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City purchase of Oak Springs moving forward

Wednesday, November 29, 2006 by

If Council Members Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole have their way, the city will move ahead with the purchase of the six-acre Oak Springs property in East Austin in mid-December.

Long neglected and set for development of a retail center, the land behind the EZ Pawn on Airport Boulevard is home to one of the only remaining natural springs in East Austin.

Martinez and Cole confirmed Tuesday that they plan to schedule the item for the Dec. 14 Council agenda. They said the city would use bond money from the Nov. 7 election to purchase the property. According to Martinez, the pricetag would be in the neighborhood of $1.5 million.

Cole said, “I'm very pleased that the city is committed to purchasing the land out of the bond money to preserve the oak trees and the springs and dedicate it to East Austin.” She said the land would either become a city park or preserve, but that the important thing is that it be left undeveloped.

Martinez noted that “the lion’s share of bond revenues are going anywhere but East Austin,” saying that people from throughout the city supported Propositions 2 and 3 for water quality protection and parkland, so some of it should be spent on the east side.

“While I agree that we need to be very judicious with the bond money, we know that most of it will be spent for land over the aquifer,” he said. “So it’s very little to ask” that this amount be spent on a treasure that was “literally ripped out of our hands years ago.”

Martinez said in the late 1800s or early 1900s people in the community used the spring as a sort of town square, gathering there to collect spring water and trade news with neighbors. But over the years, the site has collected trash and pollutants, so groups like PODER (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources) have promised to help clean up the property.

Martinez said he is hopeful that non-profit organizations such as the Hill Country Conservancy and the Save Our Springs Alliance may be able to assist in raising private funds to purchase the land, thereby reducing the city’s cost. He said he had talked to representatives of both organizations.

In the Nov. 7 bond election, 69 percent of the voters said yes to Proposition 2 for $145 million to be spent for drainage and water quality protection. Proposition 3 for $84.7 million for parks facilities and parkland got thumbs up from 73 percent of city voters.

Charity hunting program hunting funds

Cut in federal dollars could mean more trouble for Travis County's neediest

A non-profit program that provides much-needed meat for agencies that feed the state’s poor and homeless is in jeopardy after the federal government failed to renew its funding. Hunt for the Hungry, a program operated by the Texas Association of Community Action Agencies, coordinates with hunters and meat packers to donate venison for use by groups such as food banks and others.

One of the major sources of meat for the program has been a cooperative effort between Hunt for the Hungry and the City of Austin and Travis County, which provide meat from deer that are “harvested” from land in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. The arrangement provided protein for more than 100,000 meals in Travis County alone last two years, according to Pam Robers, statewide director of the Hunt for the Hungry program

“Starting about six years ago, Texas became more aware of the problems with the overpopulation of deer, one area in particular in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve,” Robers said. “We started working with them to cull some of the deer on those lands where they needed to be reduced, work with the local meat processor, and then get the meat into the hands of those who need it.”

During the past two years, more than 26,000 pounds of meat from animals culled from preserve lands went to Caritas and the Capitol Area Food Bank in the Austin area. The ability to harvest the deer and feral hogs is a major benefit to the preserve lands as well said Kevin Connally, who oversees BCP land for Travis County. Meat from the hogs is not processed because of health regulations.

“One of the things that the land managers from the city and the county have noticed is a lack of young elm and oak trees,” Connally said. “There are plenty of older trees but we don’t see many young oak trees, and we don’t see many elms. We believe that is because the deer population is just too high. And managing deer is an integral part of managing the overall preserves.”

He said the loss of $100,000 in federal funding has put the program’s future in doubt. That money has been used to publicize the program, coordinate between hunters and meat processors, and distribute the meat, which is one the most important items in gathering food for nutrition programs.

“The providers tell us that the most difficult thing for them to raise is quality protein,” said Connally. “HEB and lots of other stores are always happy to help with produce and whatnot, but meat is expensive. Travis County has basically become the leading source of protein for Caritas year-round and they have really come to rely on the venison we provide every year.”

Robers said Hunt for the Hungry is looking for alternative funds, including grants, and donations, and is also currently trying to raise funds through a statewide raffle.

“The federal money runs out at the end of November,” she said. “We have some short term funding, but we need to find a new source, especially before next year’s hunting season.”

For more information on the program, go to http://www.tacaa.org/hunters.htm.

Toll study on target, says McCracken

Council Member Brewster McCracken heard some grumbling at last night’s hearing about the content of the alternative finance study for the Phase II toll roads, but after the meeting McCracken said he was pleased with the thoroughness of the report and had all the information he needed to move the toll road discussion forward.

