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Hays OKs agreement with GBRA

Wednesday, September 20, 2006 by

There’s no doubt outside the Hays County courthouse, where drought restriction signs grace the lawn, or inside, where commissioners yesterday had an agenda full of water-related items, that water supply is one of the county’s biggest concerns nowadays.

Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to enter into an interlocal agreement with the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA) meant to help address the county’s long-term water and wastewater needs. The court also heard a presentation from Sustainable Water Resources LLC, a public-private partnership that hopes to supply counties and municipalities along the I-35 corridor with water from the Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer.

"We feel like it’s very important that the county and the river authority work together closely in addressing these issues," said Bill West, general manager of GBRA. "This simply lays the predicate for the two entities to work together."

The interlocal agreement doesn’t provide any specific solutions or plans for the area’s water needs, but it does formalize a commitment from the county and GBRA to work together towards the development of water and wastewater infrastructure.

GBRA’s primary surface water sources are Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe River basin. The river authority owns a pipeline that already serves cities in Hays County including Buda, Kyle and San Marcos.

The county has previously partnered with only one supplier, the Lower Colorado River Authority, which has a pipeline running along US290. But municipalities within the county draw water from the GBRA, LCRA, Edwards Aquifer, Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and Hays Trinity Groundwater District.

Surface water is often more reliable for municipalities because its almost endless supply doesn’t become depleted as easily as groundwater. But surface water can also cost as much as four times as much as groundwater to transport, sometimes up to $6 per thousand gallons.

Commissioners acknowledged that while cooperation with entities like GBRA is an important part of regional planning, the county needs to look to diverse sources to satisfy regional water needs.

That’s where groups like SWR come in, County Judge Jim Powers said. SWR is a consortium that includes Winstead Consulting Group LLC, a subsidiary of law firm Winstead Sechrest & Minick PC; Bury+Partners Inc., an Austin engineering firm; Schlumberger Ltd.'s water services division; JPMorgan Chase Bank; and PB Consult, a unit of Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas Inc. Partnered with GBRA, the group has been working with landowners in Lee County over the last decade to develop and transport the water in the Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer.

"The bottom line is, none of them (Hays County’s current water suppliers) are available to you long term," said SWR principal Lynn Sherman. "You have to think about where you’re going to go for long term supply."

Commissioners didn’t make any decisions concerning a contract with SWR. Powers said the court would listen to several other public-private groups’ presentations about water infrastructure before deciding how to approach a long-term supply plan.

A new study shows Austin has room to add thousands of new jobs in the medical sector. The study, commissioned by Opportunity Austin, shows that the primary medical sector in Austin accounts for 5.7 percent of the area’s job base, the national average for cities is 7.1 percent.

"The impact is pretty substantial. Here in Austin, hospitals and doctors offices…account for almost $2 billion in wages. That’s over 41,000 jobs," said John Hockenyos with Texas Perspectives. "Those are big numbers in the Austin economy."

With the economic "ripple effect," Hockenyos concluded that more than 88,000 jobs in the Austin area are related to the primary medical care field. If Austin is able to bring the percentage of jobs its medical sector up to the national average of 7.1 percent, Hockenyos said, it would have a major impact. "You’re talking about 30,000 to 40,000 jobs."

Top officials from two of the biggest medical employers in Central Texas, Charles Barnett CEO of the Seton Family of Hospitals, and John Foster, CEO of St. David’s Healthcare, joined Hockenyos at the offices of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce for the release of the study. Both pointed to the growing population in Austin as a guarantee that the medical sector would continue to grow.

"We expect there to be one million more people here in the next 15 years. Both of us expect that we will need to increase our capacity pretty dramatically over that period of time," said Barnett. "We have the new Dell Children’s Medical Center opening up in June. We have a new hospital going up in Williamson County."

At St. David’s, Foster said, "we have made $450 million worth of investment over the past few years to expand the hospitals we have in the Austin area."

The potential for growth in the medical sector could help guide Opportunity Austin as local business leaders continue with their effort to add 72,000 new jobs by the end of 2008. Local business leaders will get an update on the progress made toward that goal so far at a meeting this morning at 7:30am in the Lone Star Room at the Frank Erwin Center. Like jobs in the technology sector, medical jobs are relatively high-paying.

"They would be fairly stable, and almost by definition they have good benefits," said Hockenyos. "They’re good jobs at good wages that are probably going to be around for a while."

Construction on MACC progressing

Construction on the long-awaited – and much-delayed – Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC) is close to 40 percent complete with much of the steel up on the building, project manager Kalpana Sutaria told the center’s advisory committee Tuesday night. Voters approved construction of the first phase of the project in 1998.

Where the city actually landed in its phasing of construction of the MACC is confusing, even for those who have followed the project closely. What has been under construction on Town Lake for the last nine months is the majority of the first phase of the project, which was about $12.6 million in site preparation and a basic no-frills classroom area, with a gallery and parking lot.

That part of the project is slated for completion by next June. Now the advisory committee is focused on fund raising for the operations of the center, which Chair Donato Rodriguez says will be a clearinghouse for Latino arts.

