Bill Bunch Challenges Numbers and Decision

RECEIVED Tue., Sept. 27, 2011

Dear Editor,
    As the Chronicle reported ["Council Opponents Concede on WTP4," News, Sept. 23], at last week's City Council Audit and Finance Committee meeting Council Member Bill Spelman announced that the "numbers" showed it was cheaper to finish the only 15% complete Water Treatment Plant No. 4 rather than mothball the project for five or 10 years. Accepting Spelman's analysis, Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo agreed.
    The surprise announcements were made based on a city auditor's report that was handed out during the meeting and had not been read by anyone besides perhaps Spelman.
    Neither the auditor's report nor the WTP4 consultant report that the auditor reviewed in part managed to "show their work," making it impossible for informed comment without filing public information requests that now require two to six weeks or more for the city to fulfill.
    What the reports do reveal is that the WTP4 consultant reported "shutdown" costs of $79 million, while the auditor found only $7 million of reasonable shutdown costs. The consultant report also shows that, even if we needed expanded treatment capacity in the five, 10, or 15 years ahead, the Ullrich water treatment plant can be expanded by 25 million gallons per day for $103 million vs. $320 million to $365 million to finish the 50 MGD WTP4. Austin Water documents from 2001 estimated that the "green" WTP could be rebuilt Downtown at 90 MGD for $122 million (using only a small fraction of the site). The water utility estimated in 2006 that building a new 50 MGD plant in the Highway 130 corridor would cost between $212 million and $262 million.
    None of those numbers consider the high risk of severe damage to the Bull Creek Preserve from WTP4 tunneling or the sky-high opportunity costs of tying up $350 million for something we don't need for years, if ever, while sacrificing immediate, critical needs for fixing aging infrastructure and building a water-efficient economy before its too late.
    Throwing good money after bad on WTP4 is neither fiscally nor environmentally responsible.
Bill Bunch
Save Our Springs Alliance
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