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Permit rejection to delay 290/71 Oak Hill project

Tuesday, November 7, 2006 by

The decision by the US Army Corps of Engineers to reject an environmental permit application will mean a redesign of the US 290/SH 71 interchange, but it’s still unclear just how far the state will go toward Fix 290’s proposed parkway design.

The simplest environmental clearance for a highway project is under a nationwide permit application, which requires limited disturbance and maximum mitigation for a roadway project. In the case of the Oak Hill project, the mitigation was in line for the permit, but the Corps was unhappy with some of the design elements of the project.

SOS Alliance and District Engineer Bob Daigh disagree on just how significant the rejection is. Daigh says the application for the approval was submitted six months ago, before the agency started to make some of the changes to the project requested by the community. By changes, Daigh means the movement of exits and access roads and not the more wholesale changes being suggested by the Fix 290 group.

Daigh says it was always the department’s intention to submit a revised nationwide permit on the plan. If that doesn’t work, the department can pursue an individual permit, which requires something more in line with a full-scale environmental review. That kind of review could delay the Oak Hill highway project for another two to three years.

Any changes to the plan will have more substantial impacts on the environmental than the original plan submitted by the Texas Department of Transportation. It will be TxDOT’s job to mitigate those impacts and to weigh changes against impacts to the environment, including the impacts on Willliamson Creek. The balance between disturbance and mitigation must be less than half an acre of the creek. The final decision from the Corps will judge both the quantitative and qualitative of the project, Daigh said.

Carol Cespedes of Fix290 said it was disingenuous of TxDOT to claim Fix 290’s own efforts were delaying the road project when it was clear the department had caused its own delays with its cavalier attitude towards the project’s environmental impacts. Daigh says the actual delay caused by this permit rejection is still unclear.

“We have made significant modifications to the project and to the environmental documents, which have consequently pushed the timeline of the project back,” Daigh said. “At this point, it is unclear which Corps permit we would fall under and what, if any, impacts on the timeline this is going to have.”

The SOS Alliance issued a press release on the rejection of the permit last week, citing the “more than minimal adverse impacts to the aquatic environment” that would result from TxDOT’s elevated tollway through Oak Hill. The only solution will be the more extensive individual permit, said spokesman Colin Clark.

“TxDOT has brought this delay upon itself with a fault highway design that destroys the environment, divides the Oak Hill community and creates additional traffic problems,” Clark said. “TxDot’s plan to completely remove over a mile of Williamson Creek in the sensitive Barton Springs watershed will certainly have major adverse impacts to the creek and to Barton Springs.”

Ed Peacock, who handles water issues for the city, presented a brief overview of the city’s work to assess the Oak Hill highway project. That study will assess the environmental impacts of the project on the creek and its watershed, with the intention of protecting the city’s own environmental interests.

Since the final specifics of the city’s study have yet to be been presented to Council, Peacock could only present an overview of the project review process, talking about the city’s own high-ranking of Williamson Creek as an environmentally sensitive watershed and noting that city staff will assess pollutant removal, erosion controls and storm water drainage controls on the project.

The city does have concerns about the impervious cover on the highway project. That means a special look at those measures to provide pollutant removal. Typically, that includes measures such as vegetative filter strips and grassy swales. The real concern about such measures is the maintenance of those controls over time. The more complicated the mitigate gets, the harder it gets to maintain it.

City bond backers rally for all 7 proposals

Supporters of all seven bond propositions on today’s ballot in Austin gathered for a campaign rally on the shores of Town Lake on Monday, with Austin Mayor Will Wynn leading the push for voters to approve the entirety of the $567 million package.

“I believe these seven propositions are balanced, they’re judicious, and they’re very affordable,” said Mayor Wynn. “I think that this package is precisely what Austin is…a combination of seemingly diverse but fundamentally interdependent interests that form a whole that’s more valuable than the sum of its individual parts.”

Presenting a unified front, supporters of the individual propositions each stepped up to second the Mayor’s request that voters with a special interest in just one of the propositions extend their ‘yes’ vote to the entire package. “We do support Propositions 2 and 3,” said George Cofer, referring to the propositions for parks and open space. “On a personal note, I urge everyone to vote ‘yes’ on all seven propositions.”

The proposition receiving special attention, both from supporters and detractors, has been Proposition 6. That proposition would set aside $90 million for the construction of a new Central Library downtown. “Austin deserves to have a world-class library system. Three out of four Austinites have library cards,” said Mike Clark-Madison, a long-time library supporter. “We have great branches…they call them branches for a reason. They need a trunk to support them, and the Central Library is that trunk.”

