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Mark Richardson is a multimedia journalist, editor and writer who has worked in digital, print and broadcast media for three decades. He is a nationally recognized editor and reporter who has covered government, politics and the environment. A journalism graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, he was recently awarded a Foundation for Investigative Journalism grant and has three Associated Press Managing Editors awards for excellence in reporting.
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City nearing final decisions on WTP 4 shaft site
Residents from the Spicewood Springs neighborhood in northwest Austin continue to press their case at every opportunity to try and stop or divert the planned Jollyville Transmission Main project for Water Treatment Plant 4 from coming through their area.
City officials now say they plan to make a final decision on exactly which route the Jollyville main will take as early as Sept. 1
The neighbors, who have formed a group called the Spicewood Stop the Shaft Association, showed up at last week’s Environmental Board meeting to make their case at the time city staff was making its quarterly report on the WTP4 project’s progress. The group is also charging city officials with deliberately withholding key information about the transmission main project from neighborhoods at early public meetings about the project. City officials say that was not the case.
The neighbors are upset over the city’s plans to bore a massive underground tunnel between the WTP4 plant on Bullick Hollow Road underneath parts of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve to the Jollyville Reservoir at US183 and McNeil Road. One of the access shafts for the tunnel would be in the Spicewood Springs neighborhood, and residents are worried that its existence would mean a three-year disruption of their lives while the tunnel is being constructed.
Desmond Desusa, a spokesman for the group, told the board that his group is interested in a different plan for the transmission main – apparently considered but discarded by city officials — called the Hybrid 620 Route. He also said this group is having trouble getting answers out of the city on several questions they have about the project.
“There are big enough differences on what we have been told about Spicewood and what we were told about 620, it just takes common sense to know that they don’t add up,” he said. “There’s a risk with approaches that claim (to) balance things. In order for this to be done fairly and correctly, the metrics that you use behind this must make sense. These can’t just be numbers that multiply, add, roll-up and make claims on; they must make sense.”
Desusa said his group has studied the 620 Hybrid Plan and determined that it would actually cost less that the planned Jollyville Main project, as well as disrupt fewer residences and businesses in the process.
Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, who oversees the Austin Water Utility, told In Fact Daily that the group’s proposal would actually cost more than the utility’s planned route. He also said it would cause more environmental damage.
The 620-Hybrid Plan would follow RM 620 along the Pedernales easement through open trenching about 800 to 1,500 feet west of the roadway. It would go to a site a few miles north, which is the alternative site the city purchased for the WTP4 project. From there, the city would tunnel along Anderson Mill Road, to an alternate WTP site, along Anderson Mill Road, then south to the Jollyville reservoir.
“Putting the shaft at the alternative WTP4 site would affect far fewer people, schools and businesses,” Desusa said. “It is also a more cost-effective method to get the water there.”
Garza said the city looked at the 620 route, and rejected it.
“The route option that they are asking us to consider, we did consider it,” Garza said, adding, “Using the 620 route is limited by environmental concerns and cost concerns. We couldn’t do an open cut; it’s just not feasible. The only way we could use that route would be to tunnel. It’s a much longer route and that makes it more expensive.”
As a part of his presentation, Desusa also claimed that the Austin Water Utility and its consultants conspired to keep the residents of his neighborhood from finding out about plans for an access shaft in their neighborhood until it was too late.
He presented partial copies of city memos which appeared to instruct staff to remove references to the potential shaft site from maps that were used in early public meetings about the project.
Garza said that he believes that the group is misinterpreting the meaning of the memos they received, and that everything about the project is on the record.
“The only thing that is not public is information that we haven’t created yet,” he said. “We still don’t have all of the information and we are still in the process of planning and design. We have said that tirelessly, over and over. And they may not like all the information we have and all the answers we have, (but) the good thing is we are taking that feedback and we are considering other options.”
Garza said the city is looking at some options that would compress the time during which there is significant traffic and noise at the Spicewood and Old Lampasas shaft site. However, he said no final decisions have been made on those options.
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