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Despite continued split, Council pushes ahead with WTP4 construction

Friday, June 11, 2010 by Michael Kanin

There were no upsets for the opponents of Water Treatment Plant 4 on Thursday. Instead, the City Council acted to move forward with the next phase of the project’s construction and to continue its relationship with the engineering firm that has handled its design. The vote came on what has become a customary 4-3 passage, with Council Members Bill Spelman, Laura Morrison, and Chris Riley keeping their place firmly in the “no” camp.


The action came as veteran activists were joined by new opponents in what amounted to a show of force that was a repeat of Wednesday’s events at the Water and Wastewater Commission. (See In Fact Daily, June 10, 2010)  At Council, they again raised long-held concerns about the necessity of the project and newer questions about the wisdom of placing an access shaft for one of its tunnels in the middle of a residential neighborhood.


The contracts the Council approved were for $22.8 million for lead contractor MWH Constructors and $22.1 million for engineering firm Carollo Engineers.


Veteran environmental activist Paul Robbins and Save Our Springs Alliance researcher Scott Henson bookended the citizens’ input portion of debate. There, Robbins quoted Townes van Zandt in calling the plant a gamble and Henson detailed what he said could be a 74 percent rise in water rates.


But the bulk of the period, which had been limited to 45 minutes, ended up in the hands of a group of neighbors who live near the Spicewood Springs Road location of a proposed shaft for one of the plant’s transmission mains. In response to Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s instructions that the discussion be limited to issues that had to do with the plant, and not its mains, resident Sharon Blythe responded that she “didn’t decide until just a minute ago” that she opposed the items on the agenda that were related to the facility.


“I do not think that you can parse out the project between transmission lines and the plant,” she said. “They are one project…as the Water Utility has said, they cannot (separate) the project into two pieces.”


She went on to say that she and her neighbors had received confirmation of the fact that one of the project’s contractors had subcontracted a test-drilling job to an unlicensed drill team. That allegation had also been made at the Water and Wastewater Commission hearing. There, the director of the Austin Water Utility, Greg Meszaros, had told In Fact Daily, that if such a violation had occurred, it “would be a subcontractor to our engineering firm.”


“Our expectation of our engineering firm would be that they would meet any professional standards that are required, and if they didn’t, they would have to go back and repair anything or get the right professional certifications,” he added. He also noted that, at that moment, he was unsure of the “status of all of these questions.”

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