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Commissioners show little public interest in opposing city landfill

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Regardless of what they think privately, Travis County Commissioners failed Tuesday to give Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis any assistance in his quest to prevent the City of Austin from building a landfill in his precinct. Davis’ motion to review Travis County’s landfill ordinance did not even get a second.


Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley has pulled – at least for this week– a directive to consider a landfill site on the city-owned Webberville tract, which is located in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. Still, Davis, who represents the area in which the tract lies, wanted to hold a hearing to consider some of the city’s initial findings on the site, which included that there were no “fatal flaws” when it came to placing an Austin Energy power plant, solid waste landfill and wastewater treatment plant on the Webberville site.


Davis brought not only the City of Austin, but also the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to Tuesday’s court hearing. In the end, though, Davis was unable to get a second on his motion that would have excluded the Highlands-area of the Webberville tract – in the most appropriate north end of the city-owned property—from any type of landfill development.


Davis pulled out just about every argument possible against the use of the tract for the use of a landfill site, including the possibility the tract could disturb potential habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler. State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) also argued that the tract should be treated in the same way that tracts in western Travis County are treated. It was not asking for anything special; it was asking for equal treatment, Dukes said.


“We need to be defended with as much vigor and as much ingenuity of purpose for economic development as any area of western Travis County,” Dukes said. “We should be encouraging economic development, through the tools available, for eastern Travis County as is done in western Travis County, just so we have the same opportunities.”


SH 130 Growth  


Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras noted the high growth along the SH 130 corridor and outlined the reasons the city considered the 2,800-acre site to be an ideal facility to serve the growing area in Southeast Travis County. Four major developments, totaling 2,300 houses, are currently under development along the corridor. More will likely follow, given the possibility of growth along the corridor.


Lumbreras and consultant Mark Hemingway reviewed the findings of an initial study that indicated no “fatal flaws” in the tract of the location of city-owned utilities, including a solid waste landfill site. Hemingway admitted that further study, including geologic surveys and archaeological reviews, would be necessary.


Under the city’s proposal, about 560 acres would be carved out of the site for a wastewater treatment plant and landfill site. Hemingway said the consultants still had further work to do on the groundwater issues on the site. The location of the landfill, however, would be on the portion of the site with the fewest issues.


Davis insisted that wetlands issues on the site still needed to be addressed. Hemingway said that study of the site – including the re-mapping of any flood plain maps – was continuing. Three consultants currently are working on review of the site.


Rally against landfill


Webberville residents and several elected officials from eastern Travis County rallied outside of the Commissioners Court meeting to show their opposition to the creation of the landfill on the tract.


Davis said, “Precinct 1 is overwhelmed with a lot of undesirable uses, including landfills. It’s a quality of life issue for us,” he said. “It appears that the city of Austin is taking advantage of persons in this community who think they do not have a voice. We’re here to tell the city of Austin and everybody else that the folks in eastern Travis County, northeast Travis County, East Austin, have a voice.”


Joining Davis were representatives of PODER, the Texas Campaign for the Environment, and the Pecan Springs Neighborhood Association, all protesting the possibility of a city landfill. “East Austin and eastern Travis County have historically been the dumping ground for Austin and Travis County, and the time has come to stop,” said Webberville Mayor Hector Gonzales.


“If this plan comes to fruition, it’s another example of Austin’s double-standard that they have for western Travis County versus eastern Travis County.” Should the city eventually choose to proceed with plans for a landfill, Gonzales said, Webberville would fight those plans in court. It’s a violation of our civil rights, bottom line. We’re treated like second-class citizens.”


Council Member Lee Leffingwell told In Fact Daily on Tuesday that it was geology, not discrimination, that prompted the city to consider the site for a landfill. He also said he had heard from Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, the sponsor of the item on Thursday’s agenda, that she would be postponing the direction to staff. “We’re going to give a little bit of time for others, especially those who are opposed to the landfill, to suggest alternatives,” Leffingwell said. “And if we can find suitable alternatives, we’ll give those every consideration.”


Those eastern Travis County residents who attended Tuesday’s Commissioners’ meeting, including state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, wanted further assurances that their neighborhood would not be home to another landfill. “I think they hear us today, but there will be people there on Thursday,” Rep. Dukes said. “I have spoken to the Council not only in this past week but over many months with our concerns that we have presented to them with this property since 2007…going back to 2005 they have heard from me and other members of the delegation. We wouldn’t be here today if we felt that they were receptive.”

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