Off the Desk:
Oh, those fickle sportswriters. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that Kirk Bohls, the preeminent soothsayer on the sports desk at the Austin American-Statesman, was discussing the possibility of a national championship for the Texas Longhorn football team? Here's Bohls in his column on Sept. 6, 1997: "A national championship. It's distinctly possible, but I'll go with a 10-1 record." And he continued, "In the absence of a consensus frontrunner, the Longhorns could steal their fourth national title and first since 1970 with an electrifying offense, excellent coaching, outstanding kicking and improved defense." In a scant eight weeks, Bohls has changed his mind on head coach John Mackovic and the team's "excellent coaching." On October 28, Bohls reminded fans that the Hapless Horns are now 3-4 and concluded: "The best scenario for the team might be for Mackovic to resign immediately." ... -- R.B.
In other print media developments, Austin Business Journal Publisher Lisa Bormaster is Minneapolis-bound. American City Business Journals, which owns ABJ and a slew of other publications across the country, has dispatched Bormaster northward to publish The Minneapolis/St. Paul City Business and two other American City publications...
Austin plays host to the sixth annual Green Building Conference today (Thursday) through Sunday at the Austin Convention Center. The conference features workshops, discussion groups, a trade exhibition and a self-guided tour of green homes and commercial buildings. Keynote speeches on Friday include Philadelphia architect Susan Maxman; Austin's green builder pioneer Pliny Fisk; Boulder, Colo., engineer Nancy Clanton; Atlanta businessman Ray Anderson; Berkeley architect Slim Van der Ryn, and hunger advocate, environmentalist and actor Dennis Weaver. Conference sponsors include the City of Austin Green Building Program, State Energy Conservation Office, LCRA, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Call 264-0004 for registration info... -- A.S.
Pilots Air Concerns
Private airplane owners in Austin are heading into the twilight zone. Faced with the shuttering of Robert Mueller Airport, many pilots had hoped that Austin Executive Airpark would save them from having to relocate to the new Bergstrom airport or out of Austin altogether. But there's one problem: Austin Executive Airpark is for sale and no one knows if new owners will want to keep it operating once the Bergstrom site opens in 1999. The prospect of losing the privately owned airport -- located east of I-35 and south of Dessau Road -- stirred Bob Binder, chairman of the Airport Advisory Board, into action earlier this month.
In a letter to City Manager Jesus Garza, Binder asked the city to look into a number of options to keep Exec open, which included the city's possible purchase of the airport for $8 million. "Mueller was a very perfect place," Binder said. "Exec was going to be the next logical choice." But city leaders aren't interested. Garza said the city doesn't have the money to buy the airport. Besides, he added, there's room at Bergstrom. Furthermore, Garza said, "There are other places they can go if Bergstrom isn't suitable." About 300 private planes use Mueller, while some 100 planes fly in and out of Exec, according to Binder. The planes are mostly used by small business owners and for recreation.
These days, it's not Exec but the city's half-billion dollar Austin Bergstrom International Airport project that is the airport on the minds of councilmembers and city staff. "The staff has been focused on the airport, and they probably didn't have a lot of time to spend on general aviation," Councilmember Jackie Goodman said. Councilmember Willie Lewis, who served for five years on the Airport Advisory Board, said the private plane owners' fuss was about the inconvenience of Bergstrom's South Austin location. "They live northwest. They want their planes close as they could get them," Lewis said. "They'd want them in their backyard if they could get it."
Kirby Perry, a local architect and small plane owner, took issue with councilmembers' and city staff's position. "They don't have any idea what they're doing, and could care less," he said. "They think we're going to go to Bergstrom." But Perry said Bergstrom is out of the question because of the expense of fuel and hangar rentals. "The city has priced themselves out of the market," Perry said. "It would surprise me greatly if there are even 80 private airplanes at Bergstrom, because the price is not there and the services aren't." -- S.F.
Monster Moffett Mash
Halloween revelers doubling as political pranksters will congregate in front of UT's Moffett Molecular Biology Building Friday night for an old-fashioned "haunting" of corporate giant Freeport McMoRan. The campus building, named in honor of UT alumnus and Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett, was chosen to mark the grand finale to End Corporate Dominance Month.
The month-long international campaign, organized largely by Earth First!, didn't garner much press, but Austin activists staged several protests in its observance. They kicked off the month with a news conference in front of Austin City Council chambers, where they urged councilmembers to pass a restrictive purchasing ordinance to prevent the city from contracting with or making purchases from corporations that do business with the Nigerian dictatorship; councilmembers haven't responded to the request. Also, more than 200 protesters showed up in front of a local McDonald's on Oct. 16 to challenge what they said were the chain's destruction of natural resources, along with its marketing of unhealthy food and paying low wages.
