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Reporter’s Notebook: Animal protection

Monday, October 9, 2017 by Austin Monitor

Pine Forest still driving up Bastrop’s legal bills… During the past year, the city of Bastrop has paid an additional $106,308 to the lawyer representing the city and Bastrop County in their continuing legal battle with the Pine Forest Investment Group, according to Tracy Waldron, Bastrop’s chief financial officer. Last September, the Austin Monitor reported that the city of Bastrop had paid Charles Bundren $723,531 for his work on the Pine Forest case, so the total for the case is now $829,839. The Bastrop governments seemed to win a clear victory at the trial court, but the Pine Forest group claimed numerous procedural errors and appealed to the Texas Third Court of Appeals. The Austin American-Statesman reported last week that although the governments were hoping that the court would make a decision based on the record, both parties have been asked to give oral arguments on Nov. 15. Principal owner Robert Leffingwell’s group entered into a contract with Bastrop in 2013, but Bastrop governments claimed that he had failed to fulfill the terms of the contract because of a faulty drainage study. And in 2015 they sued the Pine Forest Investment Group to have the contract declared void. Although the district court did so, the appeals court clearly has some questions about that case, which is likely to cost Bastrop even more money. The Statesman has reported that Bastrop’s former mayor, Ken Kesselus, believed that the lawsuit would cost no more than $200,000.

A friend of Sneed is a friend indeed… Everyone’s favorite pile of rocks once again got some notice at the Historic Landmark Commission’s most recent meeting. This time around, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky struck an optimistic tone during his update of the demolition by neglect case of the Sebron Sneed House at 1801 Nelms Drive. The case, which has been on the commission’s agenda for several years, might be moving forward with word of a new owner who has hired architect Tracy Chen. “I take that as a very good sign,” said Sadowsky, who told commissioners that he understood repairs to the property had begun in earnest, with plans to fix the masonry in the works. “That’s a good first step, but we need to take this further. We need to have stabilization of the ruins because this right now; it’s a public safety hazard. … This is an unstable structure, rock is falling from it on a fairly regular basis.” However, Sadowsky seemed heartened by the fact that the architect hired on to the project understood that, and told the commission they were making good progress on the case. He then asked to continue the case to the Oct. 23 agenda, when he hoped there would be a happy ending for the case. The owner plans to eventually build an apartment complex on the site, with the ruins as a centerpiece. “I am hopefully not being naive, but I am optimistic that this new owner is one that is interested in doing the right thing by these ruins,” said Sadowsky.

A lot of bones to pick… Waiting for the No. 6 bus to take him to City Hall at the corner of Delano Street and Hudson Street, a Monitor reporter noticed a sign that a frustrated neighbor had posted above the bench at the bus stop in an apparent response to seeing discarded leftovers from a chicken dinner on the sidewalk. “PLEASE PUT YOUR DAMN CHICKEN BONES IN THE TRASH CAN THAT’S RIGHT THERE. A NEIGHBORHOOD DOG IS GOING TO CHOKE ON ONE AND DIE!” Indeed, while dogs can happily chew on raw bones all day, cooked bones are brittle and splinter into small pieces that they can choke on. Not to give Robert “Crocodile” Corbin, the city’s most prominent anti-canine activist, any ideas for how to reduce the number of off-leash dogs running around the city…

Wild testimony… Halloween horror came early to Travis County Commissioners Court last week during an extended discussion on wildlife control policy. The court was considering whether to renew its partnership with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension to manage, among other things, coyotes. Several residents, including representatives of the city of Austin’s Animal Advisory Commission showed up to lobby the court to reject the partnership in favor of a more humane approach that does not use tools such as steel leg traps. However, South Austin resident Michael Fossum testified in favor of the existing policy and cited previous public input gathered by the city back in 2005. “My family is the victim of a coyote attack, one that killed my 75-pound Labrador retriever. The attack was so gruesome the pack of coyotes dragged my bleeding dog all over our front lawn and ate her entire remains with the exception of her fur and head,” Fossum read. He also cited a 2016 report received by the city’s Animal Protection division. That report detailed a woman who avoided a dangerous encounter with a coyote in her driveway by making it to her car just in time. “She was stunned because she didn’t hear or see them until it was almost too late. Then again at 7 a.m., she was almost attacked by three coyotes,” Fossum read. “She feels like she is being stalked by these coyotes.” After relaying those chilling tales, Fossum produced a steel trap, but only to demonstrate how harmless it actually is. After setting the contraption, he deliberately triggered it on his own hand. “You can see, although this is uncomfortable, I’m not injured in any way and the same would happen if a coyote stepped in this trap,” he told the court. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty jokingly asked if Fossum would allow Health and Human Services executive Sherri Fleming, who was seated next to Fossum, try the trap. “Anyone who would like to, I’ll certainly be glad to reset it for you,” Fossum earnestly replied. Fleming did not take him up on the offer.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jack Craver, Jo Clifton, Caleb Pritchard and Elizabeth Pagano.

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