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Boards may not take position on WTP 4

Wednesday, August 2, 2006 by

Two commissions to hear Cortaña plans tonight

A showdown may be brewing over Austin Water Utility’s plans to move forward on building Water Treatment Plant #4 on an alternative site near Lake Travis on land currently dedicated to the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP).

In a memo to city officials obtained by In Fact Daily, David Anderson, chair of the city’s Environmental Board, said he believes the city is moving too fast on the project without getting input from two key advisory groups, the BCCP’s Scientific Advisory Committee and the BCCP Citizen’s Advisory Committee. Because of that, he said, the Environmental Board would not be making a recommendation at tonight’s meeting. The City Council is scheduled to consider an amendment of the BCCP at its August 10 meeting.

Last week, the City Council approved a $10 million contract amendment for Carollo Engineers to proceed with preliminary engineering work on the Cortaña tract, near the intersection of RM 620 and RR 2222 instead of its original proposed location at the headwaters of Bull Creek. (See In Fact Daily, July 28, 2006.)

AWU Director Chris Lippe maintains that the city is under pressure to get additional water treatment capacity online by 2011, or as soon after that as possible, in order to meet the demands of projected growth and avoid a lack of capacity in the water system.

"The largest known environmental issue at this time is the Black-Capped Vireo population, currently occupying the proposed site," Anderson wrote. "One of the main issues to date is the lack of involvement of the BCCP Scientific Advisory Committee in evaluating the viability of this population, given the construction of the plant, whether or not adequate mitigation habitat can be built, and whether or not these birds have a realistic chance of relocating to any mitigation habitat."

In recent months, the city has both proposed and rescinded a replacement for the aging Green Water Treatment Plant elsewhere on Town Lake, then shifted its focus towards building the WTP#4 plant on an alternative site known as the Cortaña tract. That tract is a few miles south of the original location in the headwaters of the Bull Creek, where its construction might have threatened the health of the watershed, and in particular, the Jollyville Plateau salamander, which is currently being considered for designation as an endangered species.

The specific issue is to request a modification of the US Fish and Wildlife Service permit to proceed with WTP#4 on the Cortaña site. That measure will be before both the Environmental Board and the Water and Wastewater Commission (WWW), which are both scheduled to meet tonight at 6pm in City Hall.

WWW Commissioner Leslie Pool, who has been on that panel’s WTP#4 subcommittee, said while she is not opposed to building the plant, she wants to hear input from the BCCP advisory groups before moving forward.

"We haven’t been presented with any information yet on the permit application," Pool said. "We don’t know anything about the Cortaña selection yet. They haven’t had a meeting to have any presentations yet. My sense is that there’s a lot of information out there, and in many instances it has not been presented to all the boards and commissions that need to review it."

Both BCCP advisory groups, the scientists and the citizens, are scheduled to meet next week, so the Council will presumably have their recommendations. But unless they have a special meeting, neither the city board will meet again before the Aug. 10 Council meeting.

Council Member Lee Leffingwell said he has not seen any information to dissuade him from moving ahead on the project.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to support WTP 4 where it is unless it’s evident that it’s a real danger to the survival of the Black-Capped Vireo," he said. "The water utility says by locating the plant here, they can save $1 million a year in energy costs. …I personally don’t think just for five nesting pairs (of birds) that it’s worth a million dollars a year forever, if they can relocate those birds and not pose a danger to the survival of the species."

City Manager Toby Futrell said despite some mistakes by city staff, she believes the city is now on the right path to building a new treatment plant.

"When we get this information in front of the boards, it’s very hard for me to believe anyone’s going to come to a different conclusion about this," that Cortaña is the best site, she said. "So I have high hopes that when we get the information in front of them in a way that they can see as much information as they need that they're going to get to the same place. It’s just been clumsy and frustrating to try to get there—on our part."

She said she understood that the process was badly handled but said part of the reason was that the staff was working on WTP#4 and then the Council directed them to replace Green first, so they turned their attention to that. At that point, the Environmental Board had requested several studies, including one on alternative sites and one of best practices. Those were completed but never got to the commissions in the process of switching gears to move forward with Green.

But in his memo, Anderson said he strongly felt that the city should follow its prescribed process in the matter.

"The Boards and Commissions process is a wonderful tool to provide meaningful input on major Council decisions of this nature," he wrote. "It would be a major blow to the long-term viability of the Environmental Board if Council did not have our recommendation prior to making this important decision."

MBE/WBE panel hears ideas on new contract rules

The city’s MBE/WBE Advisory Committee is looking to expand its feedback – including city department input – into an anticipated overhaul of the minority-owned/women-owned business enterprise procurement rules.

Attorney Karen Penzer of Andrews and Kurth presented some initial recommendations to the advisory committee last night, noting that some changes were cosmetic; others were intended to bring city guidelines into alignment with federal guidelines; and still others were intended to reflect the suggestions of the advisory committee.

The idea that got the most traction – and discussion –Tuesday night was the inclusion of disabled service veterans as a subgroup under the city’s MBE/WBE program. The group would be included in the overall, but not the ethnic subgroup, goals for the city’s procurement programs. It was hard to tell whether advisory committee members, and especially Chair Adrian Neely, considered this a good idea but most posed questions about how such a program would work and how goals would be met.

