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Parks board not so fond of the Butler Landfill maintenance project

Thursday, February 10, 2022 by Willow Higgins

The gravel lot between Zilker Park and the MoPac Expressway bridge, which most Austinites know as the park’s overflow parking lot, also serves a less visible purpose – it’s a landfill. The Butler Landfill, which spans a total of 8 acres, is scheduled for maintenance this spring to protect its cap, part of which doubles as a parking lot and staging area for the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

The maintenance, which is scheduled to be completed by this summer, includes maintaining the gravel of the cap so that water doesn’t pool in the rain; installing a fence along Stratford Drive to control access to the site; and revegetating the 3 acres of the cap that isn’t gravel-surfaced to make it look as natural as possible. C3 Presents, which puts on ACL Fest, is a funder of the maintenance and has coordinated for an erosion control mat to make pathways for the large trucks needed to set up the annual music event.

Map of landfill site, outlined in yellow, courtesy city of Austin.

The notification of the maintenance, which was discussed at the Parks and Recreation Board meeting on Jan. 25, stirred controversy. Almost every board member took issue with the maintenance proposal. “I have not heard anything positive about this from any board member that’s here tonight,” Board Chair Dawn Lewis said. 

While the item was not posted for action, the board members hope to revisit the subject at a future meeting so they can provide more formal recommendations. Bill Bunch, who represented the Zilker Neighborhood Association at the meeting, also asked the board to post the item for action; the ZNA is vehemently against the project as it is currently proposed, and Bunch came to the meeting to argue that the money would be better spent elsewhere.

“This is not an environmental project to help keep water out of the landfill … this is a parking lot enhancement for ACL,” Bunch said. “If you’re just parking cars on it temporarily … it doesn’t need to be touched. It’s smooth right now. It’s compacted, it functions.”

The board hashed out various concerns, some of which aligned with Bunch’s, and the parks department representatives took note of their feedback.

“I love ACL as much as everybody else, but I don’t think that our parks should be driven by their needs for their trucks to turn around,” Board Member Laura Cottam Sajbel said. “It just seems to me like we’re spending a lot of money to tread water and have a gravel parkway just because C3 can pay for it. I see so many other projects that would be so much more worthwhile to the public.”

But PARD managers assured the board that the maintenance is just a temporary measure designed to keep the landfill in shape while the city works through the Zilker vision plan, which will dictate how the space would be best used, among a number of other growth factors.

“This maintenance project will allow the department to continue to use this area for a few more years until we have the funding and the approved (vision) plan and the guidance on what to do. However, going further for this year without the proper maintenance of the cap will create additional issues for the landfill,” said Liana Kallivoka, PARD assistant director.

The gravel was first placed on the lot in 2016 by C3, in consultation with PARD, after a significant rain event in 2015 caused damage to the landfill. While vegetation is the preferred cover for a landfill cap, the gravel was placed as an interim solution until a more permanent solution was decided upon, at which point the gravel was to be removed, Kallivoka explained.

“So seven years later and we haven’t found a more permanent solution and the gravel hasn’t been removed,” Board Member Sarah Faust said in response.

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