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Environmental Commission denies fuel line variance for Lake Austin marina project

Wednesday, November 23, 2022 by Nina Hernandez

An applicant seeking two code variances for the marina construction project at 1703 N. River Hills Road got mixed results at the Environmental Commission last week. On Nov. 16, the commission voted to recommend easing dredging restrictions for the Lake Austin project, but would not agree to recommend development of a gas fuel line with a dispenser.

The applicant is working to modify the existing marina, which was once home to the Pier restaurant and music venue. The new marina will be a private facility, and will feature 16 new docks to replace the 21 that were built in the 1960s.

The failed variance would have allowed development of a gasoline fuel line with a dispenser at the dock for refueling private boats in the Critical Water Quality Zone of Lake Austin. The approved variance would allow more than 25 cubic yards of dredging in the lake, which the applicant said is necessary to maintain a modern marina.

Staff found the fuel variance did not meet the findings of fact required under code, and noted that “variances have not been granted for projects with similar code requirements.” No fueling operations on Lake Austin have been approved in more than 30 years. Staffers also found water quality would not be equal to or greater than it would be without the variance.

On the second variance, however, staff did determine the findings of fact were met and that similar variances have been granted for projects with similar code requirements. Staff noted the variance is necessitated by topographic features and not merely a design choice, and water quality will be equal to or better than water quality without the variance.

Applicant representative Janis Smith argued the proposed dock capacity is lower than the capacity of the prior dock, the fuel system features an improved storage tank, and the station will be attended by a trained technician capable of mitigating any potential leaks. She also argued the gas pump will greatly reduce air emissions as well as water emissions.

“The boats are there, the gasoline is there, and it’s completely unregulated,” Smith said. “And so the gassing of boats in the lake can either remain unregulated or it can be regulated.”

Lauren Ice, attorney with Water Control and Improvement District 20, disagreed. She told commissioners they are required to determine the findings of facts have been met before they can approve the variances. Even if the commission does find the variances meet the criteria, it could still deny the request. The variances, she said, are only supposed to be given in situations that would guarantee an environmental benefit.

“And this is just not a unique situation, especially not for the gas line and not really for the dredge either, because there’s not really enough information to determine whether or not they are developing as a marina and are subject to the core provision that they are processing this application under,” Ice said.

“They say they’re developing 16 docks, but they own the property that’s directly north of this property as well,” she continued. “They own the property behind this property, so we don’t know if they’re going to be developing more docks.”

The commission approved the dredging variance with conditions from staff, including a sediment boom to minimize sediment disturbance, temporary orange construction fencing around the entire boundaries of the wetland critical environmental features and additional mitigation for wetland species.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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