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Planned repairs to Barton Springs culvert postponed for another year

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Plans to repair Barton Springs Pool’s bypass culvert, once considered urgent, have been put off for at least another year.


The city discovered holes forming in the bottom of the culvert in 2008. They scrapped initial plans for repairs after the public raised concerns about costs, aesthetics and drilling into fault lines. Engineers presented a new design to the Parks and Recreation Board in late March of this year, with the anticipation that work would begin in January 2012.


Plans now call for the project to begin in fall of 2012, due to a delay in obtaining a completed review of the project from the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as ongoing drought conditions which are thought to have stressed local salamander populations.


Friends of Barton Springs President Robin Cravey told In Fact Daily that he was not surprised by the news.


“We’ve been watching as they have slowly pushed back deadlines and not made progress,” said Cravey.


“We were supposed to start construction in 2010, we didn’t make that. So then we were shooting for the fall of 2011; we haven’t made that. I’m apprehensive that we’re going to get to the fall of 2012 and there is going to be some other problem,” said Cravey. “I’m concerned that it’s taken so long; there’s just delay after delay.”


Tom Nelson, Aquatics Division Manager with the Parks and Recreation Department said, “The hope was that the biological assessment would be approved by Fish and Wildlife in time to begin the repairs early in the fall.”


“Watershed Protection has been in touch with Fish and Wildlife through the whole process, so I think there was a lot of optimism as far as getting the biological assessment approved… I think maybe that’s part of it,” said Nelson.


Laurie Dries, an environmental scientist with the Watershed Protection Department who prepared the biological assessment, assured In Fact Daily that it was submitted as soon as they had all of the necessary information, which was in July. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers first evaluated the report, and then passed on to FWS, which has up to 135 days to finish evaluating the report.


“We tried to push to get the biological assessment submitted earlier, but it didn’t happen. We’ve had a number of meetings with the watershed protection staff and they don’t really feel like there is an emergency,” said Cravey, who noted that the two engineers who had evaluated the culvert had differing views on the urgency of the repairs.


“The fact is it has shifted. It is very worn out. There’s holes in it. I’m worried about it,” said Cravey.


Nelson told In Fact Daily, “We are trying to get this done as soon as possible. Right now, based on the engineering report, we are in an okay situation. We are in a situation where the bypass is stable. I think the original assessments were very, very conservative about the condition.”


One good thing to have come out of the delay is that recently discovered cracks in the dam are now bundled with the bypass repairs, allowing both to go through the lengthy federal process together. (See In Fact Daily May 17, 2011.)


“That turned out to be great, that we could put that in there and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do that,’ and not have to wait until we renewed our permit, which would have been 2013,” said Dries.


During a structural assessment released this May, the city found cracks in the lower Barton Springs Dam that needed to be repaired as soon as possible.

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