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Austin Energy to turn over Holly Power Plant site by December

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

The bitter reminder of decades of pollution that the Holly Street Power Plant presents to the residents of the Holly neighborhood will soon disappear.

As of the Parks and Recreation Board meeting on Sept. 26, the plant is in its final phase of decommissioning before the land will be transferred from Austin Energy into the hands of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Nine acres of land will be transferred to Parks and Recreation once the final cleanup is complete. Currently, Austin Energy is removing the remaining concrete and continuing with its soil cleanup to ensure that the eradication of toxins complies with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality criteria. According to Eric Stager, a senior environmental scientist for Austin Energy, “For future Parks land, we are cleaning up to the strictest residential standards.”

Stager explained that the bulk of the soil cleanup includes removing total petroleum hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls. There were no buried transformers and only trace amounts of lead to contend with. “We had a little lead in the soil, but not as extensive as I expected,” he said.

Parks and Recreation will receive a letter from TCEQ to certify compliance once the cleanup has been completed.

In tandem with the soil remediation, Austin Energy is also backfilling some holes left by the removal of Holly Street Power Plant equipment and completing the final landscaping on the land Austin Energy will retain.

Stager said that all three projects are slated to be completed by the end of October and that the final grading and landscaping will be finished by November. “Hopefully by December we’re wrapping up and ready to turn over to PARD,” he said.

Once Austin Energy is comfortable with the status of the cleanup, it will grant increased access to the area to Parks and Recreation for planning purposes.

Part of Parks and Recreation’s planning includes landscaping a public trail, proposing a boathouse at the Camacho Activity Center, revitalizing Martin Pool, and identifying areas for art and the corresponding artists.

There are talks of Austin Parks Foundation and the Trail Foundation donating trees to help heal the scarred landscape although there are currently no written agreements.

The proposed trail will have a connection to the East Link trail and “the first phase is to put in the major trail that will function as pedestrian and bike activity,” said Reynaldo Hernandez, landscape architect for Parks and Recreation. The new portion of the trail will have two points of connection for the public. One will be on Holly Street and the other will be on Riverside Drive by the baseball fields.

Additionally, Austin Energy is providing $450,000 of funding for a wall to separate the public park and trail from its facilities. “This security wall,” said Hernandez, “that separates the park from Austin Energy was designed to accept art on it.” A portion of the art will be done by artists from the community organization Arte Texas in conjunction with Art in Public Places.

“This is absolutely important to the Mexican-American community so I’m going to have some major problems if all of the sudden we find that the art … is not representative of the community,” said Vice Chair Richard DePalma.

According to Board Member Michael Casias, $50,000 of the $150,000 budgeted for local art has already been designated for Arte Texas. The remaining $100,000 has not yet been allotted. He said that he hopes that art commissioned through public-private partnerships can turn the old power plant into a community gathering space. “There’s incredible opportunity there,” he said. “It’s more than just dead grass.”

There is a community meeting set to show the new schematics to the public on Sept. 30. The trail is expected to be completed in late 2019 or early 2020.

Photo of the Holly Street Power Plant courtesy of Austin Energy.

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