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off the desk

In the quiet, blood-splattered aftermath of the city's historic settlement with Circle C developer Gary Bradley, a curious set of events has started to unfold within the Save Our Springs Alliance. Two key players -- SOS chair Robin Rather and board member and co-founder Brigid Shea -- have jumped ship, and a third, vice chair Mary Arnold, says she intends to leave the board within the next month or so. All three deny that tension over the Bradley deal played a role in their individual decisions. Rather, credited with linking SOS to the business community and helping to steer major employers away from the aquifer, rankled many SOS-ers when she threw her support behind the agreement after the board voted unanimously to oppose the deal. She says she'll now devote her attention to the newly formed Austin Network, a group of high-tech reps interested in local environmental and growth management efforts. Rather, herself a CEO of a tech company -- Mindwave Research -- will co-chair the network along with Tivoli chair Jan Lindelow. Shea says she's moving in that direction, too, and wants to work with the tech community to try and figure out how to harness the boom "without it completely engulfing us." Arnold says she's needed at home, with her family, and adds that she's entitled because she's reached "retirement age" anyway. As a whole, she says, SOS is experiencing "personal differences, personality clashes, and different interpretations of how best to protect the springs and the aquifer. The organization," she adds, "is trying to deal with how best to continue its mission."

Clearly, the Bradley negotiations worked a lot of nerves in the SOS camp (see "Council Watch" for more details), so it's safe to say that the emotionally straining episode will go down in SOS history as the jumping-off point for some, and a restructuring point for those staying behind. From what we can surmise, SOS in the end will be made up of the same kind of folks that were there in the beginning: those who are more apt to throw their necks on the line and agitate and litigate for Austin's environmental cause. Exactly what direction SOS will follow from this point is uncertain. "The board will have to sketch that out," offers SOS attorney Bill Bunch. "I think SOS has always been interested in working cooperatively, where that is possible. And SOS will continue as a principled organization that will serve as a watchdog for Austin's environment. I don't think that's such a radical concept." George Cofer, another former SOS board member who also supported the Bradley deal, says SOS will survive with or without Rather. "I remain the eternal optimist," says Cofer, executive director of the Hill Country Conservancy. "I believe that SOS will be stronger, but different." ...

Now about that tree we wrote about last week. To summarize: Some Town Lake Park advocates wanted to save what was thought to be a 300-year-old live oak standing in the path of a planned driveway as part of the Palmer/City Coliseum makeover. Turns out the tree may be closer to a youthful 40, despite its striking bulk. KEYE reporter Dan Robertson wanted to do a story on the tree, so he went to the Austin History Center to pull an old photo of the oak to run with his story. He sifted through some photos and, alas, the tree was in none of them -- until he came across a Sixties-era photo, and there stood a small sapling. His story moved to the back burner. Town Lake Park stakeholder Larry Akers observes that the age factor "certainly makes the story less compelling." He says park advocates will decide whether they want to save one tree or raise funds to plant and seed 100 trees. "We need to figure out what's best for the park," he says.

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gary bradley, save our springs allinace, brigid shea, mary arnold, bill bunch, george cofer, lary akers

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