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Water utility still explaining WTP 4 to area residents

Thursday, May 1, 2008 by Mark Richardson

As a rule, a good salesperson stops selling an item once the customer says, “I’ll take it.” However, in the up-and-down, here-and-gone case of Water Treatment Plant 4, city officials continue to talk up the merits of the multi-million dollar project despite getting the City Council go-ahead for the project. And they may keep selling it until the spigot is turned sometime in 2014.


With a history of one-step forward, two-steps back, officials with the Austin Water Utility and the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department appear to be taking no chances in keeping WTP4 on track. They held an Open House for Lake Travis-area residents Tuesday night at the 3M Innovation Center at River Place Rd and RM 2222, with a talk by AWU Director Greg Meszaros and a dozen staff experts available to answer questions. About 40 people attended the meeting.


Ironically, it was just over a year ago that pretty much the same WTP4 team met with Lake Travis areas residents at the same 3M Center, though they well selling the ill-fated Bull Creek Headwaters site that time around.


The city plans to initially build a 50-million gallon per day treatment plant that draws water through tunnels bored through the rock to Lake Travis. Construction is expected to begin in 2010 and completion is expected by summer of 2014. The city’s engineers say the plant’s location at one of the highest hills in the area will allow the city to save a great deal of energy by using gravity to distribute the treated water.


AWP Assistant Director of Environmental Affairs and Conservation Darryl Slusher said the city is more confident of actually building the plant on the Bullick Hollow site.


“The environmental problems have been the largest issues holding us up in the past,” he said. “They held up the plant at the Bull Creek site for a number of years. This site is much, much less environmentally sensitive than the Bull Creek site.”


Slusher said there are a large number of seeps, springs and karst features on the Bull Creek site, and comparatively few at Bullick Hollow.


“We don’t find any endangered species on this site,” he said. “On Bull Creek, we had the Jollyville Plateau salamander habitat. There were also major obstacles to the construction that we are not finding at Bullick Hollow.”


That does not mean that the city’s WTP4 team is planning to assume there are no environmental problems with the 96-acre Bullick Hollow site.


“We plan to do a thorough environmental commissioning on the site both before and as construction progresses,” said WPDR Environmental Commissioner Chuck Lesniak. “We’re really focused on the adjacent preserve land, a bird preserve, and making sure we are a good neighbor to that area.”


He said WPDR staff would be taking the lead in environmental commissioning, with a consultant on contract if problems arise.


“We were much more focused on water quality on the Bull Creek site,” Lesniak said. “While we have a creek on the Bullick Hollow site, it’s a wet-weather creek. We don’t have any karst features or springs to worry about. We haven’t seen any evidence of shallow groundwater at all.”


WTP4 requests for code variances is still working its way though the boards and commissions process, with the final case going back to City Council in late May.

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