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Gravel bar removal at Barton Spring pool gets go-ahead

Friday, January 15, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

As she made the motion to remove the gravel bar in Barton Springs Pool, Council Member Sheryl Cole joked that she did so on behalf of all parents in Austin.


Cole was alluding to how popular the pool was with her own children each summer, but given the intensity of the questioning from various Council members on the dais, practically everyone had an interest in the gravel bar removal, which will require a month-long closure of the pool and remove about 200 10-cubic-yard dump trucks of gravel.


Last night, after a public hearing, Council approved a site-specific amendment to the Save Our Springs Ordinance to allow for the excavation. The only testimony from the public last night was from the Friends of Barton Springs Pool, indicating a general acceptance of what must be done to an ecological site so precious that most people would prefer to see it untouched and, certainly, never closed.


“I need to ask the most important question that anybody watching this will want to see asked, and that is, will this be done before school lets out in May?” Cole asked.


Manager Tom Nelson noted the work would be done in the fall. Plans will include lowering the pool and using a crane, on a temporary metal pad, to remove the accumulated gravel bank, which has made it difficult for the pool to naturally “de-silt” itself. A temporary path will be created to bring the crane into the area on the south bank of the pool and prepare, followed by a month of activity, and then another two weeks to remove and refill, Nelson said.


This topic is one that has gotten plenty of discussion at the boards and commissions level. As Mayor Lee Leffingwell pointed out, the plan had been heard at the Environmental Board and Parks Board, as well as a joint committee of both.


The Friends of Barton Springs Pool, formed specifically to address renovation issues, also signed onto the plan, which is intended to be as ecologically sensitive as possible. As Vice Chair Gary Beyer noted in his testimony before Council, the Friends were well aware that Barton Springs Pool was being “loved to death.”


The vote in favor of the ordinance amendment was unanimous.


Some of the issues discussed by Council included:


·       Efforts in 2006 to remove the bar by hand were labor-intensive and failed to address the problem fully, Nelson said. Nelson told Council Member Bill Spelman that the project should remove almost all the gravel bar. David Johns of the Watershed Protection Department said some metals had been detected in sampling under the bar but no accumulation of contaminants, as some might have feared.


·       The goal would be to do the gravel bar removal in conjunction with the bypass project, but it’s impossible to guarantee the sequence, Nelson told Council Member Laura Morrison. The timing depends on approval from US Fish & Wildlife. And while some had suggested incremental removal of the gravel over a number of years, this particular accumulation was so great that other efforts, like vacuuming, would not be enough to remove all the material.


·       The project must occur on the south bank of the pool due to the environmental elements involved in the project. Council Member Chris Riley asked whether the north shore was an option but was told the south bank approach provided more protection to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander and Eliza Springs.

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