The Austin Chronicle

No Water, Plenty of Sewage

By Jordan Smith, August 17, 2001, News

Some major highlights of the Georgetown political grudge matches:

1992: The city's Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Georgetown Industrial Foundation consider a water park for economic development and tourism, to be underwritten with "4B corporation bonds." It is one of more than a dozen incentive deals in the works for existing or prospective businesses, and development issues become central to subsequent City Council campaigns.

1992: Georgetown's Dove Springs Water Treatment Plant, engineered by Georgetown-based Steger and Associates, opens. Almost immediately the plant begins cracking and leaking raw sewage. The city is in ongoing litigation with the engineers. Two separate engineering reports were conducted, but the city has kept them private despite a lawsuit filed by the Austin American-Statesman. City insiders say the reports show the tank was not engineered with enough structural steel, and could cost nearly $700,000 to repair. The issue is also politically charged because Charlie Steger, head of Steger and Associates, was Mayor MaryEllen Kersch's largest campaign contributor -- and plant engineer Perry Steger was her campaign manager.

May 1999: On a pledge of "managed growth," Mayor MaryEllen Kersch is elected, along with Council Member Clark Lyda. They branded the former council as "pro-growth at any cost." By all accounts, one issue -- opposition to the waterpark deal and the use of 4B bonds for its infrastructure -- decides the election. The water park deal is canceled, and the city is now involved in litigation with the water park developer over a possible breach of contract.

May 1999-June 2001: Negotiations proceed with Dallas investors over a major commercial and development deal for the "Rivery Tract." The deal deadlocks over funds for major transportation improvements; these have been in the city's transportation plans for almost a decade, but city officials want the developers to pay for most of the upgrade costs.

January 2000: Bob Hart, city manager since 1989, resigns under pressure from the mayor and new council members. A central issue is the continuing controversy over the Dove Springs Treatment Plant. Hart is now Huntsville's city manager.

May 2000: Kersch and Lyda supporters Llorente Navarrette and Sam Pfiester are elected to City Council.

May 2001: Kersch supporters Jack Noble, Ken Evans, and Doug Smith are all elected to the council. Noble had been a Kersch appointee on the planning and zoning commission, and Evans on the economic development commission. Kersch allies now hold six of seven council seats. On Lyda's proposal, the new council dissolves the in-house city attorney's office (led for 10 years by Marianne Banks) over vocal opposition from former council members. Council says the attorney's office had been ineffective and the city could save money by outsourcing to an Austin law firm.

June 2001: Dallas-based Quorum Partners withdraw from proposed Rivery commercial development deal, saying the city seems incapable of resolving terms. Still under dispute is the cost of traffic improvements, estimated at $11 million. In the wake of the failed deal, rumors begin that the developers will sell the acreage directly to "big box" tenants Wal-Mart and Home Depot, with transportation costs unresolved.

July 30, 2001: The city enacts "emergency" legislation -- which seems directly pointed at potential Rivery development. Critics charge that it severely restricts the potential for commercial development within the city.

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.