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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, December 11, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Council OKs contract for Ullrich repairs
After a considerable amount of discussion at its Thursday meeting, City Council approved a contract of more than $22 million, plus a 10 percent contingency, for a joint venture to rebuild the electrical pump station serving the Ullrich water treatment plant. Austin Water considers the project “critical to the reliability of the water treatment process” for Austin and West Lake Hills, according to information provided by the utility. The plant, now more than 50 years old, draws water from Lake Austin through a pump station, which receives its power from an electrical substation that, like the plant, was built in 1969.
The city has chosen Sayers Construction-Jingoli Power for the job.
Council Member Paige Ellis indicated that she wanted to postpone the matter because of concerns from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Save Our Springs Alliance. Council left the item on the table to allow Ellis to gather more information, and returned to it later.
Bobby Levinski, an attorney with the SOS Alliance, told the Austin Monitor his organization did not believe that all the environmental variances the utility has requested are necessary. He also said the electrical workers union was concerned about the project because it appeared the contractors did not have much experience with this kind of work.
Rolando Fernandez, the city’s capital contracting officer, told Council he had been talking with a representative of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and assured the representative that the union would continue to have input on the project after the contract is signed.
Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros called on Assistant Director Shay Roalson to explain to Council that a postponement to January would mean workers could not begin clearing vegetation until September.
The plant is in a critical water quality zone, including habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Because the warbler nests on the property, the utility has scheduled tree clearing to be completed before March, when nesting season begins. Roalson also explained that the utility has worked to get all the necessary approvals and permits to move forward with the project as soon as possible.
According to Roalson, the electrical equipment is part of the original plant and has “exceeded its useful life.” A delay in construction, which is expected to take three years, “creates the possibility of an unexpected failure,” she said.
Levinski told the Monitor after Thursday’s meeting that his organization would continue to oppose some of the seven environmental variances the utility has requested. He said his main concern is a road the contractors plan to build on the property. The Environmental Commission has already recommended the variances and the Zoning and Platting Commission will consider them Tuesday.
Chris Herrington, the city’s environmental officer, told Council that Watershed Protection staffers had approved the requested variances and that they disagreed with the SOS assessment.
Council Member Greg Casar suggested that in the future Council should get more time to consider such matters, but because of the circumstances he did not want this one to be postponed. There seemed to be general agreement with that sentiment.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.
Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS): An advocacy organization. According to its web site, Save Our Springs "works to protect the Edwards Aquifer, its springs and contributing streams, and the natural and cultural heritage of the Hill Country region and its watersheds, with special emphasis on Barton Springs."