The Battle for the Springs: A Chronology

The Battle for the Springs: A Chronology

Save Our What?

Okay, let's accept, for the sake of argument, that everyone in Austin wants to save Barton Springs. But what exactly does that mean? Below, and in a series of maps and aerial and historical photos on the following pages, we've tried to lay out a non-scientific, visual primer on the ecosystem and the development pressure it's been under for the past couple of decades, along with a timeline detailing Barton Springs development and the SOS movement.

First of all, of course, there's Barton Springs Pool, the magnificent 68-degree spring-fed swimming hole that's the centerpiece of Zilker Park on the south shore of Town Lake. People call it "The Soul of the City," and if you haven't been in a while, you owe yourself a visit to refresh your soul -- maybe this Sunday, Aug. 11, for the SOS Anniversary party (details in the Community listings).

Just as crucial, for a lot of folks, is the nearly pristine Barton Creek, and the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a winding city park and hike-and-bike trail that follows the last eight miles of the creek before it flows by Barton Springs and into Town Lake.

The Barton Creek watershed is the 120-square-mile area within which surface water drains into the creek. Any rain that falls in this area makes its way to the creek, unless it soaks into the ground and goes down to the aquifer, and any pollution or impervious cover development in this area will degrade the water quality in the creek.

Barton Springs Pool, however, is spring-fed; its water comes from the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer -- the vast underground reservoir that underlies much of South Central Texas. The aquifer is replenished by water soaking into the ground and through the porous limestone bedrock within the Recharge Zone, and to a lesser extent the Contributing Zone. Pollution or development in either of these zones will degrade the water quality in the aquifer, and thus in Barton Springs.



The Ben Barnes-John Connally partnership begins to develop the Barton Creek Country Club, golf course, and conference center as the centerpiece of the swank, 2,200-acre Estates of Barton Creek in West Austin.

A bridge across Town Lake extends MoPac Boulevard into South Austin.


Gary Bradley and his partners, James Gressett, Mitchell Sharp, and Ira Yates, buy the 2,700-acre Circle C Ranch in Southwest Austin from Polly Brooks (Yates' mother).


City Council approves creation of four municipal utility districts to provide water and sewage service to Circle C. Bradley agrees to terms that allow the city to begin annexing parts of the development in 10 years.


Legislature enacts HB 4, which bars a city from altering water quality rules once a development project has begun. The original "grandfather" bill will return in 1995 as SB 1704, be inadvertently repealed in 1997, and then re-enacted in 1999, as HB 1704.

City Council proposes new Zilker Park Sewer line to serve planned Terrace development at Loop 360 and MoPac, the Woods of Westlake, the Loop 360 corridor, four schools in the Eanes Independent School District, and the Lost Creek subdivision.


Circle C opens to homebuyers.

In wake of bankruptcy of Connally and Barnes, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. buys 2,200 acres of the former Barnes-Connally development, the Estates of Barton Creek (which include the Barton Creek Country Club and an 18-hole golf course), for $60 million from Community Federal S&L of St. Louis.

Freeport-McMoRan sells the country club to Robert H. Dedman and his Club Corp. of America.

Freeport-McMoRan, led by CEO Jim Bob Moffett, proposes the Barton Creek Planned Unit Development (PUD): a 4,000-acre project with 2,500 homes, 1,900 apartments, 3.3 million square feet of commercial space, and three golf courses.


Freeport pays $8.6 million for an additional 883-acre tract just east of The Estates and announces its intent to seek City Council approval on its Planned Unit Development (the "Barton Creek PUD").

Three environmental groups and the conservation district sue the Texas Department of Transportation to halt construction of the southern extension of MoPac Boulevard in the recharge zone. The settlement between the conservation district and the highway department includes an agreement for additional environmental safeguards. In 1992, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules against the environmentalists on the lawsuit.

Golden-cheeked warbler is listed as endangered on an emergency basis. That listing helps bring development to a halt in much of western Travis Co.


May: Running on an environmental-protection platform, Louise Epstein unseats Sally Shipman from City Council. Pro-development Bob Larson unseats George Humphrey, and Max Nofziger is re-elected, joining Mayor Lee Cooke, Smoot Carl-Mitchell, Robert Barnstone, and Charles Urdy on the council.

June: More than 800 people register to address June 7 council in opposition to the planned 4,000-acre Barton Creek PUD. After an all-night meeting, council unanimously rejects the PUD; Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett vows to bankrupt the city in legal battles. Citizens form movement to strengthen the 1986 Comprehensive Watersheds ordinance, under the acronym SOS: "Save Our Springs."

Oct.: Council directs staff to draft an ordinance to govern development in Barton Creek watershed mandating "no degradation" in water quality.

Nov.: Circle C Ranch files for bankruptcy protection.

