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Travis Commissioners approve ambitious Colorado River Corridor Plan

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Travis County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an ambitious plan for more than 38,000 acres of land along the Lower Colorado River. The Colorado River Corridor Plan is aimed at coordinating public planning and private investment to help direct the region’s development while providing environmental protection for the area over the next 25 to 30 years.


As rosy as that may sound, the plan doesn’t come without its critics.  Indeed, some residents in the area feel as though mining interests may have been too involved in the process. No area residents came forward to testify before Commissioners voted on the plan.


The plan covers an expanse that runs east along the Lower Colorado River from US 183 to the Travis County line. The swath of land affected by the plan includes about 11,000 acres that could be used by cement manufacturers for gravel mining. Travis County Comprehensive Planning Manager Randy Nicholson told Commissioners that the fact that “over one-third of this corridor has potential mining issues in the future” played a key role in precipitating the plan.


Mining in the region has been an issue. Two years ago, Commissioners reluctantly approved a gravel mining project for Texas Industries over the vocal concerns of area residents. According to back-up documents provided to Commissioners, portions of the plan address “long-term restoration and reclamation of mined sites.”


Generally, plan authors analyzed five key regional elements: land use, drinking and well water, transportation, water quality and storm water, and parks and land conservation. “The Corridor Plan presents a vision that accommodates new development while protecting the character and environmental quality of the corridor,” reads the back-up. “New urban areas are sited along major highways (SH 130, SH 71, FM 937, and FM 969 nodes). This relationship is aligned with the CAMPO 2035 ‘activity centers’ concept.”


The CAMPO activity centers are meant to situate regional growth around areas targeted for development concentration. Nicholson pointed to a degree of controversy from residents who were not in favor of locating an activity center along the route of SH 130, as it currently is in the Colorado Corridor plan. “I think that most of the community recognizes the fact that that’s a long-range project so the intensity of that is kind of unknown,” Nicholson said. “So we still feel like (the activity center is) best suited for the 130 corridor.”


Residents had argued that the placement of the activity center did not reflect the actual center of population in the region. “They want you to declare that the center of all those pits and mounds and dirt and stuff, which is nothing now, to be the activity center of that area,” said Richard MacDonald in August, 2011. “But it’s not. All the people live both sides of 969.”


MacDonald was an outspoken critic of the Texas Industries mining project. Texas Industries was heavily involved in outlining the Colorado River Corridor plan. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 9, 2011.)


The Colorado Corridor plan calls on Commissioners to prepare the county for a long-term commitment. “An inability to believe in planning, and in the possibilities of translating plans into reality can become a major impediment to successful planning,” reads the back-up. “The plan outlines several strategies to be implemented over the next two years, strategies that are ongoing and more longer-term items that may not be addressed for five years or more. It is our hope to be able to look back in 20 years and realize that something outstanding has been accomplished by this planning effort, something greater than we thought possible at its outset.”


Nicholson echoed those thoughts in his presentation to Commissioners. “Plans do take a long time to evolve,” he said. “Long-term commitment by the Court is certainly going to be required for any kind of plan implementation.”

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