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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Some Travis County residents worried about TXI deal
Residents of an area near Austin’s Colony are concerned about a potential agreement between Travis County, the City of Austin, and Texas Industries (TXI). The deal, which would result in land set-asides that would act as a buffer between TXI’s gravel mine and its residential neighbors, could also help the company get the permits necessary to transport its product to a nearby processing facility.
At the Travis County Commissioners Court’s regular meeting on Tuesday, resident and frequent TXI critic Richard MacDonald raised several concerns about the deal. Chief among them was his belief that the agreement would result in permits to transfer mined materials that TXI might not have otherwise received. “I realize that what you’re at least alleging to do with this is to purchase open space land and real estate that would act as a buffer for residents,” he said. “But what I also see there is what TXI wants out of it is these permits.”
Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt looked at the potential deal a bit differently. “The high probability is that they would get the (permits),” she said. “Basically we’re trying to take advantage of the current hassle factor to TXI in order to extract the highest public good for the most people. The hassle factor won’t last forever.”
The area in question is in the City of Austin’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. The city is responsible for water quality in the region and any associated permits that might go with it. Travis County is responsible for flood plain construction permitting and access to county roadways.
Such permits would be involved in any form of transportation solution for TXI. As part of another agreement with the county, the company is currently bound to pay for road improvements along substandard routes that its trucks would take to transport the gravel. However, TXI is still considering other alternatives—including an unpopular option that would pass raw material to its processing facility over a conveyor belt.
MacDonald expressed concern that the new agreement could further open the door for the conveyor belt option. Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols allowed that the deal could make things a bit easier for TXI. If the company proceeded under a normal process, he argued, it would have to go to the city to get permits for a conveyor belt to cross various creeks in the region. With the county involved, he suggested, the parties could work out a development agreement that would allow the city to take into account the fact that the conveyor belt would keep trucks off of the road.
Nuckols implied that there was a benefit to this. “The city would be looking at it only from a water quality perspective,” he explained. “I don’t think the city could take into account the benefits, in terms of not having that many trucks on county and state roads.”
When MacDonald pressed Nuckols on whether the city and county would still be able to review TXI’s operations for environmental concerns, Nuckols replied in the affirmative. A permit “would not be guaranteed,” he said.
TXI received county permission to proceed with the gravel mining project in January 2010. It came complete with a host of objections from area residents, and over the dissenting votes of Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber and Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis. In voting for the mine, the court’s majority insisted that a lack of regulatory authority tied their hands in the matter.
The court scheduled a public hearing about the deal for Dec. 1. It will take place at the county’s Eastside Service Center at 6pm.
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