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Parks Board approves Lake Austin wave-abatement resolution

Friday, December 3, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

At a special called meeting Tuesday, the Parks and Recreation Board contributed their two cents to the discussion on how best to handle shoreline erosion on Lake Austin without infringing on property rights. It’s a conversation Council has been having for more than month and that they will continue at their next meeting, Dec. 9.

 

The Parks Board, at the urging of Board Member Carol Lee, voted unanimously to recommend that Council direct the city manger to “assemble a multi-disciplined team to recommend measures on comprehensive wave abatement to protect the shoreline, water quality, and biodiversity of Lake Austin while also providing safe, diverse recreational uses by the public.”  

 

“What we’re asking for is a more holistic review and recommendation of solutions for mitigating the effect of wakes on Lake Austin,” Lee said. “We heard from a lot of people that looking at (shoreline erosion) is not enough; we need to look at the source.” The source, she said, is the waves being produced by the bigger, faster boats now populating Lake Austin, and the solution to the problem is wave abatement.

 

That’s a belief that was espoused by many at Council’s first public hearing on the subject on October 28.

 

At that meeting, Andrew Clamann, an environmental scientist with the Watershed Protection Department, said that much of the shoreline erosion on the lake could be traced to vertical bulkheads — barriers erected by homeowners to repel waves.

 

The problem with vertical bulkheads, Clamann said, is that wave reflection on vertical surfaces redirects energy outward and downward, thereby increasing lakebed erosion and damaging wildlife habitat. He said the department was advocating the use of angled bulkheads and the prohibition of any new vertical bulkheads.

 

But many at that meeting took issue with that conclusion, saying that the biggest cause of erosion isn’t reflective waves but large, unimpeded waves produced by the many large boats on the lake. With the rise in popularity of wake boarding and wake surfing, many boats are now designed to produce as much wake as possible.

 

“If we have a serious problem right now, it doesn’t seem to me that the way to solve that problem is to wait 20 years for vertical bulkheads to decay,” Leffingwell said at the time. “Maybe it’s to address how the excessively large waves originate.”

 

That’s what the Parks Board is attempting to do with the wave-abatement resolution, Lee said. Under the terms of that resolution, the team put together by the city manager would provide recommendations on how best to achieve comprehensive wave abatement to Council in three months, “so that wave attenuation measures can be considered prior to summer boating season,” Lee said.

 

Methods and policies that the board recommended the team consider include “using navigation control zones, navigational buoys to optimize the uses of Lake Austin and increase public safety, prohibiting devices that are designed to increase the wake of a watercraft, limiting the quantity or type of watercraft or limiting the activities in particular areas or during particular days and times, the use of wave-attenuation structures such as stationary or floating wave breaks, and providing incentives for converting smooth vertical bulkheads into living shorelines that provide better wave absorption.”

 

That last item proved worrisome for Board Member Hill Abell. He asked Lee if she was concerned about the potential economic impact of expecting property owners to retrofit their vertical bulkheads. “Would it make sense to have those property owners involved in this process before you roll it out and you get a lot of public opposition to it and they have to go back to the drawing board,” he asked.

 

“What if the study comes back and says, ‘Incentives won’t work; we’ve got to (change the bulkheads) or we won’t fix the problem.’”

 

Lee responded that there is nothing in the resolution requiring property owners to change their bulkheads. 

 

“It’s acknowledged that some of those best practices do have a side benefit of absorbing waves better,” she said. “The only reason (bulkheads are) mentioned here is to consider incentives to try to expedite people who have hard armoring to go toward best practices. But I can’t see anything that would be required or forced.”

 

That should please Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, who made sure that the motion that was passed at the October 28 Council meeting directed staff to bring back a proposal that would not require property owners to retrofit existing bulkheads.

 

The board voted 6-0 in favor of Hill’s resolution, with Board Member Sara Hatfield Marler absent.

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