"We’re getting the message out to the community that this needs to be a community effort," Rodriguez said. "I think the fact that so many arts groups have finally come together, especially through the Austin Latino Theater Alliance, shows that we have a real commitment to provide a real focal point for the arts in Austin."

Those who pass the site will see the foundation laid and the 133 steel piers up on the site, Sutaria told the advisory board. Some of the pre-cast concrete walls have been going up on the project, but much still remains to be done over the next 10 months.

Voters will go back to the polls in November to consider spending another $4 million on the MACC, which will simply complete the balance of the classroom space – the dance workshop area. The project’s 300-seat theater is considered to be the second phase but it is still unfunded

Rodriguez says the main accomplishment of the advisory committee has been to bring the Latino arts community together. For years, the MACC has been in limbo. Rodriguez place some of the blame on the Latino arts community’s inability to resolve programming of the building, failing to provide a single voice on the project and convince Council it was time to move forward on the MACC.

Now, finally, the Latino arts community is coming together with one voice, Rodriguez said. He said the current work of the advisory committee is to do the fund-raising to provide $50,000 in maintenance and operations of the center next year. Already, the city has secured a $1.5 million Economic Development Administration grant to set up and run the gallery area of the MACC, Rodriguez said.

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

Transportation group invites participation . . . Austin Mayor Will Wynn, Leander Mayor John Cowman and Capital City Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Greg Marshall will speak at a news conference at City Hall this morning on formation of the Alliance for Public Transportation. According to the group’s web site, "The Alliance mission is to promote public transportation in a balanced transportation network that improves our regional quality of life, economic development, affordability, and the environment." The group is working to involve citizens from the five-county Central Texas area . . . Kyle hires communications professional . . . Kyle City Manager Tom Mattis has announced the hiring of Kyle’s first Director of Communications. Jerry Hendrix joins the City of Kyle after 13 years with the City of Austin. Hendrix has spent the last five years managing the public information and marketing functions of Austin’s Solid Waste Services Department . . . Vendors need to update info . . . The city is urging the more than 60,000 registered vendors to update their business information by Sept. 28 to help ease the transition to a planned system upgrade. At the end of this month, data for any vendor registered with the city since May 4, 2001 — the date of the last major system upgrade — is scheduled to be transferred from the current financial system to the new Vendor Self Service System. Upcoming online enhancements lay the foundation for electronic bidding during the next phase of improvements. At that time, a vendor will not only be notified of a bidding opportunity from the city, but will be able to respond to solicitations online. The city will transfer vendor codes and passwords to the new Vendor Self Service System. No new registrations will take place from 5pm Sept. 28 to the news system’s launch on Oct. 9 to facilitate transfer of data. Vendors can go to www.cityofaustin.org/purchase to check the accuracy of current information. In addition, vendors with questions regarding the transition may also call the City of Austin Purchasing Office at 974-2018 . . . Planning night . . . Thursday will be Planning Night for the Hill Country Alliance. The HCA will host a community meeting to inform neighbors and to allow public input to the CAMPO Regional Growth Concept. Fix 290 will present its plan for Oak Hill and representatives from Travis County, Hays County, the City of Lakeway, the Village of Bee Cave and the City of Dripping Springs have been invited to participate and provide information about their current road plans. The meeting is set for 6:30pm at Bee Cave Elementary School, 14300 Hamilton Pool Road . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Downtown Commission meets at 5:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Airport Advisory Commission, Wildlife Subcommittee meets at 6pm at 2716 Spirit of Texas Dr. at ABIA . . . A second chance . . . If you missed Monday’s two public workshops by city staff and Clarion Associates on the new residential design and compatibility standards that go into effect on Oct. 1, all is not lost. The documents that were distributed have been posted online at http://www.cityofaustin.org/zoning/sf_regs.htm. The 2 pm workshop was taped and aired live by the City of Austin's cable Channel 6. Once the replay time is scheduled, that information will be posted at http://www.cityofaustin.org/zoning/sf_regs.htm. . . . Toll roads to open Nov. 1 . . . We’re not sure if all of you will be joining in the celebration, but the Texas Department of Transportation says Austin's new toll roads will open to traffic on Nov. 1 — a year ahead of schedule. The Central Texas Turnpike Project includes: the Loop 1 extension from Parmer Lane to State Highway 45 North; SH 45 North from Loop 1 to State Highway 130; and SH 130 from U.S. Highway 79 to U.S. Highway 290. In December, another segment of SH 130 — from I-35 to US 79 — will open, bringing Central Texas more than 40 miles of new roadways in less than four years. The remaining segments of SH 130 (US 290 to US 183 in southeast Austin) will open by Dec. 2007, TxDOT said. Early opening festivities are scheduled for Oct. 22. Plans include a competitive run, cycling tour and other family activities . . . Emergency Communications . . .The Williamson County Commissioners Court has approved the reorganization of the County’s 911 Department into a new county Department of Emergency Communications. Benefits of the consolidated organization include bringing all public safety communications operations, management, and projects under one unified umbrella, providing an additional layer of accountability for public safety communications, clearer command and organizational structure for 911 communications, improved customer service and responsiveness to needs of public safety practitioners and the public.

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