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Save Our Springs Alliance to file another lawsuit over WTP4 construction

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Save Our Springs Alliance says it plans to sue the City of Austin a second time over its construction of Water Treatment Plant 4. This time, according to a release issued by executive director Bill Bunch, SOS and the Sierra Club will ask the courts to instruct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revoke the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan.


If successful, that action could have much broader implications than the suit brought by the group in late July.


In a press release, Bunch says that though “90 percent of the 30,000 acres” of land that the municipalities are required to acquire in order to mitigate the impact of the construction of the plant has been purchased, much of the land is too fragmented to meet the permit’s standards.” He also claims that “the city and county have…failed to protect many of the 35 caves that the permit requires be protected.”


Bunch added that “currently, the city and county have no plan to correct the violations.”


“We’re basically saying that the city, county, and Fish and Wildlife are in violation of (the BCCP),” he told In Fact Daily. “(We feel that) Fish and Wildlife has a duty to revoke the permit.”


City staff declined comment because they had yet to be served with the lawsuit. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla did not return a call for comment.


Two weeks ago, SOS initiated another lawsuit against the city. That filing charges that Austin violated the National Environmental Policy Act by pushing forward with construction on WTP4 despite the fact that environmental studies associated with an agreement that aims to protect the nearly-endangered Jollyville Plateau Salamander had yet to be completed (See In Fact Daily, July 30, 2010).


Chuck Lesniak, the city’s environmental policy program manager, said that the agreement was voluntary, a fact that he argues makes those studies voluntary.


He added that he thought that SOS’ first legal action might backfire.


“(I’m) a little concerned that the Save Our Springs lawsuit could potentially create a chilling effect on other parties that might want to go into (other such) agreements,” he said.  “(It could) discourage anyone across the country from taking similar sort(s) of actions.”


Lesniak was unable to comment on the group’s second suit.


Tom Buckley, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not comment specifically on the latest suit. He said that if there was a violation of the BCCP, his office would “be in contact with the (offending) party” for negotiations about how to limit the impact of their project.


According to a Travis County web site, the BCCP is a 30-year regional permit that allows for Travis County and the City of Austin to construct the water treatment facility even if it requires “the removal of occupied endangered species habitat or species displacement.” In exchange for those rights, the participating municipalities must “assemble a minimum of 30,428 acres of endangered species habitat” to help mitigate their use of the land.


The SOS release argues that “the Endangered Species Act requires the Fish & Wildlife Service to revoke a permit if violations take place.”


The Endangered Species Act mandates that litigating citizens give 60 days notice before any direct court action is taken. According to that schedule, this latest suit could be officially brought in early October.

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