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Council prioritizes recommendations from Lake Austin Task Force

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members last week began to prioritize the findings and recommendations of the city’s Lake Austin Task Force. Though a number of specific issues appeared to grab their attention, they seemed to mostly circle around the idea of the creation of a new Lake Management Division.


Council Member Laura Morrison said, “The Lake Management division is really the key to all of this because it’s only there that we’re going to be able to get a funding plan, an implementation plan, and have some oversight, tracking, and monitoring because there is a lot of stuff here – absolutely a lot of stuff.”


Other ideas, such a redesign of a permitting process, and the reallocation of lakeside variance permit application reviews from the purview of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board to one of its zoning boards, also caught the attention of Council members. So did the odd nature of the Lake Austin Task Force itself.


“In my experience, I don’t recall hearing about a task force that had a 100 percent consensus process,” offered Council Member Kathie Tovo.


Task Force Chair Linda Guerrero suggested that the city should not repeat the idea. “Don’t ever allow it again,” she said. “We really were hopeful that when we agreed to the process that everyone is really going to do that process and not one or two people block something that the majority really wanted, strongly. It really frustrated so many of the members.”


Still, the group was able to produce a set of recommendations. Guerrero and Task Force Vice Chair Carol Lee told Council members at their Tuesday work session that a Lake Management Division would “provide comprehensive oversight of all the policies and procedures that affect the Lake Austin watershed.”


Should Council members approve the division as pitched by the task force, it would have purview over commercial and facilities planning, regulation, and oversight, as well as development issues that fall within the boundaries of the watershed.


As for the notion of a change in purview, Guerrero told Council members that the Parks board’s oversight of lakeside variances was problematic. “We did not really have what we needed, which were the findings of fact,” Guerrero, a former chair of the Parks board said. “We got a lot of problems not being able to give public notification.”


Watershed Protection’s Chuck Lesniak told Council members that his team is working on a change and will have something to Council “next month.” Guerrero and Lee also brought forward task force concerns about sewage treatment in the region. The issues extend, according to the pair, to the use of marine toilets, for which there is only one pumping station on Lake Austin.


They suggested changes to the way the city regulates sewage treatment along the lake. Lesniak told Council members that an Austin Water Utility adjustment to regulation could achieve the sort of impact that Guerrero and Lee called for.


“At the time the task force was looking at the septic issues specifically, the new rules had not been proposed by the Water Utility,” he said. “In our department’s opinion, the proposed rules address the concerns that our department has jurisdiction over.”

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