Pending enactment of non-degradation ordinance, council enacts a four-month moratorium on new development in watershed.


Feb: Council resolves that the development moratorium applies throughout Barton Creek recharge zone and contributing zone, and extends the moratorium to Aug. 23. Council tightens Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance to enforce "zero degradation" of Barton Creek and Barton Springs water quality during moratorium.
The Battle for the Springs: A Chronology
Photo By John Anderson

A task force of environmentalists, developers, and city officials approve Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan proposal, envisioning a 63,000-acre system of preserves west and northwest of city at an estimated cost of $113 million.

April: Complaints accumulate of murky water in Barton Springs due to runoff from upstream construction.

Barton Creek Properties, Circle C developers, and Citizens for Responsible Government ask the Texas Water Commission to overturn city's interim water quality regulations as "invalid, arbitrary, unreasonable, inefficient, and ineffective."

May: Texas Water Commission lists Barton Creek and Edwards Aquifer among Texas water resources most susceptible to non-point-source pollution.

Mayor Lee Cooke retires, and Bruce Todd narrowly defeats Robert Barnstone for mayor. Ronney Reynolds defeats 12 candidates (including third-place Jackie Goodman) to replace retiring Smoot Carl-Mitchell, Gus Garcia replaces Barnstone, and Charles Urdy is re-elected, completing the pro-development "RULE" (Reynolds, Urdy, Bob Larson, Louise Epstein) voting bloc.

June: Environmentalists protest the Legends of Golf tournament at Barton Creek Country Club.

July 31: Barton Springs Pool is closed for the 22nd time this year after rains shedding runoff boost the fecal coliform count above healthy levels.

Aug.: Barton Springs Pool closed for 23rd time on Aug 1. City Council extends for two more months an interim ordinance limiting development in the Barton Springs recharge zone, over citizen protests demanding a permanent ordinance.

Oct.: Council approves a "compromise" amended water quality ordinance over strong citizen protests, rejects Save Our Springs Coalition amendments.

The Austin Chronicle apologizes to citizens for endorsing Council Member Louise Epstein, who strongly supported the compromise ordinance.

Nov.: The Save Our Springs Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups led by Brigid Shea of Clean Water Action, begins a petition drive to put the SOS ordinance on the ballot.


Jan.: The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that Outer Loop (Texas 45) and the southern extension of MoPac are not federal projects and do not require federal environmental impact studies, as requested by Austin environmental groups.

Two UT scientists petition the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Barton Springs salamander as an endangered species.

Feb.: City's conservation planners submit Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan proposal to regional governments (city, county, LCRA, Texas Parks & Wildlife). BCCP would create a 29,000-acre system of preserves, and potential habitat for two endangered songbirds and five cave invertebrates.

Save Our Springs Coalition files more than 30,000 petition signatures for SOS ordinance, but council refuses to schedule May election. Coalition sues.

Freeport-McMoRan helps bring Circle C Ranch out of bankruptcy by guaranteeing $43 million in loans in return for an option to buy the development.

March: Defying a state district court order, council appeals order while still refusing to schedule a May election on SOS ordinance.

April: Barton Creek Properties, owned by Freeport-McMoRan, files preliminary plans to build 5,000 houses and apartments and 2.5 million sq. ft. of commercial development in Barton Creek Estates, says plan is in compliance with current city water-quality ordinance, revised last fall.

MoPac bridge over Town Lake, 1974
MoPac bridge over Town Lake, 1974

Third Court of Appeals overturns district court ruling on SOS initiative election. Council schedules an SOS election for Aug. 8.

May: Council proposes for Aug. ballot an alternative water quality initiative to SOS, which would instead call for drafting of a regional water quality plan in conjunction with the LCRA and the state.

June: Freeport-McMoRan transfers its real-estate holdings to a new subsidiary, FM Properties.

Aug.: In Aug. 8 election, Austin voters overwhelmingly approve the Save Our Springs ordinance, as well as bonds for the BCCP and Barton Creek Wilderness park. SOS ordinance is applicable to Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer, a small part of the overall watershed southwest of the city, limiting development in that zone to a maximum of 15% to 25% impervious cover, and mandating that stormwater runoff be as clean after development as before.

City records reflect that 277 development applications have been filed covering 12,000 acres in the Barton Springs Zone -- all but 38 of them after the time council delayed SOS initiative election from May 2 to Aug. 8, and almost half on behalf of two developers: Jim Bob Moffett and Gary Bradley. Developers contend that plans are governed by earlier, less restrictive regulation.

Sept.: BCCP wins City Council approval.

Oct.: Barton Creek Properties files plans to create a municipal utility district for water and sewer service in its 4,000-acre subdivision southwest of Austin. City must decide whether to provide service.

