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Tests for Jollyville transmission main begin amid neighbors’ opposition

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Austin Water Utility is engaged in preliminary, geotechnical testing that will help determine the location of portions of the Jollyville transmission main, part of Water Treatment Plant 4. This step came as activists protested the action at both a hearing and in an email to City Manager Marc Ott, Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros, and Parks and Recreation Department head Sara Hensley.


Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza told In Fact Daily that he expected the water utility would be done with the work in three to five days. “This is not the actual project and before we proceed we would clearly come back to the Council for a Chapter 26 hearing,” he said. “We may in fact decide that we don’t want to use that site. This is all part of our due diligence…we would never go to the council blind without any information.”


Last week, a Parks and Recreation Board committee rejected a staff plan to use one of the sites currently under test as a location for an access shaft for the Jollyville main. The committee was not satisfied with the due diligence testing and alternative options that had been then offered by the city. About 30 neighborhood opponents of the project also appeared to voice their disapproval of the project being located near their homes.


Then, on Saturday, neighborhood activist Sharon Blythe reported that a team showed up at the site, located at the intersection of Old Lampasas Trail and Spicewood Springs Road. Yesterday, Save Our Springs Alliance director Bill Bunch penned the email to Ott, Meszaros, and Hensley. In it, he acknowledged that the testing was “probably…needed.” Still, he asked the powers that be to “halt this construction activity immediately until all required approvals and permits are granted.”


“While this may only be testing…it is a major intrusion on the park and appears to be an illegal diversion of park land for non-park purposes,” he wrote. He then noted that “(t)he drilling has nothing to do with enjoyment of the park as park land” and that “the neighbors have reported there are no city permits for this drilling activity.”


Blythe told In Fact Daily that she and her neighbors had indeed obtained information about permits in the area through an open records request. She added that there had been nothing about the Old Lampasas and Spicewood Springs site in what she had seen, but that officials had told her that the work was being done under “administrative approval for temporary drilling.”


“I just wonder about this administrative approval,” she said. “How can they do that (without a Chapter 26 hearing)?”


Chapter 26 is a section of the State Parks and Wildlife Code that prohibits the “use or taking of any public land designated and used prior to (a given improvement program)…as a park, recreation area, scientific area, wildlife refuge, or historic site” without a municipality meeting certain requirements. The requirements are usually demonstrated as part of a hearing; thus the phrase Chapter 26 hearing.


According to spokesman Kevin Buchman, the utility does not believe that it needs permits to engage in geotechnical testing. In fact, he said that couldn’t recall an instance where they’d been required to go through a Chapter 26 hearing before they did this type of boring.


He also noted that if the utility should determine that the site was appropriate for their use, it would have to go through with that process. “At this point,” he said, “we’re still in the design phase of the project.”   


In his letter, Bunch also wrote that, at the meeting, “neighbors specifically asked about testing…and there was zero mention that this work would be launched within a few days.”


Committee Chair Hill Abell told In Fact Daily that his group had assumed there would be further testing. “As far as I know, its just testing for groundwater,” he said. “Its part of what they’re supposed to be doing.”


The Jollyville transmission main is one of two major water lines that will be constructed in conjunction with the long-planned WTP 4. That project has drawn a hefty amount of criticism from activists who argue that it isn’t necessary, and that it could pose adverse environmental effects.

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