Monday, July 28, 2014 by Jo Clifton

City asks TxDOT to stop SH45SW environmental impact statement

City Manager Marc Ott has asked the Texas Department of Transportation to withdraw its current draft environmental impact statement of State Highway 45 Southwest and suspend its technical review.

In making the request, Ott cited three “pending critical environmental studies,” which the city believes must be considered in the evaluation of the impact the road would have on the environment.

“State environmental regulations under which the (draft environmental impact statement) was prepared require the (statement) to include a summary of environmental studies reviewed, a description of the environmental impacts found, and measures to minimize them,” Ott wrote in a letter dated July 23.

The city believes that each of the three studies is “critical to determining the nature and extent of potential environmental impacts of SH45 SW to federally protected species, Edwards Aquifer groundwater, and City of Austin and BCCP (Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan) preserve lands.”

In addition, he wrote, “It is my understanding that TxDOT and CTRMA (the regional mobility authority) agree that these studies are key to the design of the project, particularly the Flint Ridge Cave study,” which the city is conducting.

Finally, he wrote, “Whether or not TxDOT feels it can withdraw the (draft study) and suspend technical review, I urge you to consider at the very least expanding the public comment period…The current time provided for public comment is the minimum required by law. We can and should provide more time for the public to consider the document and provide input.”

Building the road has been the subject of debate in Austin for 30 years. Those who support the road have pushed to get the statement done as soon as possible so that it can move forward before political pressures can stop it. Except for Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the City Council has taken a strong stand against the road.

Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, issued the following statement today: “ The draft EIS is 1000 pages of babble, without essential content or analysis. It’s clearly not done yet. We very much appreciate the Austin city staff stepping up and calling for its withdrawal.”

TxDOT is holding a hearing on the draft environmental impact statement Tuesday night at Bowie High School. The hearing will follow an open house at 5 p.m. and a presentation at 6 p.m.

The formal comment period on the draft is currently scheduled to end on Aug. 13. Read Ott’s letter Swonke TxDot Letter July 23, 2014“>here.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Balcones Canyonland Conservation Plan: Established in 1996, the Balcones Canyonland Conservation Plan set rights and standards for incidental "take" of eight endangered species, jointly, for the City of Austin and Travis County.

City Manager Marc Ott: Ott was hired by Council members in 2008 and served in that position until his 2016 departure.

Flint Ridge Cave: A geologic feature that may play host to local "species of concern"; animals whose existence is threatened in one way or another. The feature is located along the proposed route of SH45SW.

SH45SW: A controversial road project that supporters argue would ease traffic traveling through areas of far Southwest Travis and far Southeastern Hays County. Opponents argue that the environmental impact of the effort, which runs close to sensitive land, is not worth that risk. The debate over the issue goes back as far as the mid-1980s.

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