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Council members get a front-row seat for WTP4 construction briefing

Thursday, August 11, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Austin Water Utility continued its full-court press Wednesday, defending its Water Treatment Plant 4 project at a special called City Council meeting held at the future site of the facility. The event, set on a freshly built deck that overlooks the already high walls of future water treatment tanks, was punctuated by the sounds of an active construction site.


“This is well along,” MWH Constructors’ representative Larry Laws told the Council. “You can obviously see that a lot is going on here.”


Laws remarks came during his presentation of a status update for Council members. Though much of that information was not new, Council Members seemed to benefit from the trip to the facility. Council Member Laura Morrison told In Fact Daily that it was her first time to visit the site.


“I am fully intending to take in all of the information I can,” she said. “Obviously the financial analysis that’s going to be coming forward next week is going to need a lot of delving into. And so, sure, in terms of filling things out, I would say that this (trip to the facility) is important.”


Council Member Kathie Tovo echoed those remarks. “I think the numbers are going to be the biggest piece of information,” she said. “Certainly, it’s impactful to be out here on the site and see really what the project looks like … but, definitely, it’s important to look at the figures.”


Council Member Bill Spelman also wasn’t so sure that he’d heard any new information. Still, he said that it “was kind of good to see the site.” Spelman added that he’d like to take “a serious tour” at some point so that he has “a better understanding of how all of these pieces fit together, and how far along we are on all of them.”


Morrison, Spelman, and Council Member Chris Riley have routinely voted against items that would forward construction of the plant. Tovo, who won a recent run-off with former Place 3 Council Member Randi Shade, spent much of her campaign deflecting questions about whether she would vote to halt work on the facility. She has said that she would not have voted to build it in the first place.


Her election triggered a fresh debate on the subject. That discussion produced an order from the Council to City Manager Marc Ott to develop a complete picture of what it might cost to mothball construction for either a five- or 10-year period. That report is expected on August 18.


Officials from the utility maintain that such an effort would be cost-prohibitive (See In Fact Daily, July 11, 2011).


Mayor Lee Leffingwell remains firmly behind the completion of the project. “This project needs to be finished now,” he told a gathering of press at the event.


He also introduced a new argument for the facility. “You know what a lot of folks forget,” he began, “we were on track back in 2006 to build another plant and then build this one also. So my objective back then was to do a little bit of economizing and eliminate that step and go straight to this step, which we knew we were going to have to do sometime.”


According to Laws, $319 million worth of construction on the plant is already under contract. He expects that the project will be 15 percent complete by the end of September.


Although the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Sierra Club emailed members to attend the meeting, few of them made it to the plant site.

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