Landfill Chart Misleading

RECEIVED Mon., Sept. 21, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Re: “Landfill Will Top Mount Bonnell in Height” [News, Sept. 18]: I do not endorse the proposed Sunset Farms Landfill, but the visual information in the chart in The Austin Chronicle and Birdie Perkins' statement that the maximum height of the proposed landfill would be the highest point in Austin are inaccurate, to say the least.
    On the latter, any passenger (don't try this while driving) on the I-35 southbound upper deck could look west and readily ascertain that Mount Bonnell is not the highest point on the horizon; Cat Mountain and Mount Barker to the north are higher. Those two natural features and much of Austin in the Lake Austin area are more than 900 feet above sea level.
    The chart is comparing apples to watermelons because the starting points for the buildings' heights is not the starting point for the natural and unnatural geographical features. The buildings are measured from their physical bases, the landfill and Mount Bonnell from sea level. The Frost Tower, base at 500 feet (plus or minus 10 feet) above sea level peaks at more than 1,015 feet above sea level; new condos are even taller. The base of Mount Bonnell is 485 feet at Lake Austin; the base for the Landfill is 550 to 650 feet at sea level. So compared on vertical rise from base, Mount Bonnell is just over 300 feet at sea level, the landfill is 150 to 245 feet at sea level.
    My numbers come from Untied States Geographical Survey Maps USGS-TX0175 and USGS-TX0176, field checked in 1986, printed in 1988. As there is an iceberg's chance in Corpus Christi Bay that there is more than a foot difference in today's measurements by GPS positioning and the maps' numbers, the statement and the chart are not supported by any facts.
May the road rise up to meet you,
Kevin Cox
   [News Editor Michael King responds: Kevin Cox is correct; without his expertise and in a deadline rush, we inadvertently mixed heights and elevations and put together an amusing but misleading illustration, especially in reference to the buildings. We've tried to make amends by an adjusted illustration in this week's issue – while dodging more arcane questions such as which is the "highest point" in Austin. While we apologize for the confusion, the fact remains that the BFI landfill will be allowed to expand 75 feet in height and 10.6 million cubic yards in volume over previously permitted levels, and 80% of that addition will come from local residents.]
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