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Utility pushing forward with original Jollyville WTP4 water main route

Monday, September 27, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Austin Water Utility has decided to move forward with the original route for the first of three potential main water lines for its Water Treatment Plant 4 project. The announcement comes after the contractors assigned to oversee the design and construction of the Jollyville Transmission main issued a report that dismissed a proposal by some neighbors to reconfigure their efforts.


According to the report, changing the route for the Jollyville main would cost the utility up to $50 million more than the current route.


In the process, the utility also confirmed that it would downgrade the use of a shaft near a neighborhood off of Spicewood Springs Road. Instead of using the shaft as a working shaft, it will now be used as a retrieval shaft, According to a memo from City Manager Marc Ott, the change will reduce the amount of time for construction-related activity on that site from 36 months to 13 months.


Neither action seemed to placate residents of the area, whose late opposition to the new water treatment plant was stoked after officials began testing the area in May of this year.


Along with a widely dispersed email informing stakeholders of the city’s decision, the water utility also released the 27-page study by the engineering firm Black and Veatch to justify the utility’s case. Spicewood Springs resident Desmond D’Souza, who was intimately involved in a report issued by the neighborhood that called for a new route, remains skeptical of city motives.


“Several of us got a call from (AWU spokesman) Kevin Buchman on Friday morning about a meeting at 2:00 on Friday afternoon,” he told In Fact Daily via email. “This was a token courtesy to let us know what decision they had made a couple of hours after it was published to the web.”


According to the Black and Veatch report, D’Souza’s suggestion of the “Hybrid West-of-620” route, which would have followed a Pedernales Electric Cooperative easement around his neighborhood, “fails … in several areas.” The report says the route would cause “significant costs … unacceptable schedule delays … (and) (u)nacceptable permitting hurdles,” among other issues.


It goes on to say that “trenching along the majority of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative easement presents significantly more (environmental) risk than all-tunnel alternatives.” According to the document, the Pedernales route would have to be trenched. The Jollyville line will be entirely underground.


A full compliment of related documents, including the study and a memo from Ott, is available at the utility’s Web site.

“Neither (the water utility) nor the City has done us any favors here,” D’Souza wrote. He said he and his colleagues had asked multiple times to meet with the water utility. “Instead we once again are presented with a ‘final’ result,” he said. “Just as (Austin Water) deliberately erased signs of the Shaft site from exhibits in August 2009, they deliberately kept this latest round carefully under wraps, with closed-door meetings and all. This mode of operating is exactly the same as before, nothing has changed.”

D’Souza said he has “no reason to believe” the “investigation was done with any sincere intent to see what the best Hybrid-620 solution could be.”

The change in the way the utility will use the Spicewood Springs shaft should dramatically reduce its impact on that neighborhood (see In Fact Daily, Sept. 8). Still, D’Souza said he has one question for Ott: Is the way the AWU is running the Jollyville project “representative of the kind of Good Government” the city manager has said is his goal for the city?

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