Friday's end-of-the-month fling at the Moffett Building starts at 6:30pm when activists, dressed in their most frightening duds, will assemble at the corner of 26th and Speedway. Call 320-0413 for more info. -- J.F.
Will the well -- or in Austin's case the aquifer -- run dry? That was the question that brought scientists, environmental activists, and political leaders to LBJ Auditorium on Saturday for a day-long conference on the Edwards Aquifer, the water lifeline of South Central Texas.
The recurring theme of most speakers centered on balancing environmental sensibilities with the economics of sustaining vital urban growth. Voicing discontent with development over the aquifer was Bill Bunch, general counsel for the Save Our Springs Alliance, the primary sponsor of the event. "We should not be spending limited public and private-sector dollars on activities that threaten the aquifer." Instead, Bunch suggested, "resources should be redirected to guide and steer growth and development downstream and east of the aquifer."
At the same time, Mayor Kirk Watson told conference-goers, the city must not put forth an anti-growth agenda if it wants to avoid the wrath of the Texas Legislature. He suggested applying several methods to steer development away from the aquifer. "An effort must be made to educate the public about the importance of natural resources," he said. "Convince business to adopt sound environmental measures, and then market those measures to customers." Watson also proposed giving tax breaks to city residents who renovate their existing homes to discourage them from moving to the suburbs. Expect to hear more on this. -- W.C.
Praising Those Who Do
Although past confrontations between ADAPT -- an advocacy group for people with disabilities -- and the city's Department of Housing and Urban Development have provided bumps in the road for the city administration, those battles seemed forgotten at Monday night's annual awards ceremony of the Austin Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities (AMPCD). "We want to improve access in Austin to all of its citizens. We want to recognize those who help to make a difference," committee chair Rachel Sartin told an audience of about 300. The mood was much cheerier than past occasions, when ADAPT has accused the city of dragging its feet on upgrading public housing needs for disabled residents. The annual AMCPD ceremony rewards those Austin area businesses and citizens who set positive examples in hiring people with disabilities. This year's employer of the year award went to Ecology Action, a non-profit, Austin-based recycling drop-off operation.
Keynote speaker Tony Coelho, who chairs the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities in Washington, D.C., recounted his experiences and strife as a person with epilepsy. Coelho, who authored the Americans with Disabilities Act, described how, after being diagnosed with epilepsy, he was unable to find employment after graduating from college, despite having been an exemplary student. "Fifty-two percent of those with disabilities who want a job don't work; 82% percent of African-Americans with disabilities don't have a job," he said, adding that the breakdown includes 72% of Hispanics and 61% of Asians.
Honoree Kenny Macallister of Ecology Action praised his employees for their dedication. "They are there and they are into the job," he said when asked what other employers can learn from Ecology Action. "They are an example to others... it's inspirational to see the people with disabilities working so hard."-- W.C.
More Tunnel Trouble
By this point, the Texas Dept. of Transportation (TxDOT) probably wishes it had never heard of the heavily criticized Williamson Creek tunnel project. Following an Oct. 13 meeting of the Austin Transportation Study, state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos might be thinking along the same lines. Barrientos, the chair of the ATS policy advisory committee, was called on to explain why he failed to sign and mail a letter drafted by the ATS' water quality task force concerning TxDOT's tunnel, which is intended to drain untreated stormwater into Williamson Creek from the soon-to-be-expanded Ben White/I-35 interchange. The entire committee had given the letter its unanimous approval almost two months ago.
The letter had sought clarification from the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regarding TxDOT's determination that the tunnel -- which was not included in the original construction design -- constitutes "no significant change" in the project. If TxDOT is correct, then the tunnel would require no additional environmental impact study or public hearings. In explaining his inaction, Barrientos cited an Aug. 11 letter from TxDOT Executive Director Bill Burnett to Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez, who chairs the ATS water quality task force. In that letter, Burnett wrote that reopening the environmental assessment process could halt not just tunnel construction, but the entire interchange project, and would send a "clear message" to the Texas Transportation Commission that Travis County had a "lack of confidence" in TxDOT's abilities.
Given that information, Barrientos said he decided "caution was the better part of valor" and held on to the letter to the CEQ. The real question, of course, is not whether TxDOT's tunnel will pollute the creek, but who should have to pay for mitigation measures. The city drainage utility has allotted about $600,000 for a mitigation program and has asked TxDOT to match that amount, but the agency so far has refused. A possible solution to the impasse could come at the Nov. 10 ATS meeting. Meanwhile, funding for what would have been the state's portion of mitigation for the tunnel has been included on a tentative list of projects to be funded by ATS through "leftover" federal funds. Pending that decision, the ATS letter to the CEQ remains on hold. -- N.B.