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Council OKs water service extension for grandfathered FM 620 property

Friday, January 13, 2012 by Michael Kanin

A split City Council approved a service extension request on Thursday that will provide city water to a new retail development project over Austin’s Drinking Water Protection Zone. The 4-2 vote came over the objections of Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo.


The Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS) also which questioned whether the extension would imperil a sensitive environmental area. SOS staff attorney Andrew Hawkins argued that that the new line would run through ground that the city had already deemed off-limits. “It’s so sensitive that the city has told us in the past that we couldn’t build the Jollyville Transmission Line in this area,” he said.


Still, the majority of the Council preferred the option of offering city service to the development to the potential of builders digging their own well. Mayor Lee Leffingwell said, “It seems to me that the choice is: Which is the least intrusive? Providing water service or having a water well on the property,” he said. “It seems to me that the least intrusive would be providing water service.”


The project in question sits on five acres at the intersection of FM 620 and Foundation Road. It is located outside of the boundaries of the city’s Certificate of Convenience and Necessity – the document that delineates the Austin Water Utility’s required area of service. It is also within the city’s Drinking Water Protection Zone, as well as the watershed for Bull Creek.


On top of those issues, the project is on grandfathered property. For that reason, Tovo noted that the site was “exempt from water quality requirements.”


Despite all of that, Council Member Bill Spelman joined Leffingwell in his support for the extension request. “I will be supporting the motion, not because I want development to come in – and not even because I’m concerned about this particular well – but because I’m concerned about additional wells being drilled along 620,” he said. “One well is probably not going to drain an aquifer. But several wells or a series of wells because we’re not willing to extend our usual water service might very well have an effect on the aquifer (and) the amount of water flowing into Bull Creek.”


Morrison wondered whether the property owners could actually move forward with well water. “One of the critical issues here…is whether or not they could drill a well,” she said. Morrison then asked representatives of the development if such an effort was possible.


“We did have our general contractor consult a drilling company,” said Site Specifics’ Bobbie Jo Cornelius. “They said…that we could drill a well. It’s about 900 feet (and) the cost is less than what we would spend on the utility extension that we are asking for today. The client still prefers city water, but already has everything in place, and will drill the well.”


Morrison asked Cornelius why her client would rather have the service extension. “It’s easier, there’s no maintenance,” Cornelius responded. “With the well, there is maintenance.”


Tovo said that she had “grave concerns” about development “that would be moving forward under 35-year-old code regulations rather than our existing water quality provisions.” Chuck Lesniak of the city’s Watershed Protection Department told Tovo that the property’s grandfathering made it eligible for water quality rules that date back to the mid-1970s.


In the end, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole joined Council Member Chris Riley, Spelman, and Leffingwell to grant the extension. Tovo and Morrison voted against it. Council Member Mike Martinez was off the dais when his colleagues took the vote.

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