Nov.: Biological survey counts 150 salamanders at Barton Springs.

In response to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service inaction, two UT scientists in cooperation with the Save Barton Creek Association and the Hill Country Foundation file an emergency petition seeking federal protection of the Barton Springs salamander.

Council votes not to submit to voters a planned new sewer line through Zilker Park to serve expanding southwest development. City projections show additional capacity would primarily serve new or existing developments southwest of Austin.

Austin American-Statesman environmental reporter Bill Collier resigns to become public relations spokesman for Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

Dec.: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service requests delay of Zilker Park sewer project, citing possible danger to the Barton Springs salamander.

Save Our Springs Legal Defense Fund is incorporated to provide legal assistance in support of SOS ordinance.


Jan.: State district Judge Scott McCown rules against environmental organizations in their lawsuit against city's Zilker Park sewer plan.

Feb.: Freeport-McMoRan Inc. issues purchase offer to Resolution Trust Corp. for 738-acre Lantana tract.

May: The RULE is broken at City Council: Louise Epstein retires, replaced by Jackie Goodman, and SOS Coalition leader Brigid Shea ousts Bob Larson. Mayor Bruce Todd begins a noticeably more pro-development voting pattern. Nofziger re-elected to third term.

Despite an 18-hour filibuster by Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, Legislature enacts SB 1029. The bill would invalidate SOS ordinance and grandfather those developments with permits filed prior to subsequent municipal water quality regulations, retroactively to 1987. (Legislature also passes bill enabling creation of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation Authority.)

June: Gov. Ann Richards vetoes SB 1029.


Barnes and Connally: The Estates at Barton Creek

The Ben Barnes-John Connally partnership begins to develop the Barton Creek Country Club, golf course, and conference center as the centerpiece of the swank, 2,200-acre Estates of Barton Creek, which include the Barton Creek Country Club.
Barnes and Connally: The Estates at Barton Creek
The Ben Barnes-John Connally partnership begins to develop the Barton Creek Country Club, golf course, and conference center as the centerpiece of the swank, 2,200-acre Estates of Barton Creek, which include the Barton Creek Country Club.

Brigid Shea and Jackie Goodman are elected to City Council, joining re-elected incumbent Max Nofziger and incumbent Gus Garcia as new "environmental majority" over incumbents Ronney Reynolds, Charles Urdy, and Mayor Bruce Todd.

City, Save Our Springs Coalition, and Freeport-McMoRan reach preliminary parkland-for-development agreement for Barton Creek Estates. The agreement would grant Freeport 30-year development rights in return for parkland, density reductions, and partial compliance with SOS.

July: Barton Springs salamander first described (by UT scientists David Hillis, Andrew Price, and Paul Chippindale in the journal Herpetologica) as distinct species of salamander, Eurycea sosorum; sosorum is the Latin "plural mixed-gender genitive form" of the acronym SOS -- chosen in honor of Austin voters who approved SOS ordinance.

City issues draft report for BCCP, calling SOS ordinance, land acquisitions, and new policies at Zilker Park adequate to protect Barton Springs salamander.

New council abandons long-controversial plan to run new sewer line through Zilker Park, cancels $2.65 construction contract in favor of alternative plan to improve pipes and pumping stations near Barton Springs.

Aug.: Council declares that development plans filed just prior to 1992 SOS election will receive no time extensions for approval if they have not been completed.

Freeport-McMoRan files plans for 5,597 residences and 620 acres of commercial development in Barton Creek Community, as part of proposed "parkland-for-development" agreement.

Nov.: Negotiations of parkland-for-development agreement collapse.

Biological survey counts 27 Barton Springs salamanders.


Feb.: Fish & Wildlife Service proposes to classify Barton Springs salamander as endangered species.

March: A type of algae associated with increased levels of nutrients is discovered in Barton Springs Pool for the first time, apparently caused by fertilizer runoff or other sources in the watershed.

April: City Council votes unanimously to support endangered species listing for Barton Springs salamander.

May: Incumbent Mayor Bruce Todd narrowly defeats former Chronicle political columnist Daryl Slusher, Ronney Reynolds edges challenger Mary Arnold, and Eric Mitchell replaces the retiring Charles Urdy, beating SOS ally Ron Davis. Gus Garcia is re-elected.

City Council, Travis Co. commissioners, Gov. Ann Richards, and the TNRCC, responding to petitions of several environmental groups, consider requesting federal "outstanding natural resource waters" protections (ONRW) for Barton Creek and Barton Springs.

July: Gov. Ann Richards and state regulators drop plans for ONRW status for Barton Creek and Springs.

Sept.: FM Properties Inc. files suit against city of Austin following denial of permits under renewed SOS ordinance.

