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City offers new data to county on Cortaña site

Thursday, December 7, 2006 by

The City of Austin is offering Travis County more information about the site selection process that was used when the city chose to pursue use of the Cortaña tract as the site for Water Treatment Plant 4 rather than the controversial Bull Creek site.

The city is hoping that the data, some of which comes from a technical review of the Cortaña site by Carollo Engineering, will lead the Commissioners Court to reconsider a request to release the Cortaña tract from the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP).

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who sits on the BCP Committee with Mayor Will Wynn, said, “Well, I think that if the county could or if a number of folks in the county could be convinced that there really was an exhaustive search done, then I think we might call another hearing. I don’t think that the county is looking for a reason to duck the issue or not to do the sensible thing. The city gave us the choices ‘a’ or ‘b,’ and some people thought there should have been a ‘c.’ ”

Carollo’s review, delivered to the City Council this week, includes preliminary engineering, environmental and vegetation studies of the Upper Cortaña tract, emphasizing the suitability of the tract for a 300 million-gallon per day (MGD) plant.

Council Member Lee Leffingwell said staff of the city would begin meeting with county staff next Thursday. “The focus will be on methodology,” used in choosing Cortaña and rejecting other sites, but staff will not second guess the engineers involved in site design, he said. “The criteria are set and they were set by engineers who design water plants,” Leffingwell said, adding that county staff would be able to see the methodology that Alan Plummer & Associates used in looking at sites.

Leffingwell strongly supports use of the Cortaña tract as opposed to the Bull Creek site, which was permitted for the water treatment plant years ago but is considered more environmentally important, particularly for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

County commissioners relied heavily on their own staff’s advice when it came down to a vote on the plant site during the Chapter 26 hearing in October. Environmental Officer John Kuhl, who presented a survey of endangered birds on all the tracts in the area, clearly preferred neither site, and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner pushed hard for another look at available land, possibly the combination of smaller tracts in the area. But she will be leaving the court at the end of this month.

Chapter 26 refers to a legal section requiring a special hearing before using designated park or preserve land for another purpose. As partners in the BCP, the city and county are obligated to work together on the preserve.

The Carollo study outlines the critical environmental features, the karst feature study and the vegetative study on the tract the city prefers. According to the report, none of the region’s endangered invertebrates were found to occur in the karst features. Bluffs and springs are buffered by at least 150 feet from the plant site. And the plant site itself is not home to any critical environmental features.

To those who support the plant, the presence – or lack thereof – provides justification for City Council’s decision to choose Cortaña over the permitted Bull Creek site.

The presence of Black-Capped Vireos and Golden-Cheeked Warblers on both sites, however, was a chief concern to county environmental staff during the Chapter 26 hearing in October. And Carollo’s assessment does not adjust the parameters that might allow another site: a smaller footprint; a smaller size; slightly steeper slopes; or the combination of smaller parcels into one bigger property, specifically a portion of the Lucas tract.

Leffingwell says that the city can fit the full 300-million-gallon plant on the Cortaña site. The same cannot be said of the Lucas tract, he points out. The Lucas tract, initially preferred by Sonleitner, could only fit a 150-million-gallon plant with the proper buffers to avoid the critical environmental features on the property.

According to an additional memo from engineer Paul Walker of Carollo, “The Lucas Tract is located within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve acquisition area and Travis County has identified this tract as the most critical acquisition remaining under the BCP program. The evaluation provided in this memorandum does not address any US Fish & Wildlife 10A or BCP constraints or issues associated with this tract.”

The proposal of the Cortaña site offers advantages to both the city and county, Leffingwell said. The city would be offering about 400 acres of mitigation, dedicated for water quality and habitat in addition to what had been offered in the past. This does not represent new land purchases by the city but would be an increase in the overall acreage of the BCP, he said. “This would be a great benefit to the BCP that would not be realized if we went out and bought a tract (for WTP 4) that is privately owned,” he said.

Daugherty says there’s no point in calling another Chapter 26 hearing if the vote is going to turn out the same. He said it should be clear in a number of days whether the county will go forward with another review.

Board OKs flood control design for SH 130 By Mark Richardson

A project to allow the extension of State Highway 130 south from SH 71 East by building an overbank channel along a section of Onion Creek got a thumbs up Wednesday night from the Environmental Board.

Called Interport, the project is designed to get the intersection of the two highways out of an almost mile-wide floodplain that stretches west of Onion Creek, and requires a variance to allow cut and fill exceeding four feet in the project area.

The planned intersection, which is two miles due east of the Austin Bergstrom International Airport, will allow the SH 130 toll road to continue south to connect with US 183 and eventually connect with Interstate 10 in Seguin. According to city staff, the Interport project is the first of several similar environmental mitigation projects that will be needed to accommodate SH 130 in the Austin Region.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s proposed flood plain in the area – which runs from near where Onion Creek empties into the Colorado River south past SH 71 East – covers a wide, shallow plain west of the creek, with a wooded area covering much of land east of the creek.