Last night’s hearing, intended to give Charles Rivers Associates feedback on its report methodology, frequently lapsed into anti-toll talk from frustrated members of the community, including Sal Costello and Roger Baker. After the meeting, McCracken said the report was intended to provide data and not damn the region’s toll roads.

“The purpose of the study was not to have a statement that said, ‘Toll roads are evil,’” said McCracken, who co-chaired the study group. “The purpose of the study was to receive hard analysis of the cost and benefits of each funding alternative on each project, and CRA has done a very good job of providing us with that.”

What McCracken has now is the cost, timing and impact of each project in the Phase II toll plan under a free lane, managed lane and tolled lane scenario. He also has a chart that shows the available funding scenarios for existing projects. According to data from 2003, the majority of US 183, US 290 West, State Highway 71 East, State Highway 71 West and State Highway 45 South are funded by 2012. The Oak Hill flyover interchange is not in those numbers, nor is the expansion of US 290 East.

As Michael Aulick, executive director of the CAMPO, noted last night, the choice now is the trade off between timing and funding. The main point that McCracken gleaned from the CRA report is that managed lanes are faster than tolled lanes but tolled lanes are going to yield more money than managed lanes. To be specific, fully tolled lanes would yield about $46 million a year in revenue once the toll road bonds are paid off.

A number of speakers also called the gas tax a more fair and equitable alternative to tolling. Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), who co-chaired the committee with McCracken, scoffed at that, saying that a user fees such as toll, born by those who actually use a road, is far more fair than sharing the cost through a gas tax. Krusee tried, and failed, to get a regional gas tax passed to fund tolls during the last session.

The information in the CRA study gives McCracken the building blocks he wants to argue for a mix of managed lanes and tolled lanes. CAMPO is expected to accept the CRA report next month. A final vote on toll roads won’t come until February.

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

Still wondering . . . Several members of the city's Environmental Board have asked for a tour of the northern Cortaña tract, where the city had hoped to put WTP 4. Travis County rejected the city's plan, which would have taken that tract out of the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan and added the Bull Creek tract, where the plant is now slated to be built. Council Member Lee Leffingwell said he has arranged for several members of the board to go on the tour next week with members of the city staff . . . Wind prediction causes burn ban . . . Travis County Commissioners, worried about the high wind gusts and low precipitation with the impending cold front, agreed to a limited burning ban at yesterday's court meeting. Outdoor burning, in particular, will be prohibited until further notice. For additional information or instructions, the Fire Marshal's Office can be contacted at 854-4621 . . . Retreat . . . Chair Dave Sullivan proposed last night that the Planning Commission have its facilitated retreat on Jan. 6. Sullivan said he is hoping that the commission will have a new member by then. The panel is short one member, to be filled by a consensus of the Council . . . URS up for Green contract . . . This week the Council is scheduled to consider a professional services agreement with URS Corp. for engineering services related to decommissioning and demolition of the Green Water Treatment Plant. The price on this item is $750,000. Staff and the Water and Wastewater Commission recommended URS as best qualified of the six firms that applied . . . Meetings . . . The Citizen Review Panel with the Office of the Police Monitor will meet at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Council Committee for Emerging Technology and Telecommunications meets at 3pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Austin Public Safety Officers Association Meet and Confer meets 9:30am at the Learning and Research Center at 2800 Spirit of Texas Dr. . . . New CEO. . . Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region's Board of Directors has appointed Ken Lambrecht as the organization's new Chief Executive Officer (CEO). He had served as interim CEO since September, when Glenda Parks' stepped down from the position. Lambrecht has more than fifteen years of experience in health care, including the past two years as Chief Operating Officer for Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region (PPTCR). Prior to joining Planned Parenthood, Lambrecht served as a senior account executive for Misys Healthcare Systems, as head of physician relations and recruitment for North Austin Medical Center, and in provider relations for the Seton Health Network. He has a Master of Science in Health Professions from Texas State University. Lambrecht's appointment as CEO took effect on Nov. 2. . . . State of Austin Education . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce is hosting a State of Austin Education event in order to help local businesses become involved in assisting with an education plan. The event will be held from 11:30am to 1pm at the Lone Star Room at the Frank Erwin Center, 1701 Red River. Austin businesses will unite to create a plan to achieve the higher educational goals of this region, with the goal being to increase the number of Metro Austin students who enroll in higher education by 20,010 students by the year 2010. Speakers will include Kenneth Jastrow, II, Chairman and CEO of Austin's Temple-Inland.

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