Hill Country Foundation issues a report documenting nearly $500 million in public funds spent during the past 15 years on roads, schools, and other development subsidies in the Barton Springs zone, compared to only about $22 million spent to acquire land for conservation purposes.

Oct.: A biological survey following a recent flood records fewer than 10 Barton Springs salamanders.


Freeport MacMoRan: The Barton Creek PUD

The Estates development is complete, but Barnes-Connally are bankrupt. Freeport-McMoRan Properties, led by CEO Jim Bob Moffett, proposes the 4,000-acre Barton Creek Planned Unit Development: 2,500 homes, 1,900 apartments, 3.3 million square feet of commercial space, and three golf courses. The SOS Movement is born in opposition, and the proposal is voted down.
Freeport MacMoRan: The Barton Creek PUD
The Estates development is complete, but Barnes-Connally are bankrupt. Freeport-McMoRan Properties, led by CEO Jim Bob Moffett, proposes the 4,000-acre Barton Creek Planned Unit Development: 2,500 homes, 1,900 apartments, 3.3 million square feet of commercial space, and three golf courses. The SOS Movement is born in opposition, and the proposal is voted down.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposes issuing a permit that would allow a dramatic expansion of Barton Creek area development in return for nature preserves for endangered golden-cheeked warbler habitat.

At urging of "property rights" groups, Attorney General Dan Morales files suit against the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, challenging a habitat-protection rule for endangered species, and announces he will also file suit to block the proposal to list the Barton Springs salamander as endangered.

Nov.: A Hays Co. jury rejects SOS ordinance as "unreasonable, arbitrary and inefficient."

Dec.: Judge affirms Hays Co. jury's decision and declares SOS ordinance invalid from date of enactment. Pending appeal, development in watershed is now subject to a revised version of the 1991 comprehensive water quality ordinance.

City council passes, then repeals, a two-week moratorium on development in the Barton Creek watershed. Council votes to strengthen composite water-quality ordinance.


Jan.: Study of Edwards Aquifer by Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District finds higher than normal concentrations of bacteria, sediment, hydrocarbons, pesticides, and arsenic.

Feb.: Council rejects "Son of PUD" deal for Barton Creek Estates proposed by Freeport, with Jackie Goodman and Gus Garcia providing the swing votes. Freeport lobbyists begin pushing Austin-bashing legislation at the Capitol.

March: U.S. Fish & Wildlife postpones for six months decision on listing Barton Springs salamander as endangered species, following request by Gov. Bush and Sen. Hutchison to allow the state to form its own plan to protect the watershed.

April: Environmental Protection Agency announces that New Orleans-based Freeport McMoRan Inc. reported the largest releases of toxic chemicals to air, water, and land of any U.S. company in 1993. Freeport is under increasing national and international pressure because of alleged human rights and environmental violations at its Grasberg mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia.

May: Freeport lawsuit against city, asking $75 million in damages, goes to federal court. Jury finds for Freeport but awards only $113,000.

June: Gov. Bush approves new laws greatly restricting Austin's regulatory powers, including HB 3193, granting Circle C Ranch independence from city water quality regulation, another granting a municipal utility district west of Austin to FM Properties, and SB 1704, which bars cities from imposing new regulations on developers after they file initial plans (the "grandfather" bill).

July: Biological survey counts 19 salamanders at Barton Springs.

Following a TNRCC report based on earlier studies finding "no material decline" in water quality at Barton Springs, Gov. Bush says Barton Springs salamander should not be listed as endangered. TNRCC ignores a recent study by Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District that found above-normal concentrations of arsenic, lead, heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, petroleum hydrocarbons, and sediment in the aquifer.

Sept.: Freeport exercises option to buy Circle C, sells residential portions to Phoenix Holdings Ltd. for $18 million. Gary Bradley is president of Phoenix Holdings GP Inc., an affiliated company.

UT musicology professor Steven Feld resigns in protest of the university's connections with Freeport-McMoRan and its now-notorious mining operations in Indonesia.

Oct.: Scientific report coordinated by Texas Parks & Wildlife recommends additional developmental restrictions to protect the Barton Springs salamander. "The Barton Springs salamander is one of the most endangered vertebrate species in North America, if not the most endangered," says Victor Hutchison, a professor of zoology at the U. of Oklahoma.

Nov.: U.S. District Judge Lucius Bunton III gives U.S. Interior Sec. Bruce Babbitt two weeks to decide on endangered status of Barton Springs salamander.

Dec.: Exercising an option under bankruptcy of Circle C Development, FM Properties Inc. takes control of 1,000 acres of commercial land in Circle C. Ranch.


Stratus: Barton Creek Properties

Nine years later, most of the original PUD is built out, using grandfathered site plans, filed just before the SOS Ordinance went into effect.
Stratus: Barton Creek Properties
Nine years later, most of the original PUD is built out, using "grandfathered" site plans, filed just before the SOS Ordinance went into effect.

