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As Jollyville line complexities mount, second WTP 4 line put on hold

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The smaller of two main transmission lines that would run from Austin’s new water treatment plant is being put on hold for the time being. That news came from Department of Public Works project manager Stacie Long in her testimony before the Environmental Board subcommittee that deals with the new plant.


Utility director Greg Meszaros said that his department had not yet entered the final design phase for the Forest Ridge line, and that it was not a “critical path project.” He further suggested that it wouldn’t necessarily need to be completed for the plant to open and that the planned Jollyville transmission line could carry enough capacity on its own.


“Jollyville is the main line,” he said.


The utility has had issues with that project as well. The latest troubles have come as a group of neighborhood activists has tried to block the construction of an access shaft in a residential area off of Spicewood Springs Road (See In Fact Daily, April 26, 2010). They have called for the utility to consider an alternate route for the Jollyville main that would lengthen its run, but avoid their exposure to its construction.


They have also accused project leaders of not thoroughly vetting alternative paths for that line. As part of their efforts to prove that fact, one resident has made an open records request. Tami Tolbert Kagy asked the utility for its examination of a route for the line that would stretch from FM 620 to US 183 via Anderson Mill Road. That could involve a lot of paperwork.


“Jollyville has turned out to be a much more complicated process than we’d anticipated,” said Meszaros. He added that the complexity of that line had contributed to the pause in the Forest Ridge process.


“Jollyville is taking a lot of staff…you’ve got to balance the amount of plates you have spinning,” he said.


Environmental Board Chair Mary Gay Maxwell told In Fact Daily that she also has concerns about the Jollyville line. “I think it’s important for us to keep asking questions and getting information,” she said. “That’s a very sensitive area out there—very sensitive.”


“I’m not talking about the plant,” she said, adding, “I’m saying I’m worried about Bull Creek.”


For Maxwell, Council Member Laura Morrison’s appointee on the board, the plan to run water mains through the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve near Bull Creek is “an old plan” that dates back to the days when the new water treatment plant was set to built in that area.


“It’s even riskier and more dangerous…than putting the plant where it was going to be,” she said. 


Meszaros also noted that a large portion of the treatment plant’s contingency budget has been “tied up” in upcoming sections of the plant itself and its raw water pump station. Some pending real estate acquisitions and questions about the Jollyville shaft were other factors in the utility’s decision to slow down on Forest Ridge.


If built, the Forest Ridge main would run from the treatment plant, through a reconfigured existing line that passes through the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, and into a reservoir near the Capital of Texas Highway. It would account for between seven and 10 percent of the facility’s overall budget, according to Meszaros.


For his part, Meszaros is still confident that the Forest Ridge project will be constructed. “I think it gets built sometime,” he said. “That’s still our objective.”


“(But one) can’t predict exactly what’s going to happen.”

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