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Council wraps work on use of parkland for Water Treatment Plant 4 project

Friday, December 17, 2010 by Jo Clifton

After hearing from numerous opponents of Water Treatment Plant 4, Council voted 4-3 late Thursday night to allow Austin Water Utility to use part of the Bull Creek Greenbelt for a permanent retrieval shaft, subterranean tunnel and staging area for a portion of the plant’s Jollyville Transmission Main.


Council Members Bill Spelman, Laura Morrison and Chris Riley voted against the motion, as they have against previous motions and contracts related to the treatment plant. 


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez made a motion to raise the mitigation fee to $500,000. The utility and parks staff had recommended $273,000, while the  Parks and Recreation Board recommended $1.2 million. 


Council Member Sheryl Cole made a friendly amendment to Martinez’ motion, saying the city might need to adjust the mitigation fee. She asked that the AWU staff and the Parks and Recreation Department staff appear before the City Council Audit and Finance Committee to talk about the formula by which staff arrived at the original number.


The hearing featured many familiar Water Treatment Plant 4 opponents. Sierra Club Vice Chair Roy Waley began with a spot of holiday cheer. “I’ve made a list, I’ve checked it twice, four of you are going to be naughty and three of you are going to be nice,” he said, with a nod to the predictable vote tally.


He then offered a set of more gloomy remarks. “I would really hate to be in your shoes when this deal blows up,” he said. “I love it though, to a certain extent. I expect this vote to be 4-3, but it just builds the legal case. For every action that you all take, it just makes it a little bit easier on our side.”


Save Our Springs Alliance Director Bill Bunch also raised legal concerns. “You cannot, tonight, find with rational basis that there are no feasible and prudent alternatives to taking the use of the parkland.” According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, the Council would have to reach that finding to allow the Water Utility to proceed with the construction of the Jollyville line through the slice of parkland.


After public testimony, Council Member Chris Riley asked whether the utility had the certainty required by the statue. AWU director Greg Meszaros told Riley that he couldn’t comment on the legal question implied here. He did, however detail the utility’s position.


“The utility…evaluated a wide range of alternatives to construct this tunnel,” he said. “They included routes that would take us around a long way along 620 (and) 183. They included routes (though) the prescribed (Balcones Canyonlands Preserve) corridors…After all that analysis, we recommended that this route was the best route for achieving all of the objectives of the project.”

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