Under state legislation passed earlier this year, TNRCC approves FM Properties plan for water protection in 3,600 acres of development along Barton Creek.


May: Daryl Slusher and neighborhood/enviro activist Beverly Griffith win council seats (replacing Max Nofziger and Brigid Shea); Jackie Goodman is re-elected.

June: Biological survey counts 24 salamanders in Barton Springs.

July: U.S. District Judge Lucius D. Bunton III orders Interior Sec. Bruce Babbitt to decide by Aug. 30 whether to list the B.S. salamander as endangered.

SOS Legal Defense Fund changes name to Save Our Springs Alliance, with Texas Citizen Action leader Brigid Shea as first executive director, Kirk Mitchell as board chair, and Bill Bunch as legal counsel.

Babbitt declines to list salamander as endangered. SOS Alliance sues Interior Dept.

Texas Third Court of Appeals overrules Hays Co. court, sustains SOS ordinance as constitutional. City Council will decide not to attempt to make ordinance retroactive.

Aug.: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit rules that the city did not violate constitutional rights of FM Properties in imposing SOS ordinance on its Barton Creek development.

Oct.: Texas Supreme Court unanimously rules in favor of Austin, declaring unconstitutional the 1995 law which forced the city to annex the Maple Run MUD adjacent to Circle C.

Encouraged by Supreme Court ruling, city sues to overturn 1995 law (HB 3193) excluding Circle C Ranch from city jurisdiction and allowing creation of the Southwest Travis County Water District.

Dec.: Under an agreement with the U.S. Dept. of Interior following non-classification of the salamander as endangered, TNRCC announces stricter pollution control rules for eight-county Edwards Aquifer area.

Twelve Barton Springs salamanders found dead at Eliza Springs; state wildlife scientists attribute deaths to lowering pool level for cleaning.


Jan.: A judge throws out a bid by Bradley to intervene in Austin's lawsuit against the Southwest Travis County Water District (Circle C) on behalf of Phoenix Holdings Ltd.

Feb.: Biological survey counts a record 188 Barton Springs salamanders.

March: U.S. District Judge Lucius D. Bunton III rules that the Interior Dept. violated federal law when it refused to classify Barton Springs salamander as endangered, gives Sec. Bruce Babbitt 30 days to make a determination.

May: Green Machine sweeps City Council elections. Bruce Todd retires, and Kirk Watson defeats Ronney Reynolds to become Mayor. Also victorious are SOS-endorsed Gus Garcia, Bill Spelman, and Willie Lewis (defeating Eric Mitchell).

Fish & Wildlife Service puts Barton Springs salamander on endangered species list, but declares that development conforming to state and local water-quality regulations pose no hazard to the salamander and do not violate Endangered Species Act.

Austin legislators successfully prevent provisions under SB 1, aimed at statewide water district planning, which would restrict the city's ability to regulate water quality in the Barton Creek watershed.

July: City discovers that SB 1704, grandfathered development bill passed in 1995, and its 1987 predecessor (HB 4) have been inadvertently repealed by 1997 Legislature. In response, Mayor Kirk Watson forms task force that eventually formulates Smart Growth incentive policy.


Stratus: Barton Creek and Lantana

	Here's that same 1999 photo extended, and with color overlays to show the additional development for which Stratus is seeking city approval. 

	The much-contested Lantana tracts (below the Southwest Parkway) have already been approved by staff, and eight other tracts are in negotiation. The biggest fight will likely be over the massive Section N.
Stratus: Barton Creek and Lantana
Here's that same 1999 photo extended, and with color overlays to show the additional development for which Stratus is seeking city approval.
The much-contested Lantana tracts (below the Southwest Parkway) have already been approved by staff, and eight other tracts are in negotiation. The biggest fight will likely be over the massive "Section N."

Aug.: Travis Co. District Judge Scott McCown issues a preliminary ruling declaring unconstitutional the 1995 law that carved Circle C out of city's ETJ (HB 3193), and orders mediation.

Sept.: Council enacts ordinance to replace SB 1704 (inadvertently repealed by Legislature) restricting development in a portion of the Barton Springs watershed (the Drinking Water Protection Zone).

Oct.: City wins lawsuit overturning HB 3193, which established the Southwest Travis County Water District at Circle C and put the area off limits to annexation. Appeal pending before the 3rd Court of Appeals, and several other lawsuits against the city remain in progress.

Nov.: Texas Supreme Court hears lawsuit over 1987 "grandfather law" (HB 4) which barred the city from changing water quality rules once a development project had begun. Landowners had sued to prevent Austin from imposing SOS rules.

Dec.: Austin annexes Circle C Ranch, despite threats of Legislative "Austin-bashing" revenge. Pending a reversal, future development at Circle C must comply with 1992 SOS ordinance.