Veteran Jim Brennan, who owns his own small business in Austin, approached DSMBR Director Jeffrey Travillion about the inclusion of vets in the city’s program. Disabled vets have been a 3 percent subcontracting goal of federal contracts since the late ‘90s, Brennan said. That goal has been difficult to meet because of the small pool of applicants and the general lack of knowledge about the subcontracting goal.

"The program has been successful as a subcontracting group, mainly because – thankfully – there aren’t a lot of us," Brennan said. "The purpose of my interest is to help those businesses contribute to more contracts."

Brennan said he wanted to act as a catalyst for new business opportunities. The goal was not to take business away from existing minority businesses in Austin, Brennan said, but to get businesses owned by disabled veterans registered so they could qualify for the federal contracting opportunities that Brennan’s own business accesses.

A search of a federal contractor registry could give the committee an idea of how many businesses might qualify under a city program, but Brennan said he had no idea how many businesses were located in the Austin region. Under federal guidelines, the disabled veteran business meets the same standards of ownership as any other minority business. A disabled veteran must own at least 50 percent of the business.

Brennan also is working with lawmakers to introduce similar legislation on a state level. California, and cities in California, have been the first to introduce the veteran standards, and Brennan brought an ordinance from Riverside, California, as an example.

Committee members did not appear completely sold on the idea, but said they would return to the issue when the committee meets again on August 15. At that time, staff will present additional written language on other suggestions. Those suggestions include additional definitions of economic disadvantage for certification and recertification; additional guidance on elements to be included in solicitation documents; and expanded objective documentation when a prime contractor needs to remove, and replace, a non-performing minority subcontractor on a job. Neely said he would welcome all input on the subject, including feedback from city departments.

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

Wastewater to cool energy plant . . . Austin Energy and the Austin Water Utility have partnered to conserve water and increase Austin's available water supply by sending treated wastewater to the Sand Hill Energy Center for use by a power plant rather than discharging the treated water into the Colorado River. Switching from potable water to treated wastewater frees up the estimated 50 million gallons per summer month required by the 300-megawatt combined cycle plant for use by as many as 6,250 average-size homes in Austin. Using reclaimed water instead of potable water also will reduce Sand Hill's water bill from almost $2 million a year to $500,000. The treated water began flowing this summer from the adjacent. South Austin Regional Wastewater Treatment plant into a miniature water treatment plant located at Sand Hill. There the water goes through a final cleansing process to remove nutrients from the water that could cause algae growth in the combined cycle unit. The water is then used to re-cool or condense the steam that is used to turn the generator. Power plants that do not have access to a lake, such as Sand Hill, generally use potable water for cooling purposes. Austin Energy and AWU partnered to invest $7.5 million in capital improvements at the treatment facility to supply Sand Hill and other customers with reclaimed water. . . Betty’s back . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission was back at full strength last night with the return of Chair Betty Baker, who missed the group's last meeting because of surgery. The ZAP also welcomed new member James Shieh . . . Meetings . . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission meets at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . Gas prices motivate bus riders . . . If you thought higher gas prices would increase Capital Metro ridership, you would be right. At this week’s board meeting, Fred Gilliam, president and CEO of Capital Metro said ridership on fixed bus routes is up 8.8 percent over last year’s numbers, and that ridership on Express bus service from outlying Park and Ride sites has increased 14.4 percent. He noted that while the number of riders was down on the UT Shuttle service, the number of UT students using regular Capital Metro service was up 9.7 percent . . . Travis County notes . . . Dry weather means Travis County is once more under a burn ban, a trend that appears to be sweeping other counties in the region, too…. Travis County budget officials have filed their preliminary budget, and the latest appraisal district numbers have dropped Travis County’s effective tax rate even lower, to 44.43 cents per hundred-dollar valuation. That means a tax bill of about $800 on the average homestead. The first budget hearing is on the evening of Aug. 9. Budget mark-up continues through September, with a goal of adopting the final budget on Sept. 26… Look for Travis County officials to propose a 5 percent pay raise for elected officials in ads that will come out next week. As he has every year, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty will turn down his own raise, even if the pay raise passes. Auditor Susan Spataro had recommended a pay raise of 5.5 percent . . . Health care administrator chosen . . . Williamson County Commissioners have voted to contract with C ovenant Management Systems, LP, (Mediview) as a third party administrator to handle services for the county’s Indigent Health Care Program. As required under state law, Williamson County pays for necessary medical services for eligible residents—persons whose income is below 25 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $426 per month for one person), with limited assets, not eligible for Medicaid. This year, program expenditures will approach $4 million, paying medical services for more than 1,200 county residents. Commissioner said the program’s pressing needs for electronic bill processing services, a medical provider network, and a pharmacy benefits manager were factors in the decision. Program Coordinator Bride Roberts said he hopes that operating the system more like a PPO will encourage more physicians and physician networks to participate in the program . . . Cap Metro on the air . . . Join Jim Walker and his guests from 12:30 to 1pm today for A Neighborly Conversation, on ANC Radio, KOOP 91.7FM. Capital Metro operates almost all of the public transit in Central Texas (primarily bus and a soon to be commuter rail) stretching from Leander to far south Austin, Pflugerville to Lake Travis. Guests this week include Lucy Galbraith, Transit Oriented Development Manager for Capital Metro, and Bo McCarver, executive director of the Blackland Community Development Corporation.

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