The $90 million price tag—along with the fact that no other projects are included in Proposition 6—have made it a target for critics of the bond program. Clark-Madison said library boosters expected to be singled out. “We never expected to come in first,” out of the seven, he said. “We know it’s easier to throw shots at us than it is to throw shots at a lot of these other propositions, since there’s not a specific ethnic or class component involved. Libraries are for everyone.” But that broad-based appeal, he predicted would also help carry the position to victory, with approximately 53 percent of voters in support.

Along with Monday’s campaign rally and news conference, library supporters are working the phones to drum up support. Wynn has recorded a phone message that went out to voters on Monday. “I know you’re getting a lot of these phone calls about now and I’m sorry to bother you with this one too, but I’m calling to make a direct appeal to you to go vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 6,” the Mayor says in the message, “Proposition 6 is a critical investment in Austin’s public library system.” The Travis County Libertarian Party is opposing all seven propositions and the some Travis County Republicans oppose propositions 2 through 6, but neither group has mounted an active campaign.

The polls will be open from 7am to 7pm today. For a complete listing of City of Austin voting locations, as well as other election information, go to www.cityofaustin.org/bonds. The Office of the City Clerk will be available to answer questions at (512) 974-2210.

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

Turnout predictions. . . Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams is predicting statewide turnout at 36 percent-the same as it was in 2002. In Travis County, that could mean half the ballots have already been cast, with 17.76 percent of voters showing up early. Democratic consultant Peck Young, who is involved in get out the vote efforts in Galveston, but not Travis County, expects a slightly lower turnout. He said he was disappointed in local efforts, particularly in East Austin. He said a big problem for the state party is the McCain-Feingold law, which made it more difficult to raise money for a statewide coordinated campaign. Sally Aiello, Executive Director of the Travis County Republican Party, "I think we're right on schedule to have the same turnout as 2002, especially given that we actually have no opposition on the Democratic side. We don't have any real exciting candidates on the Democratic side that would give a reason for the opposition to turn out more than average." Those involved in the local bond election are hoping that voters go through the entire ballot since they feel most favor the seven bond propositions . . . Early turnout winners . . . According to stats posted on the Secretary of State's website, Williamson County led the state's large population counties in terms of the percentage of voters casting ballots during early voting. Some 18.76 percent of Williamson County's registered voters voted early, followed by Travis, 17.76 percent; Nueces, 16.84; Collin, 16.41; Galveston, 16.38; and Bexar, 14.82. . . . Election Night places to be . . . Election return watch parties are planned around Austin tonight. Most of the groups backing the Bond Propositions will gather at 7:30pm at Joe's Bar and Grill at 504 West Ave. Groups like 7 Steps for a Better Austin, Yes for Homes! Bonds, and others. The Libraries for Austin group will meet at 7pm at Molotov on West Sixth Street, but plans to move to Joe's later. Travis County Democrats will meet at 7:30pm at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, 711 Congress Ave. The Travis County Republican Party meets at 7pm at the Omni Austin Hotel, 701 San Jacinto. Rep. Mark Strama's Election Night Party will be at Waterloo Icehouse, 8600 Burnet Road. The Williamson County Republican Party will meet at 7pm at the Conference Center at the Wingate Hotel at 1209 North I35 in Round Rock. The Travis County Libertarian Party will begin celebrating at 7:30pm at Legends at the Holiday Inn Arboretum, 8901 Business Park Drive, at the southwest corner of MoPac and 183.. . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Planning Commission Comprehensive Plan Committee meets at 6pm in room 1209 at City Hall . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am in the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners Court meets at 9am at the Hays County Courthouse . . . Education study to be released . . . In conjunction with the E3 Alliance Thought Leaders Summit, the Community Action Network will release a "Facts and Questions about Education" update report – the first major CAN update on education trends in the Central Texas Region since the CAN Education Report in 2002. The report will be released by Austin Area Urban League President and CEO Jeffrey Richard at the beginning of the Summit. The Community Action Network is a public/private partnership of 15 major community organizations committed to enhancing the health and well-being of Austin and Travis County. The E3 Alliance is a collaborative effort of Austin Community College (ACC), Austin Area Research Organization (AARO), The University of Texas and others to initiate a regional effort to increase global competitiveness, economic vitality and overall quality of life in Central Texas by aligning the region's educational systems. CAN will release the study at news conference tomorrow at the E3 Alliance Thought Leaders Summit, Austin Community College Eastview Campus, 3401 Webberville Rd. . . . . Bradley Estate lawsuit. . . . The Gary Bradley Bankruptcy Estate has sued Bradley Beutel, individually and as Trustee of the Townsend R. Douglas Testamentary Trust; Lazarus Investments, LP. The suit alleges that Beutel engaged in a fraudulent transfer of property in order to defraud Bradley's creditors after the bankruptcy estate received a judgment against Lazarus for $1,265,000.

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