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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Wednesday, March 17, 2021 by Jo Clifton
Proposed concrete plant at ACC upsets neighbors
When Cynthia Wilcox, president of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, heard the news that there would soon be a functioning concrete plant at the Austin Community College Pinnacle campus near her home she felt “completely blindsided.” Wilcox reached out to her state representative, Vikki Goodwin, on Sunday.
Her neighbors, Paul Robbins and Carol Cespedes, have also been seeking answers about what will happen to their neighborhood if a concrete plant is located near their homes. The plant will be built somewhere in the area because the Texas Department of Transportation needs concrete to expand U.S. Highway 290.
After receiving an email from neighborhood leaders, Goodwin wrote back to Wilcox. She said Colorado River Constructors, which is in charge of building what TxDOT calls the Oak Hill Parkway, had entered into a contract with ACC “to use part of their property for the cement batch plant. There’s a lot of land there, with a lot of paved parking lot space that is not being utilized right now. CRC will put the cement batch plant in a location that will be minimally disruptive in terms of noise, truck traffic and air/dust pollution,” Goodwin said.
Wilcox, Robbins and Cespedes all expressed concern about the air and water pollution, as well as the noise that the highway construction facility would create.
Robbins pointed out that there is a new apartment complex just 100 feet from the Pinnacle campus and single-family homes just 300 feet away. Robbins said the site is zoned GO (General Office), which does not allow for industrial uses. He filed a complaint with the city based on the zoning map. He said he was particularly worried about the air pollution a concrete batch plant would create for his neighborhood.
Wilcox told the Austin Monitor, “One problem is this completely blindsided the community, so the community wasn’t involved in any discussions about this.” She noted that Goodwin had opposed putting a concrete batch plant on a site CRC previously chose at 9021 E. U.S. 290. In an Oct. 30, 2020, letter to James Bass, executive director of TxDOT, Goodwin wrote that “adding hundreds of truck trips each day would only exacerbate an already dangerous situation.”
In addition, Goodwin said that the original site was in an environmentally sensitive area. “This location is not an ideal one for the problems batch plants are known to impose: emissions and dust that can cause air pollution and respiratory illnesses, stormwater flows that may transport pollutants, and noise that is likely to disturb residents and wildlife alike.”
In her email to the OHAN president on Sunday, Goodwin wrote that the Pinnacle location was much better than the previous site, called the Wong tract, because the Pinnacle site has two traffic signals and is much closer to the project site and farther from residences. She added that “it doesn’t require major changes to the topography. No urban site is ever perfect for a cement batch plant, but this is significantly better than the other option.”
Goodwin noted that ACC and the contractor were still working out the details, but the ACC board had voted in favor of the agreement at its most recent meeting on March 1. It is unclear from the meeting documents whether ACC agreed to a batch plant or something less.
ACC Board Member Julie Ann Nitsch told the Monitor that the board did not approve a concrete batch plan but a five-year contract with TxDOT to store their equipment there. She said the concrete equipment would be “a hopper.” While admitting that the site would be a noisy one for the neighborhood, she said Austin environmental codes would be enforced. “I wouldn’t do something that I thought wasn’t going to benefit the community. And this gave us an opportunity to have some money toward rebuilding Pinnacle.” (The contract is not with TxDOT, but with CRC, the contractor.)
Nitsch said both representatives Goodwin and Celia Israel asked the board to approve the contract. “We did this to help Oak Hill,” she said, noting that there were worse sites. She would not reveal how much ACC is receiving for its lease, saying she wasn’t sure of the amount.
According to backup material from the ACC board meeting, the trustees voted to authorize the chancellor “to negotiate and execute all agreements and related documents necessary to permit Colorado River Constructors JV to utilize portions of the vacant parking lots at ACC Pinnacle for parking, storage, and operation of construction equipment and materials related to the Highway 290 widening project, consistent with the terms presented by the administration and discussed in executive session.”
Because this is spring break week, the Monitor was not able to reach an administrator or media coordinator for ACC. TxDOT spokesperson Christopher Bishop said via email, “Colorado River Constructors is the entity that will identify and negotiate a batch plant for the Oak Hill Parkway project.” When asked whether that meant there would indeed be a batch plant on the ACC campus, Bishop said he did not have that information and referred the Monitor to the company.
CRC spokesperson Laurie Simmons said via email, “In order to construct TxDOT’s Oak Hill Parkway project on time, on budget and to the highest quality standards, Colorado River Constructors will operate a temporary concrete batch plant along the project corridor.
“CRC is currently in lease negotiations for use of the ACC Pinnacle site, but an agreement has not yet been reached and no final decision has been made on whether to locate the temporary concrete batch plant there. It does remain one of several site options.
“In selecting a site, CRC’s goal is to increase roadway safety and decrease environmental impacts during construction by reducing congestion and air emissions connected to large truck traffic. Throughout this process, CRC has been open to input received from area residents as well as elected officials who represent Oak Hill, and we are hoping to find a workable solution,” she concluded.
According to TxDOT, the $674 million Oak Hill Parkway project consists of construction of three main lanes for U.S. 290 in each direction, plus frontage roads and flyovers connecting U.S. 290 to State Highway 71 in Oak Hill.
Cespedes was heavily involved in trying to convince TxDOT to reduce its proposed construction. She explained that ACC is not currently using its campus, but would build new classrooms after the construction is finished. She was very disheartened to learn this weekend that the project she and others opposed would not only be built but would add pollution to the neighborhood. As The Texas Tribune has pointed out, the issue has become more common throughout the state as the call for additional lane miles continues.
City Council Member Paige Ellis, who represents the area, was on her way out of town, but told the Monitor via email, “Mobility and a healthy environment are my top two priorities as a Council member. I started hearing frustration from my constituents this morning (Tuesday), and my office is working with ACC and TxDOT to find out exactly what will be happening at the Pinnacle campus. This project must continue to include engagement with the community, and its advancement should not come at the expense of the health of our neighbors.”
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