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WTP 4 opponents take over Water and Wastewater Commission

Thursday, June 10, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Water and Wastewater Commission failed to recommend either of two Water Treatment Plant 4-related items last night after hearing a barrage of citizen criticism of the project. Council is scheduled to take up the items at this morning’s meeting and can expect at least some of those citizens to restate their opposition.

The contracts, with MWH Constructors and Carollo Engineers, would be for $22.8 million and $22.1 million, respectively.


Commissioners did not reject the contracts, but because of absences, abstentions, and a recusal, they could not come up with the four votes necessary to make a positive recommendation on either to Council.


On both measures Commissioner Sarah Faust voted against, Commissioner Mickey Fishbeck abstained, and Commissioner Chien Lee recused himself.


Commission Chair Mario Espinoza, Vice Chair Gwen Webb, and Commissioner Dale Gray voted for the MWH contract. But Webb joined Commissioner Mickey Fishbeck in abstaining on the Carollo engineering contract, which Faust came out against. Webb and Fishbeck abstained from voting on that item, and Lee again recused himself.


Faust tried to inject a helping of delay into the project just before the first of these votes. Calling the still-not-totally-formed transmission lines that would eventually run from the plant “one piece” with the plant itself, she questioned the wisdom of proceeding with their construction before the completion of a set of environmental assessments.


So she introduced a measure that would have called for a delay in the commission’s proceedings pending a staff reformatting of backup documents that had proved difficult for much of the commission to understand. She further suggested that it might also benefit the commission to wait for the environmental studies.


Should the Jollyville main fail to meet environmental requirements, a restart on some of the plant’s design could result.


For his part Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros was frank. “Council has directed us to build the project,” he said. “We’re not asking for … (that) authorization again.”


In so doing, he addressed a mixed crowd of such long-time plant opponents as Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch and his new friends, neighborhood-based opponents.


Those opponents, who packed the commission’s hearing room and drew out the citizens’ communication portion of the event, forced the commission to focus their agenda largely around their issues. In the process commissioners were forced to adjourn just after 10pm, a situation that pushed two scheduled briefings until at least July.

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