By cutting and filling the area east and south of the proposed intersection, and constructing the overbank channel parallel to the creek, the majority of overflow from the creek during storm events can be controlled and channeled away from the roadways. An overbank channel is similar to a levee, but is designed to channel floodwaters, as opposed to simply holding them back.

LSI, the contractor building SH 130 for the Texas Department of Transportation, is also considering construction of a holding pond on the north end of the channel to control the flow of drainage from the 400-acre floodplain. LSI and the city are considering using reclaimed water to keep the pond full during times of low flow in the creek.

That brought concerns from some board members, including Chair Dave Anderson, as to whether water quality would be a problem if treated effluent was stored in the pond and allowed to eventually flow into the creek. But staff said the reclaimed water is of the same quality as the treated effluent discharged into the Colorado River and that is used as irrigation water on golf courses.

There were also concerns raised by ABIA officials that a large pond being constructed so near the airport could draw large number of waterfowl into the landing patterns. That issue is still under study by airport staff.

Board Member William Curra expressed concern for erosion along Onion Creek, especially where culvert under SH 130 could potentially carry large volumes of storm water into the new system during storm events. Staff is studying ways to slow down that potential flow, and will report back to the board at a future.

The board recommended the cut and fill variance on a 9-0 vote.

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

RECA 2007 officers elected . . . Silver Garza; president of Byram Properties has been elected president of the Real Estate Council of Austin for the coming year. Tom Terkel, president of Cencor Urban will serve as vice-president; Brett Denton, principal with Ardent Residential, was re-elected as secretary. Attorney Craig Douglas, a partner with Smith Robertson, Elliott, Glen, Klein & Bell, was elected treasurer for another year. RECA has more than 1,750 members and is a founding member of the Hill Country Conservancy . . . Wal-Mart flap, continued . . . Three Council Members have been considering whether to put a resolution on next week's Council agenda directing the City Manager to look at the process used in administratively approving a site plan for the refurbishing of Northcross Mall. The plan calls for a new 217,000 square foot Wal-Mart SuperCenter that has neighbors up in arms. However, Sheryl Cole and Brewster McCracken both said Wednesday that a resolution would not be necessary in order to ask City Manager Toby Futrell to answer their questions. Both said they would not support preventing issuance of a demolition permit for the old mall. Cole said, "I support the notion that we go through the steps to ensure we went through the proper approval . . . I did not support putting the city in any position of possible legal action for violation of the grandfathering provisions." McCracken said he would ask that either city staff or a consultant do an actual traffic count for the Ikea store in Round Rock, Cabela's in Buda and the Wal-Mart at I-35 and Ben White so the traffic from those retail giants can be compared to the projected traffic at the planned Wal-Mart on Anderson Lane. Council Member Jennifer Kim was out of town but she has already asked City Auditor Stephen Morgan to do an audit of the process used to administratively approve Wal-Mart's site plan . . . Yawn, another City Council meeting . . . City staff will present the 2007 annexation plan at 3:30pm but that will be of little interest to most folks. The other item that might be worth watching at today's City Council meeting is a zoning case for St. David's Hospital at 34th and I-35. The hospital is seeking PUD zoning and had asked for a height of 90 feet on one tower and 175 feet on another, displeasing the Hancock Neighborhood Association. The hearing is set for 4pm. . . . Brown Santa Drive . . . Brown Santa will hold a donation drive at the Brown Santa Headquarters on Sunday. The Oscar Meyer Mobile will be on hand as well as activities for the kids. The Sheriff will be cooking hot dogs, as long as they last. Brown Santa needs gifts to make Christmas a happy holiday for children and their families less fortunate. Items needed for this year are non-perishable food items, cash and toys for all ages. The goal this year is to help 1300 families in the unincorporated areas of Travis County. While there have been a lot of donations of toys and games, cash and food donations are still needed. The drive is set for noon to 4pm on Sunday at Brown Santa Headquarters, 5555 Airport Blvd. . . . KOOP Radios gets new studios . . . Mayor Will Wynn will kick off the celebration Saturday as 91.7 FM KOOP Radio moves into its new studio at 3823 Airport Blvd., Suite B. The first live broadcast from the new location will begin at 9am Saturday with the first sign on from the new studio. Long time KOOP programmer, Thomas Durbin will be spinning the sounds of big band and classic jazz. The new station is equipped with state of the art broadcasting equipment to produce premium quality broadcasting for KOOP listeners. The new location houses two broadcast studios, two production rooms, a music library, meeting space and offices for staff. KOOP Radio's former home at 304 E 5th Street, burned to the ground on February 4, 2006. . . Solar school ribbon cutting . . . Round Rock's Westwood High School, 12400 Mellow Meadow, will cut the ribbon at 10am this morning on one of its two completed solar school installations. Each of the two 3.4KW installations can produce more than half the power needed by the average Austin home. Students will monitor the energy production and Austin Energy staff is helping teachers develop a curriculum to teach students about solar energy. The solar arrays join 12 in the Austin Independent School District for a total of 42 in Texas.

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