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Lippe announces retirement

Thursday, October 12, 2006 by

Chris Lippe, who has served as director of the Austin Water Utility throughout the tumultuous events surrounding the location of Water Treatment Plant 4—and the failure to find a replacement location for the Green Water Treatment Plant—has notified City Manager Toby Futrell that he intends to retire at the end of the year.

Lippe has 22 years of service with the city, including six as director of AWU. Lippe said last night that he has been eligible for full retirement benefits since turning 55 in January but had been “looking for just the right time when everything was all calm (but) there’s always one more thing to try to accomplish.” One of those, of course, was a final decision on where to put the controversial plant, which is now sited at the headwaters of Bull Creek.

City management and the City Council had proposed to put the plant on the Cortaña tract instead, but Travis County Commissioners rejected the city’s offer to trade the Bull Creek site, among other things, for Cortaña, which is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

Futrell said she had asked Lippe to stay until a new director could be hired. However, she said she expects that process would take at least six months and Lippe would only stay through the end of the year. She said the same executive recruiter who is doing the search for a new police chief would assist with finding a new director for AWU.

Lippe said after he retires, he plans a few months of vacation before pursuing other business interests here in Austin.

So, who might step into the director’s shoes on a temporary basis? “I have very good strong assistant level folks,” Futrell said, specifically naming Jane Burazer, Assistant Director for treatment and Perwez Moheet, Assistant Director for Business Support Services.

Lippe joined the Austin Water and Wastewater Department—later named AWU—in 1984, the same year that the WTP4 project was approved as part of a bond election. He started as an engineer and group manager in the city’s wastewater division. He later became assistant director for the engineering program in the utility, overseeing treatment plant construction and pipeline work.

After 16 years in the department, he was named its Director in December of 2000. He took the reins of the department a little more than a year after the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an administrative order for the city to correct a series of leaks in its wastewater collection system. He helped form the Austin Clean Water Program in response to that.

He was also faced early in his tenure with major leakage problems in the newly constructed 72-inch Ullrich Water Pipe project. The city had invested some $20 million on the line to bring a critical increase in water capacity, but a series of leaks plagues the program before it could be brought on line.

Lippe fought hard for the WPT4 project, bringing it out of mothballs in early 2005 as the answer to what he saw as a looming water crisis in the city by 2011. Population projections showed that peak water demand would catch up with the city’s pumping capacity by the summer of 2011, creating shortages and low water pressure.

The city was under pressure to shut down the antiquated Green Water Treatment Plant in the downtown area. The 1920s-era facility has a small (40 million gallons per day) capacity, and was, in reality, only able to pump about half that amount on a good day.

When the original WTP4 was approved in 1984, the city purchased a 102-acres tract near FM 2222 and RM 620, designed to draw water from Lake Travis and distribute it to the growth areas of North and Northwest Austin. But between 1984 and 2005, a lot happened, including the creation of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

The Environmental Board raised a number of objections to the site, and it was put on hold. Then the city began floating the idea of replacing the Green plant on parkland near Longhorn Dam. Community outcry killed that plan, and moved the ball back to WTP4.

Lippe is a graduate of Reagan High School and the University of Texas. Lippe concluded, “It’s been exciting. It’s been a lot of fun. This year has brought some challenging issues but it’s all been exciting and challenging but I feel very fortunate to be in this position. I enjoyed working with a lot of people,” at the utility. “ That’s what I'm going to miss.”

Board allows neighborhood to keep carports

The Board of Adjustment handled a slew of carport variance cases Monday night after several homeowners in one North Austin neighborhood found themselves tagged by a city inspector despite the fact that their carports had been in existence for over 30 years.

Agent Jim Bennett explained that an anonymous complaint to the city about one of the carports in the 8000 block of Parkdale Drive resulted in a code inspector being dispatched to the street. Once there, he discovered eight other homes on the street had carports that were not in compliance with the city’s setback rules. "This is an established, well-manicured neighborhood street," Bennett said. "Some of these carports were originally built in 1974…some have been there as little as six months, but some have been there through two or more owners. The carports blend with the fully developed condition of the site. In most cases, the carports are over the driveway…which is next to the house."

