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Commissioners ponder hearing on BCRUA water line

Monday, January 28, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

If Travis County Commissioners didn’t have enough fun with the city’s Water Treatment Plant 4, they now have to deal with Son of Water Treatment Plant 4 – otherwise known as the northern suburbs’ alternative to the city water plant proposal.


Speculation was high during the early stages of WTP4 that one reason the city was rushing the approval of the plant was because it wanted to sign contracts with cities to the north: Cedar Park; Leander; and Round Rock. Then it became clear that the three cities were going to pursue their own alternative for water.


So imagine county commissioners’ consternation to find out that this alternative would include them, too, along with the requisite protests form groups like the Save Our Springs Alliance.


The Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority, which represents the three cities, is asking Travis County if it can cross Sandy Creek Park with a 78-inch raw water line to dip into Lake Travis. Under Chapter 26 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, such a decision would require a hearing.


Andrew Hawkins came to protest the water line on behalf of Save Our Springs Alliance last week, noting the sensitivity of the area.


“We realize it’s a funny thing that the park is owned by LCRA but is run by Travis County, and it is in a sensitive area,” said Hawkins, almost apologetically. “It’s endangered species habitat. One of the things about this water – about this particular water project – is that the timeline seems to be moving so fast. It is like Water Treatment Plan No. 4. We’re concerned that there would be adequate opportunity for citizens to comment on this particular project and especially the taking of parkland for the project.”


Hawkins’ comments promised controversy with this site, just as the county faced controversy over the Chapter 26 hearing on the site for WTP4. According to the BCRUA, this project is necessary.


According to the BCRUA website, the utility seriously considered a partnership in WTP4 but ruled it out:


“While it is true there could be an initial cost savings in sharing an intake structure, the cost of transporting the water from that site to the new treatment plant in Cedar Park is prohibitive and not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars. Preliminary estimates indicate the additional expense could be in excess of $200 million. Environmental concerns are another major obstacle since the pipeline would need to cross the protected habitat of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve to serve the existing Cedar Park and Leander plants. A portion of this route has already been studied extensively and ruled out. Other factors negating a partnership include differing project schedules, traffic disruptions, and other impacts to residents and businesses.”


County officials have their own questions about obligations under a Chapter 26 hearing, which are likely to be answered in a future executive session. Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, for one, raised questions as to what the county’s legal obligations are as the tenant of the site.


County commissioners agreed to a hearing on Feb. 26, with an executive session scheduled prior to the hearing. Joe Gieselman, executive director of Transportation and Natural Resources, noted the tightrope the county commissioners were being asked to walk.


“It is a controversial issue,” Gieselman said. “You’re talking about the routing of a pipeline, and the Commissioners Court – by stepping in – is having a public hearing to make a finding that there’s no prudent alternative route. It’s a very high standard.”


The BCRUA will have its own hearing on the pipeline but the Lower Colorado River Authority has not scheduled a hearing, Gieselman said.


County Judge Sam Biscoe said he had a number of legal questions he would like answered in executive session, probably within the next couple of weeks.

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