas.

As Lower Colorado River Authority General Manager Joe Beal suggested, it’s the type of chicken and the egg situation that many high-growth areas in Central Texas are experiencing: Should road and utility construction be a response to where development is going? Or should road and utility construction drive development to preferred areas?

One of the most interesting items out of the discussion, which got limited discussion because of time constraints, was a spreadsheet of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that served as "homework" to the jurisdictions after the last meeting.

For instance, Beal considered the regional planning for water, cable and other infrastructure and other utilities to be a plus to SH 130, while a lack of a central point of decision-making for those decisions was a weakness. Round Rock considered the ability to coordinate its end of planning and services to the SH 130 corridor to be a strength, while the use of Jonah SUD in the unincorporated areas of the city to be a weakness. Bob Tesch of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority called the enhanced mobility and economic development of the corridor to be a plus, while the possibility of an ill-planned "ugly corridor" that puts a costly infrastructure strain on local jurisdictions to be a threat.

One issue that did pop up towards the meeting’s end was whether the SH 130 corridor would be part of the Trans-Texas Corridor 35 (TTC-35), a far more costly, controversial and political road project. Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) noted, as many had, that it was all but certain that SH 130 would serve as a part of the corridor, a point that did not set well with all the committee members. District Engineer Bob Daigh noted that while TTC-35 suggests a variety of different uses in one corridor – transmission lines, roads and rail – it did not mean that SH 130 would necessarily serve all those purposes or require the kind of right-of-way that would be suggested for a multi-modal corridor.

Both Austin City Manager Toby Futrell and Watson pointed out that SH 130 – whether it was part of the TTC-35 corridor or not – would require exploring all the issues that were on the table for the jurisdictions. The road, attached to the larger project or not, still begs many of the questions that will be posed as regional planning issues at future meetings.

Watson intends to move the discussion, at the next meeting in September, to talk of common issues and a shared strategy among the local jurisdictions. The next meeting for the regional leaders is scheduled for Sept. 18.

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Audit group to talk about public safety . . . The City Council Audit and Finance Committee meets at 10am and will consider directing the City Auditor to look for one or more independent consultants for both financial and performance reviews of the city's public safety departments. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 18, 2006.) Council Members Brewster McCracken, Lee Leffingwell, and Mike Martinez are sponsoring an item on this week's Council agenda directing the auditor to solicit bids for the audits after consulting with the city manager and public safety departments as well as their unions . . . Hotel/Motel Audit Report . . . The committee will also hear about the most recent audit of hotel and motel tax receipts. The previous report indicated that auditors had been very successful in uncovering previously uncollected tax revenue . . . Mayor to leave Audit Committee . . . Current city code designates that the Mayor and three members of the Council shall serve on the Council Audit and Finance Committee. Apparently, Mayor Will Wynn no longer wishes to do that task. There is an item on this week's Council agenda approving an ordinance that would simply designate that four members of the Council serve on the committee. Council Member Jennifer Kim had hoped to serve on the committee but two members with seniority, Leffingwell and McCracken, got the assignment instead. But if the Mayor steps down, Kim will be next in line for the job . . . Meetings . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The T ravis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am at the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners Court meets at 9am at the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos . . . Sister City Celebration . . . The City of Austin and Austin Sister Cities International will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the worldwide organization and commemorate the tragic events of 9/11 at a free concert Sept. 11. The concert at the Austin City Hall Plaza will feature Sara Hickman and Sparks & Friends. Music will include "We Are One," the Sister Cities theme penned by John Denver and a sing-along of the Beatles "All You Need Is Love." Sparks & Friends will also feature music from the 10 Austin Sister Cities. Festivities will include a moment of silence and salute by the Austin Police Department Pipe and Drum Corps to recall victims and surviving families on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack in the United States. Austin’s 10 Sister Cities are Adelaide, Australia; Gwangmyeong, Korea; Koblenz, Germany; Lima, Peru; Maseru, Lesotho; Oita, Japan; Old Orlu, Nigeria; Saltillo, Mexico; Taichung, Taiwan; and Xishuangbanna, China. Events will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Free parking will be available in the Austin City Hall Garage, entered off Lavaca Street. . . . Texas Benefits Event . . . Travis and Hays County legislators are planning a news conference at 11am today in the Speakers Committee Room at the Capitol to announce the Texas Benefits Event to assist those who have experienced difficulties with new state system. Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and Rep. Eliot Naishtat will host the conference to inform the public of an upcoming opportunity for individuals to apply for CHIP, Medicaid, Food Stamps and TANF benefits, and to address problems they may have encountered in the application or renewal process since implementation of the state's new integrated eligibility and enrollment system. The event is planned from 10am to 4pm this Saturday at the Austin Convention Center. Sponsors include all members of the local legislative delegation and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Texas Access Alliance, Travis County Commissioners Court, Travis County Healthcare District, Mayor Will Wynn and the Austin City Council, City of Austin, Austin Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, Children's Defense Fund of Texas, Insure-a-kid, Community Action Network, United Way Capital Area, and Children’s Courtyard . . . Ride the bus—Go to ACL . . . To kick off Commute Solutions Month, Capital Metro is offering an opportunity to grab the Golden Ticket and win free tickets to the Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festiva l. The Golden Ticket Contest begins today and ends Sept. 13. CapMetro will be loading 30 "Golden Tickets" at random into fare boxes on board buses all over the city. If you purchase a Day Pass and a "Golden Ticket" pops out of the fare box, you’re an instant winner of a pair of tickets for Friday, Saturday or Sunday access to the ACL Music Festival. For more details, check http://www.capmetro.org.

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