All 26 homeowners on the street signed a petition in favor of the variances and there was no neighborhood opposition. Board Member Bryan King moved to allow the carports to remain, citing the fact that they had been in place for several years and were not disrupting the character of the neighborhood. "All the neighbors on this street, 100 percent, stand in support of the variance," he said. The vote was 7-0 in favor of the variances for all nine carports. "When I read this on the agenda, it reminded me of the fireworks stands where you buy one and get 12 free," joked King.

The board was less accommodating with one particular carport case. Homeowner Robert Webb had just finished a carport on his house at 8309 Farnwood Lane when he was tagged. He admitted to building without a permit and in violation of the setback rules. "I was unaware there was a setback in that area," he said.

"The applicant acknowledged he built it without a permit," said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen, who moved to deny the variance. "It’s one thing with these carports we had out there from the 1970s, but I can’t support somebody who’s going to build something and then ask for a variance. This needs to be done on the front end, permits should have been done, it’s natural all over the city." The board again voted unanimously, this time to deny the variance to allow the carport to remain in place.

Hospitals plan to gather bike injury data

Supporters of a mandatory helmet law for all bicyclists in Austin hope to win more converts with a year’s worth of data on the cost to the taxpayers of treating head injury victims without sufficient insurance. Former Mayor Bruce Todd joined top officials from Brackenridge Hospital and the St. David’s Healthcare Network to announce a new study of those costs, which will begin Nov. 1.

“We’re launching a year-long bicycle helmet data collection initiative that we believe firmly will enable an educated, irrefutable decision on a city-wide, all-ages bicycle helmet ordinance,” said Dr. Steve Berkowitz, Chief Medical Officer of St. David’s Healthcare. That study will involve collecting data about the severity of head injury suffered by patients in bicycle-related accidents and tabulating the costs associated with uninsured patients.

“Every dollar that the community saves in a preventable injury is one that can be applied to lots of other needed programs,” said Dr. Pat Crocker, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Brackenridge Hospital. “We can take those dollars and do something even more positive than saving people from head injuries and … address some of the other needed community issues.”

Todd came up with the idea for the study after some members of the City Council requested more data on the proposed helmet ordinance during a public hearing a few weeks ago. Todd, who began campaigning for the helmet ordinance after recovering from his own cycling injury, said he had been somewhat surprised and dismayed by the strenuous opposition from those who argued it was not the government’s role to mandate helmets.

“The debate simply became too emotionally charged to be productive,” he said. “What we have is an effort that will put this debate back squarely where it belongs…out of the realm of emotion and into the realm of medical and economic expertise.”

The medical experts who joined Todd to announce the study indicated they were already convinced of what the findings would be. “This data collection project will give us a clear picture to answer the question, how effective are bicycle helmets in preventing injuries? We firmly believe we will find data that is sobering to the community,” said Crocker.

St. David’s representative, Berkowitz, concurred that the study would result in the obvious conclusion that helmets save lives and money. “On the one hand, there’s tons of information already out there. By the same token, I think it’s important to really bring it down home and say, very specifically, this is how this issue is affecting the citizens of Austin. Is it necessary? Honestly, I wish it weren’t,” he said. “This mind is not going to be changed by the results of this study, I can tell you right now, but I think a lot of people’s minds will be once we get the objective data.”

The two hospital systems will compile the data and present it to the City Council at no charge. Mayor Will Wynn said more information would be helpful, especially since hiring an outside consultant to conduct a similar study would likely cost upwards of $100,000. While the Council has never given the proposed helmet ordinance an up-or-down vote, “my strong suspicion is that the data is going to be so powerful that it will at least hopefully tee up an objective debate again,” Wynn said. “I would anticipate that based on that, at some point, we will revisit the debate again.”

While the organizers of the study were confident enough in the eventual outcome to predict they may not even need a full year’s worth of data before they noticed distinct trends, opponents of the helmet law were taken aback by the announcement.

