The Austin Chronicle

Lick Creek: The Crisis Continues

By Amy Smith, July 9, 2004, News

The problem-plagued West Cypress Hills development in western Travis Co. was hit with yet another stop-work order Tuesday, after county officials saw construction workers pumping mud and silt from a storm-water detention pond into Lick Creek. West Cypress Hills was already under another stop-work order, issued by the Lower Colorado River Authority, to halt all construction at the site until repairs had been made to bring the malfunctioning detention pond and dam into compliance.

"It's like the gang who couldn't shoot straight," said resident Richard Scroggins, president of the Guardians of Lick Creek, a community group that formed in response to the pollution caused by the upstream subdivision; the once-pristine east fork of Lick Creek now runs brown due to the construction of West Cypress Hills. "If it's not one thing it's another. What's next?"

Last month, the LCRA brought construction to a halt after an investigator found a malfunctioning riser pipe in the pond, which was supposed to prevent sediment from filtering into the creek but which had collapsed during three days of moderate-to-heavy rainfall in June. This week, an inspector from the county's Transportation and Natural Resources division stopped work at the site shortly after Bob Moore, executive assistant to County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, decided to stop by while on a precinct tour with employees from the county's road and bridge division. "We saw some things that caused us concern," Moore said, declining to provide further details. "We notified an inspector who went out there and issued the order."

Resident Dicky Streety said Moore saw the same thing he had seen earlier – bulldozers and other heavy equipment in the pond scooping up huge mounds of soggy, polluted mud and using some sort of hose and pump device to lift it out of the pond, over the spillway and into the creek. A filtering device on the pump had apparently failed, allowing silt and sediment to pollute the creek anew. Residents say the county inspector was on the scene when LCRA inspector Tom Hegemeir arrived and concurred with the county's decision. The LCRA had taken the lead role in enforcing environmental laws at the development site after state, federal, and county agencies had demonstrated some foot-dragging on enforcement. The county had issued several violation notices to the developer but had not shown aggressive action until Tuesday. Residents applauded Moore for getting things rolling.

Though pollution has hammered the creek for almost a year, last week, the waterway was just starting to show better signs of life, said Streety. "The last day of significant rain was June 30, and by Friday the mud had cleared out of the creek," he said. "But on Saturday, the water was chocolate-colored again."

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