Jan.: City sues to challenge as unconstitutional 1995 law (HB 1017) establishing water-quality protection zones as alternatives to city regulation. The lawsuit names 27 defendants owning 10 water-quality protection zones, comprising about 41 square miles in the ETJ.

City and U.S. Dept. of Interior are served notice of local lawsuit to force an end to cleaning of Barton Springs Pool as endangering salamanders. City submits Pool cleaning plan to U.S. Fish & Wildlife.

Feb.: 1,020-acre Spillar Ranch development proposed for Hays Co. just south of Circle C Ranch in the Bear Water Quality Protection Zone, to include a 350-room hotel, a golf course, offices, and at least 200 homes.

David Frederick assigned to Austin office of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

May: Voters approve Prop. 2, to increase water rates to raise $65 million to remove about 15,000 acres from development over land west and southwest of city.

Texas Supreme Court upholds SOS ordinance, saying "such limitations are a nationally recognized method of preserving water quality [and] the City has the right to significantly limit development in watershed areas in furtherance of this interest."

To prevent commercial development, council buys H.E. Brodie tract on Barton Creek for $4.97 million.

FM Properties subsidiary cuts ties to Freeport-McMoRan and changes name to Stratus Properties Inc., William "Beau" Armstrong president and CEO.

June: Judge Sam Sparks rules that the city's cleaning of Barton Springs Pool can continue without violating Endangered Species Act.

Travis Co. Judge Paul Davis declares SB 1017 unconstitutional; developers cannot avoid city rules by creating their own water protection zones; about half the land in Barton Creek watershed should now be subject to SOS.

Announcement of Longhorn Pipeline project to pump gasoline from Houston to El Paso through 48-year-old former crude oil pipeline directly over the aquifer.

July: Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District sues TXDoT alleging inadequate protections for bridge construction at MoPac and U.S. 290 and violation of a 1990 consent order.

July: City and LCRA join rancher and landowner lawsuit against Longhorn Pipeline.


Circle C and the Stratus Agreement

	Color overlays indicate the tracts that are covered by the recently approved agreement between the city and Stratus Properties. Outlined areas indicate dedicated parkland and water-protection lands. Tract 110, slated for major commercial development, is the one preservationists still hope to buy from Stratus.
Circle C and the Stratus Agreement
Color overlays indicate the tracts that are covered by the recently approved agreement between the city and Stratus Properties. Outlined areas indicate dedicated parkland and water-protection lands. Tract 110, slated for major commercial development, is the one preservationists still hope to buy from Stratus.

Aug.: Federal Judge Sam Sparks orders Longhorn Pipeline not to begin operations pending environmental review.

Oct.: City Council agrees to buy eight tracts of land (2,540 acres) in Barton Creek watershed for $16.8 million, bringing Prop. 2 lands to 4,300 acres of planned 15,000.

City Council approves agreement with Club Resorts Inc. requiring the company to pay the city $475,000 for allowing it to develop about five more acres at Barton Creek Development than SOS would allow, and adding restrictions on use of chemicals.

In test for faults using diesel fuel, a segment of Longhorn Pipeline near Houston explodes.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife and city agree on reconstruction and cleaning program for Barton Springs Pool to protect salamanders while allowing swimming.


Jan.: EPA and Office of Pipeline Safety (Dept. of Transportation) agree to hire a consultant (Radian Intl.) to perform environmental and safety study on Longhorn Pipeline.

March: SOS Alliance, Real Estate Council of Austin, and Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce join with city officials to announce "truce" in long-lasting environmental/development wars: an agreement to preserve watershed lands, a commitment to Smart Growth, and avoidance of courts and state legislation as methods of addressing conflicts.

April: City Council approves the Forum, a 118-acre commercial development at William Cannon and MoPac in the watershed, and tentatively approves a policy allowing denser development in the watershed in exchange for density limits elsewhere.

Despite truce declared in March, developer lobby prevails at the Capitol. Lege enacts HB 1704, again grandfathering major planned watershed developments under old water quality regulations. Developer/city/environmental "truce" agreement, conditional on prevention of grandfathering law, collapses.

May: "Green Council" confirmed: Jackie Goodman, Daryl Slusher, and Beverly Griffith win re-election.

June: According to an analysis of city data by local environmental groups, permits granted in the last 20 years (and now grandfathered) could allow 20 million square feet of additional development in the Barton Springs zone -- the equivalent of another downtown, and more than twice what would be allowed under SOS.

July: City buys 2,714 acres in three large Barton Creek watershed tracts near the Village of Bee Cave, in return for $17.9 million and development rights to 179 acres of a planned 983-acre development on Texas 71. City has now acquired approximately 90% of 15,000 acres of Prop. 2 lands for watershed preservation.

