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SOS sues city over WTP4 as Council pushes ahead with construction

Friday, July 30, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Save Our Springs Alliance, Environment Texas, and Dr. Mark Kirkpatrick, a University of Texas biology professor, have filed suit against the City of Austin to stop the construction of Water Treatment Plant 4. The court filing alleges that, without intervention, the city “will proceed with actions in furtherance of the construction of WTP4 that…have adverse environmental impacts.”


It also charges that those actions violate the federal National Environmental Policy Act through a potentially faulty agreement that city officials have touted as an above-and-beyond measure that is designed to protect sensitive species in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.


The suit also names Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants.


Save Our Springs Executive Director Bill Bunch told In Fact Daily that the action “was definitely a cause of last resort.”


“The 4-3 City Council has so far been unbreakable,” he added.


According to an SOS news release, “(i)f successful, the lawsuit will force the City to stop work on the project and consider more affordable alternatives that also minimize harm to endangered species, native habitats, water quality, Northwest Austin neighbors, and Bull Creek park and preserve lands.”


Austin Water Utility spokesman Kevin Buchman told In Fact Daily that his utility had not been notified of any lawsuit as of 6:30pm Thursday.


Three members of the current Council – Bill Spelman, Laura Morrison, and Chris Riley – have consistently voted against projects associated with WTP4.


Each of those officials was again responsible for a no vote as the Council acted on Thursday to keep pushing forward with the construction of the water treatment facility. Though the projects they authorized yesterday are relatively minor in scope, their mere presence on the Council’s agenda brought out the familiar faces associated with the ongoing opposition to the plant.


These included long time agitators Bunch and Austin Sierra Club Vice Chair Roy Waley. However, as recent convert Sharon Blythe reminded the Council, what had been a predictable coalition of opponents to the plant has, since April, grown to include an atypical collection of activists.


“What you have done in this process – and I want to thank you for that, Water Utility – you have awakened thousands of people that are unregistered voters now in the northwest section (of Austin) where I live,” she said. “We are galvanized in this issue and we’ll make our wishes known come election time.” 


Blythe also told the Council that, at this week’s open house for the plant, she’d learned that future water plans for the city could include the construction of what might be a third water line that would run roughly along the route that her group has suggested as an alternative to the Jollyville project. Meszaros confirmed that with In Fact Daily.


“The plant has the potential, over the next hundred years, to grow to 300 million gallons per day,” he said. “It’s going to start out at 50, but it has the potential from a footprint perspective to grow over the next century. If the plant were to ever grow…and that’s an if — through conservation and other means, it may never get that big — then it would need additional transmission infrastructure probably 50 years from now. And 50 years from now an alternative for…a transmission line would be what she described.”


As for why the utility hadn’t decided to go with the alternative route, which would take construction away from the Spicewood Springs area, for a current main line, Meszaros was practical. “We estimate the 620, Anderson Mill, 183 route (to be) about a $40-plus million difference in terms of cost,” he said. “And there are significant unknowns with that. There would actually be more shaft sites, there would be a lot of additional real estate, there would be businesses and homes that would be disrupted by that construction also.


“So in many ways you may just be shifting the disruption from one area to another.”


The Jollyville project is one of two suggested main water lines that would service the new water treatment facility immediately. The other, called the Forest Ridge line, was recently put on hold (See In Fact Daily, July 27, 2010).

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