Concern About the Jollyville Transmission Line

RECEIVED Wed., Oct. 5, 2011

Dear Editor,
    Several years ago Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and City Council decided to move Water Treatment Plant No. 4 out of a highly environmentally sensitive karst location. But the city is launching a destructive project in the very same sensitive karst ecosystem: construction of the Jollyville transmission line to move water from the new water treatment plant to a storage reservoir. In particular, the drilling of a shaft at the sensitive "Four Points" area and drilling of a tunnel through Balcones Canyonland Preserve can dewater springs and reduce the flows into Bull Creek forever. Construction of this project is particularly dangerous at this time because the extreme drought will likely conceal any permanent damage to the fragile ecosystem. Also, can the city ensure that potential spills from the diesel equipment for this massive project cannot spark another fire that would threaten nearby homes and the Balcones Canyonland Preserve as well? In the city's rush to drill, the concerns and analysis by some members of city scientific staff have been suppressed. Austin citizens and advisory boards were effectively stopped from inquiring into the costs of a feasible alternative route for the transmission line. Public presentations describing "environmental commissioning" for the project reveal significant information gaps and breathtaking uncertainties about permanent environmental impacts.
    In addition to the significant "good government" questions raised by the city's strategy for deflecting public review, the transmission line project implicates serious issues about the treatment of Austin taxpayers' investment dollars. The city and its BCP partner, Travis County, invested significant taxpayer funds to negotiate the BCP permit, acquire lands, and maintain the preserves that will be harmed by this project. The agreement creating the BCP allows private development to continue in exchange for protection of endangered and rare species in the preserves. Travis County, the development community that depends on the continued health of the BCP, and Austin's taxpayers should insist that the mayor and City Council order construction to stop immediately on this destructive project and allow an open, honest, and detailed review (including input by independent geologists, hydrologists, and biologists) of impacts and alternatives to precede any further construction of the Jollyville transmission line.
Mary Ruth Holder
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