Aug.: In connection with its construction of a 14-mile water pipeline from the Village of Bee Cave to Dripping Springs, LCRA agrees with Fish & Wildlife to limit development density in a 292-square-mile area of the watershed. Developers using the line would have to follow new F&W building regulations.

Sept.: Fish & Wildlife considers new restrictions on development for the watershed that would override state law and extend into Hays Co. and eastern Blanco County. Capitol Area Builders Assoc. files notice of intent to sue.

Dye study by Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and city shows water quality at Barton Springs is more strongly influenced by Slaughter Creek and Williamson Creek via aquifer than directly by Barton Creek.

Oct.: In a victory for Stratus Properties, Texas Supreme Court rules that parts of Circle C planned in 1985 can be developed under water quality regulations defined by 1987 state law, though the decision has little effect on existing development.


Jan.: Fish and Wildlife Service gives approval to the Terrace, an 88-acre office complex along South MoPac, for additional commercial development on Barton Creek, in return for preserving land in Bear Creek watershed. Deal is sharply criticized by SOS Alliance as encouraging watershed sprawl, and because Nature Conservancy and city acted privately to use Terrace money to buy conservation easement, effectively enabling the Terrace agreement without citizen input.

March: Council approves settlement agreement with Circle C Ranch developer Gary Bradley: ending four lawsuits against city, and decreasing planned density. Bradley receives right to build 2,500 houses, hotel, and golf course on 3,088 acres in the aquifer recharge zone, and the city will extend water and sewer services to Bradley land in Hays County. Enviro groups strongly split on settlement: Save Barton Creek Assoc. supported, SOS Alliance opposed.

Robin Rather resigns as board chair of SOS Alliance, is replaced by Mark Tschurr. Rather says her disagreement with board over Bradley settlement did not determine her decision. She joins board of Hill Country Conservancy, directed by George Cofer.

Then, and Now

With the Barton Creek PUD at the top, and Circle C at the bottom, Stratus Properties controls two of the key properties in this section of the aquifer and watershed.
Then, and Now
With the Barton Creek PUD at the top, and Circle C at the bottom, Stratus Properties controls two of the key properties in this section of the aquifer and watershed.

May: Mayor Watson re-elected; Garcia retires, replaced by Raul Alvarez; Spelman retires, replaced by Will Wynn; Danny Thomas unseats Lewis, with monetary help from former Dallas Cowboy and lottery millionaire Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson.

City study finds increasing levels of conductivity, sulfates, turbidity, and total organic carbon in Barton Springs water.

City agrees to pay Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center $450,000 to acquire neighboring conservation lands to help ensure enforcement of settlement agreement with Bradley, and in return for development rights to a nearby tract.

Houston-based Cypress Realty buys 2,724-acre tract of Rutherford Ranch in northern Hays Co. for $11.3 million -- part of a 6,000-acre tract where California-based Newhall Land & Farming Co. once planned to build 14,000 houses.

June: Texas Supreme Court declares unconstitutional 1995 law (HB 3193) that allowed creation of water quality protection zones by large landowners outside city limits (e.g. Stratus and its predecessors).

SOS Alliance sues the federal government to force Fish & Wildlife and the EPA to limit development in the watershed.

Aug.: U.S. Geological Survey study of Barton Springs after recent rainstorm detects four compounds in minute amounts -- herbicides atrazine and simazine, and insecticides carbaryl and diazinon.

Bradley asks to reopen negotiations with city over March settlement, to allow "major employers" in his Circle C development, in return for donated acreage, some in the Barton Creek greenbelt. Request refused.

Sept.: David Frederick of the Austin office of the Fish & Wildlife Service informs other federal agencies, especially EPA, that "continued existence of the Barton Springs salamander is in jeopardy, and state and local regulations are inadequate to prevent pollution in the watershed." Frederick says other agencies must consult with F&W before approving any development that might threaten endangered species.

President's Council on Environmental Quality recommends approval of Longhorn Pipeline's proposed safety and environmental precautions.

Oct.: City releases terms of a proposed settlement with Stratus Properties, covering development of 4,000 acres in southwest Travis Co.

Nov.: City study of the proposed Stratus agreement concludes that the same number of residents could move onto 4,000-acre development with or without the agreement, but the agreement would eliminate four million square feet of commercial development allowed under HB 1704.

Consultant study approved by U.S. Dept. of Transportation Office of Pipeline Safety and the EPA concludes that Longhorn Pipeline will not seriously threaten community or environment. A public hearing at Bowie High School to discuss the study draws more than 800 people and is halted by fire chief and postponed until a larger venue can be located.

EPA approves plans for Longhorn Pipeline.