“We wonder why the Mayor and former Mayor have called for this study out of the hospitals when we’re on the brink of launching our Bicycle Safety Task Force, which is charged with doing just the thing they’re trying to do right now,” said Rob D’Amico, who represents the League of Bicycling Voters. “You would think that they would want to get the input of the people involved: the bicyclists, the community leaders, and the health care professionals that are going to be on this task force. We’re also puzzled whey they would come out with statements saying that a year from now they’re going to have data that shows that we need a helmet law in this city,” D’Amico said. “That doesn’t seem like a very objective study to us, and we certainly disagree with it.”

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

Council expenditure teaser. . . Questions from the media about how City Council Members spend city money have kept some staff of the Financial Services and Public Information Office busy pulling invoices and copying pages over the past couple of weeks. As a result of those questions, the city asked Council Member Brewster McCracken to repay $4,000 it paid in October, 2005 for his new website ( Even though the money was paid a year ago, McCracken said the city did not ask for reimbursement until last week-shortly after In Fact Daily asked for records for Council expenditures. McCracken handed City Manager Toby Futrell a check for $4,000 yesterday from his campaign fund. The city also paid $1,300 for in June but then asked Kim to reimburse the money, which she did in August. McCracken said, "We ran into extreme bureaucratic limitations," in trying to put up a useful website using city programmers and under city rules. For example, he said he wanted to showcase movies made in Austin but "we weren't allowed to do it because would be viewed as promoting certain films even though it was promoting Austin." Both disagree with the city's interpretation of rules governing what should and should not be on a city-sponsored site . . . Not all of the data is in yet, and it does not lend itself to straightforward analysis, but Council Member Lee Leffingwell gets to claim the award for being most frugal. His office spent only $184,386-well below the budgeted $206,498 for the 2006 Fiscal Year just ended . . . Meetings . . . The Planning Commission plans a special called meeting at 7pm in Room 325 at One Texas Center . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 3pm in Chambers at 314 W. 11th Street . . . How cookie really crumbles . . . Ted Siff, treasurer of the I'm for 4 PAC, formed to support bonds for cultural facilities such as the Zachary Scott Theater and the Asian American Cultural Center, will be reporting a $240 in-kind contribution from the restaurateur who paid to have the advertising printed on the back of local fortune cookies. A few people complained to the American-Statesman about the unusual method of political advertising. Siff said he was proud of the fact that the messages would reach about 200,000 people for such a small expenditure and apologized to those who might prefer to have received lottery number on the back of their fortunes . . . Dia de la Raza . . . . . The Mexican-American Cultural Center Advisory Board and the United East Austin Coalition presents its 21st Annual Dia de la Raza Celebration. The coalition's motto is, "Columbus didn't discover America. He was lost." The event is 7- 10pm tonight at Red's Scoot Inn, 1308 E. 4th Street. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez will MC the event. The groups will hand out the annual Raza Awards, a competition by and recognition of individuals, businesses a groups who raise the most money for the new MACC. For more information, call Lori C-Renteria at 478-6770 . . . Commuting in America . . . The Capitol Area Transportation Coalition Distinguished Transportation Speaker Series will feature Alan Pisarski at 11:30am on Oct. 18. Pisarski is a nationally known expert on travel behavior, transportation data analysis and transportation public policy. He has worked for the US DOT, state and local governments and has been a private consultant to most national transportation organizations and numerous foreign governments for more than 30 years. He is perhaps best known for his major studies of American commuting patterns produced for a consortium of public interest groups, entitled "Commuting in America" and Commuting in America II." The luncheon is set at the Renaissance Hotel Austin, 9721 Arboretum Blvd. Seats are limited. Contact or 587.6625 . . . Water stories . . . The Splash! Exhibit in the Barton Springs Bathhouse is hosting "Native American Water Stories" with Tim Tingle, Native American storyteller from 7-8:30pm tonight. Tingle is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Call 481-1466 for more information about this free event.

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