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Holly Power Plant to be officially decommissioned in August, staff reports

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Remnants of the Holly Street Power Plant still stand in East Austin, bitter reminders of a facility that spread pollution to nearby residents, but Austin Energy staff assured the Electric Utility Commission at its March 20 meeting that the decommissioning would end in August of this year.

The update was prompted by testimony from Gavino Fernandez, a member of the Holly Power Plant Decommissioning Committee, at the commission’s February 27 meeting. Fernandez complained that the city has been out of touch, made empty promises as to when the work would be completed and had misled the community as to what they could expect as far as compensation, including the rebuilding of a baseball field that was torn down.

“The reason (the Holly neighborhood) is working with Austin Energy is because we agreed not to file a lawsuit for all the damage and health issues that happened to our people for 30 years,” Fernandez said at the February meeting, “but with this lack of communication we may have to go that way.”

During the March meeting, Environmental Services Director Kathleen Garrett contradicted Fernandez’s claims and said that Austin Energy has remained in contact with the neighborhood. “He was well aware of when the next meeting was and what was going on,” she said.

Garrett told commissioners that the reason work had been suspended was that a large quantity of data concerning the site had been submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for review. She said the goal was to get the ball rolling again in April.

The basement floor of the plant, as well as one large concrete wall, still needs to be demolished, and after that remediation of the soil will take place, Garrett said. By the end of July, final grading and restoration should begin.

In 2009, City Council reallocated funds to design and implement the Holly Shores/Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach master plan, which designates nine acres of additional parkland to come from the power plant site. Austin Energy will retain what’s left.

Commissioner Teresa Reel asked if any baseball fields would be constructed as part of the new parkland.

“I know (the Parks and Recreation Department) has made other fields elsewhere, but I don’t know what their plans are for that land,” Garrett said.

During the February meeting, Fernandez said that on March 25 the neighborhood would celebrate the closing of the plant, and that they had asked Austin Energy to contribute $500, but the city had refused.

“For many many years, there was mitigation funding and those funds had historically been used for programming in the neighborhood area,” explained staff liaison Jeff Vice at the March meeting. “That has long since expired. Council has not renewed that funding.”

Council voted to retire the plant in 1995, meaning that if decommission ends as planned this year the process will have taken 22 years. Holly Power Plant was constructed in 16 years, beginning in 1958.

“It’s sad that at 62 I still see environmental racism coming from an organization that I pay my taxes to,” Fernandez said at the February meeting.

Photo by Spatms made available through a Creative Commons license.

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