Dec.: City Council votes to include old Robert Mueller airport site in land-swap discussions with Stratus Properties over its land in southwest Travis Co. Potential swap is opposed by SOS and Austin Neighborhoods Coalition, and no agreement ensues.

To settle an SOS lawsuit filed in June, the EPA and Fish & Wildlife Service will review and revise development regulations in the watershed.

Hays Co. Water Planning Partnership, SOS Alliance, and Save Barton Creek Assoc. sue in federal court to stop LCRA pipeline to northwest Hays Co., claiming that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits violate Endangered Species Act.


July: Fish & Wildlife Service issues draft biological opinion concluding that water quality is deteriorating in Barton Springs, citing increased levels of pesticides, mercury, arsenic, copper, nickel, silver, and other pollutants at levels not yet dangerous to humans but threatening the endangered Barton Springs salamander. The opinion faults the EPA for failing to enforce development regulations in the watershed.
Then, and Now
Look how much of the rest of this area has been built out in the past 16 years.  Three major roads pushed the development (from top): Southwest Parkway, U.S. 290, and MoPac South.
Then, and Now
Look how much of the rest of this area has been built out in the past 16 years. Three major roads pushed the development (from top): Southwest Parkway, U.S. 290, and MoPac South.

Aug.: City Council votes to gradually yield control of 5,465 acres in its Hays County ETJ to Buda, including some lands in Barton Creek watershed.

Oct.: Fish & Wildlife approves Stratus Properties' plans to develop 1,253 acres in Circle C, saying development would not adversely affect endangered Barton Springs salamander.

Nov.: Mayor Kirk Watson steps down to run for Texas attorney general; Gus Garcia comes out of retirement and replaces him in a special election.

Dec.: City threatens stop-work order if Longhorn Partners Pipeline L.P. proceeds with pipeline replacement work in 19 miles over Edwards Aquifer without city permits.

SOS sues EPA and F&W over failure to enforce F&W draft opinion that EPA is not protecting endangered species from overdevelopment in the watershed.


Jan.: The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District rejects a request by Creedmoor-Maha Water Supply Corp. in southern Travis Co. to increase its permitted pumping by 412 million gallons annually, based on its estimated needs in 2011. This is the first time the district has turned down a request for additional ground water.

City officials file and later drop 96 criminal charges against Longhorn

Pipeline operators for working on pipeline without city permits, after strong warning from U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks.

Village of Bee Cave begins public debate of a proposal to develop 114-acre commercial "galleria" development near the intersection of Bee Caves Road, Texas 71, and RM 620, about 15 miles west of Austin.

Barton Springs salamanders are discovered dying of "gas-bubble disease," with specific cause still undetermined.

March: In response to exploding growth and dwindling water sources, cities of Kyle and Buda issue temporary moratoriums on development.

April: David Frederick, director of Fish & Wildlife's Austin office, is notified that he will be reassigned to New Mexico.

City reaches tentative agreement with Stratus over Circle C development.

May: Division among the Greens in the City Council election: SOS Alliance declares Daryl Slusher a turncoat and supports Kirk Mitchell. Slusher rolls to victory anyway, along with Jackie Goodman. Beverly Griffith limps to 29% of the vote and concedes to Betty Dunkerley without a runoff.

New acting director of Fish & Wildlife's Austin office, based in Albuquerque, reverses findings of earlier draft biological opinion, and finds that Barton Springs salamanders are not threatened by current rules governing EPA permits for stormwater runoff from development. Draft opinion had been issued by recently reassigned David Frederick.

June: SOS Alliance and Circle C Neighborhood Assoc. file suit against Stratus and the city to stop the proposed development agreement.

Several hundred opponents register to speak against the Stratus agreement at June 27 council meeting, adjourned early the next morning without a vote.

July: City Council votes to limit July 11 public debate of Stratus proposal; only those who originally registered to speak on June 27 will be allowed to comment. Council votes to accept agreement on first and second reading.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks expresses strong reservations about safety of Longhorn Pipeline but rules that he has no authority to prevent operation.

Texas Land Commissioner David Dewhurst says he will approve state river-crossing easements for Longhorn Pipeline following a federal court ruling allowing pipeline operation to proceed. Operations are scheduled to begin July 31, but financial troubles of pipeline partnership force postponement to Oct. 1.

City staff scientists report continuing deterioration of water quality in Barton Springs, including sedimentary toxic metals, toxic hydrocarbons, and other chemicals believed deadly to Barton Springs salamanders. Study documents a reduction in oxygen levels, an increase in algae-producing nutrients, and other evidence of degradation.

Aug.: City Council votes to appeal its federal lawsuit against Longhorn Pipeline.

Council votes 6-1 to approve the agreement allowing Stratus Properties to develop 1,273 acres in Circle C, effective as of Aug. 15.

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