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Lake task force digging into multiple issues

Friday, October 5, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

The Lake Austin Task Force started with the idea that watercraft on the lake needed to be reined in to minimize shoreline erosion, but the task has become far more multi-faceted after the group’s first handful of meetings.


Erosion control was the initial charge of the task force, but as they say, no man is an island and no erosion can be limited to a single factor. At a meeting last week, task force members tried to divide goals and concerns into four categories: environmental issues; lake use and management; processes, policies and coordination of departments; and development controls.


“The problem is that it’s all interconnected,” said Mary Ann Neely, one of 17 members of the year-long task force. “The erosion has to do with the speed limits which has to do with the watercraft which has to do with the kinds of watercraft, which also has to do with the bulkheads, and so on.”


It wouldn’t be the first time a task force decided its mission was more complex than a list of four or five recommendations to Austin City Council. At last week’s meeting, Blake Tollett reminded the members that Walsh Boat Landing near Tom Miller Dam needed more controls. Chair Linda Guerrero agreed, but she also sees broader issues.


“We brought the city departments in to talk about their issues, and once we did that, we realized how much was involved here,” Guerrero said. “Now we’ve got so many things, we’ve got to look at narrowing down our scope.”


What emerges is that different divisions and departments of the city have compartmentalized tasks on the lake: One division deals with the invasive weed, hydrilla. Another handles the enforcement of development regulations. Another handles the lake patrols and deals with watercraft and speed on the water.


“We’re trying to look at this holistically,” Guerrero said. “We’re looking at who has ownership of all these issues, and how they can come together.”


So at the last task force meeting, city facilitator Larry Schooler walked them through a green card/red card series of questions. Schooler read off concerns cited during the meetings, and task force members indicated whether the issue was within the purview of the Lake Austin Task Force.


Task force members appeared to strongly identify with providing better control over watercraft and clearer direction over enforcement. They were strongly in favor of water quality studies and the use of science to determine overuse. The group was a bit more “iffy” on whether it wanted to dive into land code changes.


That doesn’t mean that development issues weren’t recognized in the discussion. As has been pointed out in prior meetings, a citizen-driven complaint process may not be the best way to regulate the shoreline. Confusion continues around “conditional approvals,” and the city appears to have no deterrents to unpermitted work. Questions were raised about dock criteria, code compliant structures, building in the floodplain, the destruction of critical environmental features and the impact of development within the Lake Austin watershed.


In short, task force members appeared to agree the problem was not new regulations but the enforcement of existing regulations that were the problem.


“I don’t know if I would say we were getting into a lake management plan,” Guerrero said. “What we found was that our concerns were very broad, and within each of those categories there were multiple layers. We’re still getting to the final count.”


The task force has set a tentative date of Oct. 15 for a three- to four-hour Lake Austin boat tour to look directly at lake issues. The Lake Austin Task Force’s first public hearing is set for Oct. 22, after the task force meeting. A location for the hearing has yet to be determined.

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