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Environmental Board postpones vote on Lazy 9 variance

Monday, March 8, 2010 by Mark Richardson

A request for a variance to allow building of an effluent detention pond in West Travis County brought together a pair of bitter rivals at last week’s Environmental Board meeting and renewed a years-old battle over a controversial development. Environmental Board members postponed action on the request, saying the matter needed more study.


The variance, sought by the Lazy 9 Municipal Utility District, would allow a cut of up to 25 feet to dig a 3.5-acre pond to hold treated effluent in a 104-acre tract in the City of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).  Among those opposed is the Save Our Springs Alliance, whose 2004 lawsuit against the original Lazy 9 development at Sweetwater Ranch claimed the MUD was created illegally by the State of Texas. Involvement in that case ultimately resulted in SOS having to file bankruptcy.  (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 6, 2007)


Lazy 9’s planned development, which will include some 1,800 homes, is located on a 1,048-acre tract of land in Travis County along SH 71 west of Bee Cave. The development is out of the city’s ETJ, but treated effluent will be force-mained from the development to the detention pond in the next tract of land, where the city does have a say over development.


SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch said the whole development is suspect from an environmental standpoint.


“The Lazy 9 MUD was created just outside the city so they have no control over it,” he said. “But they are planning to put their treated sewage outside of the development’s border back inside the city’s ETJ.”


Bunch said the developers want to dig a detention pond to store some 64 acre-feet of wastewater on a tract of land that slopes down towards Little Barton Creek, a tributary of Barton Creek that eventually feeds the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.


“These cut variances can have problems too,” Bunch said. “The applicant has a terrible track record. The environmental officer at Travis County says they (Lazy 9) have caused several problems for them and have been cited for several discharge violations in the creek and other areas related to cuts made near their development.”


Terry Irion, attorney for Lazy 9, as well as two of the engineers on the project, assured board members that the detention pond would be build to standards specified in the permit for the project issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has jurisdiction over the MUD and its development. Irion said his client’s option, should the cut variance not be approved, would be to dig 10 or more shallow ponds on the property in order to hold the effluent.


Also opposing the variance was the Sierra Club’s Roy Waley. “I’m not sure I’m going to sleep any better knowing the TCEQ is regulating this,” he said. “This is not a stormwater detention pond; this is sewage. If there’s a malfunction or accident, it won’t be silt that goes into the aquifer. We’d all be better off if we take the time and get this right.”


Board Member Phil Moncada asked project engineers Pete Malone and Rick Wheeler of Malone/Wheeler, Inc. a number of questions regarding the soil quality of the area and what type of safeguards would be in place in the detention pond. Malone said the soil was high grade and would absorb twice what is planned for it. Wheeler said the pond would be lined with a 36 millimeter polyvinyl liner, the thickest available on the market.


Board Member Robin Gary said she needed to be able to read and analyze the actual TCEQ permit before she could make a decision on the variance request. That was followed by a vote to postpone the matter until the board’s April 7 meeting.


Board members then gave staff a laundry list of information it wanted before that meeting, including a copy of the TCEQ permit, better maps of the area, and an explanation of the level of water quality required by the TCEQ.

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