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City joins battle against controversial Hays development

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The City of Austin has joined the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and others in requesting a contested case hearing before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on Jeremiah Venture LP’s request for a new Texas Land Application Permit.

 

The partnership proposes to build 1,377 homes on 607 acres at 6327 FM 967. Developers asked for authorization to dump 330,000 gallons of treated domestic wastewater per day (120 million gallons a year) via surface irrigation across 122.37 acres. The area covered by the proposed permit is in Hays County over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and directly adjacent to the City of Austin‘s Water Quality Protection Lands.

 

City staff this week sent a memo to the Mayor and Council along with City Manager Marc Ott, outlining concerns raised by the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. In the memo, Assistant City Attorney Holly Noelke said the city had previously filed comments regarding the TLAP permit for land application of 330,000 gallons per day of treated wastewater.

 

She noted that though the TCEQ Executive Director made several changes in response to city’s comments, the October 30, 2008 revised draft permit and Executive Director’s response to comments “did not adequately address the environmental sensitivity of the area that would be subject to the permit.”

 

In the memo, Noelke said, “While land application technology may be appropriate and is preferable to direct discharge, the soils, rock outcrops, terrain, and topography of the Recharge Zone present challenges. Few other land application permits have been approved on the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. As such, the city has requested that TCEQ provide adequate safeguards for operating the facility commensurate with the location and size of the project.”

 

The BSEACD had similar concerns when it voted earlier this month to request the hearing. District General Manager Kirk Holland said the TCEQ preferred punitive action –sanctioning Jeremiah Venture’s developers after a violation – rather than taking steps to prevent pollution of the aquifer in the first place.

 

Both BSEACD and the city have concerns, in part, because of a recent ruling in a similar case involving the Belterra development in Hays County. That development sought to directly discharge up to 800,000 gallons of treated effluent directly into Bear Creek, which flows into the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. In that case, the TCEQ ruled in favor of the Belterra permit, though an out-of-court agreement mitigated some of the dangers of that project.

 

The requests for the contested case hearing will be placed on the TCEQ’s agenda, and if granted, would be referred the State Office of Administrative hearings.

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