Naked City

TxDOT Goes Green, Sort Of

In last year's movie I (Heart) Huckabees, the giant retail chain honored environmental stewardship by preserving a patch of wetlands located at the site of their latest Huckabees. The patch, about 10 feet square, consisted of one very large rock.

In the some-may-wish-it-were-only-a-movie development of State Highway 130, the $1.5 billion toll road project that will slice through eastern Travis Co., TxDOT has decided to preserve not a rock, but a whole wetlands that would otherwise be paved over. TxDOT's vision of preservation? Digging up about 5,000 rare wetlands plants and then paving the whole thing over. "This is one of those exceptional moments," said Rene Barrera, preserve manager coordinator for the city of Austin. "The agency has taken the high road and decided to move these plants somewhere else."

The digging was in full swing Monday afternoon on a sunflower-covered field out on FM 969. The site was just to the east of Elm Creek, which the four lanes of SH 130 will one day span with a bridge. Surrounded by ragweed and dodging fire ants, a team of AmeriCorps volunteers in their late teens shoveled clumps of pink smartweed into baggies. From there, Barrera will move the plants indoors and tend them until fall, at which point he will use them in restoration activities in other city preserves.

Justin Keener, spokesman for Lone Star Infrastructure, the company with the contract for SH 130, said the plant-moving effort is only part of the company's commitment to preserving wildlands that lie in the path of the 49-mile highway stretching through eastern Travis Co. The company has already moved a patch of otherwise-doomed cedar elms to local elementary schools, and rescued a baby owl that had fallen out of a tree. Keener said Lone Star Infrastructure is always on the lookout for other sites with plants in need of saving, but that for the time being, the Elm Creek site is the only plant-salvage operation going. "Not every place has plants that are worth salvaging," he said.

Lest anyone romanticize the doomed wetlands, Keener pointed out that this particular site was not a natural marsh – it had only developed a population of wetlands plants because area residents had been using the field as a dump. As their pile of trash grew, he explained, it altered drainage patterns from the nearby creek just enough to trap water.

Romantic or not, Barrera said the plant-transfer effort is worthwhile. "We're not losing a wetlands," he said, standing beside the growing pile of bagged smartweed, wilting in the heat. "We're transferring all this wealth to another place."

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Naked City

    Court rules Dallas Co. prosecutors engaged in race-based jury selection at Miller-El's trial

    Naked City

    Health science complex could be part of master-planned community
  • Naked City

    House of Reps to vote on an amendment that would forbid the Department of Justice from using federal resources to enforce the government's drug prohibition laws against sick patients

    Naked City

    Money's tight at AISD

    Naked City

    Controversial plans for a 120-foot tower at the intersection scrapped

    Naked City

    How Texas environmental policy fared in the Legislature

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Rachel Proctor May
Chartering Middle School
Chartering Middle School
Hoping to reach middle-schoolers who could go off track in a regular school setting, district moves forward with charter school plans

June 2, 2006

TAKS Scores Show Both Improvement and Trouble for AISD
TAKS Scores Show Both Improvement and Trouble for AISD
Numbers down for the crucial third and 11th grades

May 26, 2006


SH 130, Rene Barrera, Justin Keener, Lone Star Infrastructure, wetlands

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle