News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
Hornsby Bend Gets Greener
The Austin Water Utility has broken ground on new "green infrastructure" to reduce the environmental impact of the city's Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant, thanks to receiving $31.8 million in federal funds. The award-winning 1,200-acre plant recycles Austin's sewage and yard trimmings, producing Dillo Dirt compost; it's also home to AWU's Center for Environmental Research, and its ponds attract migrating birds and waterfowl, making it Austin's top birding destination. At the event, Dr. Al Armendariz of the Environmental Protection Agency called the plant "a new, innovative solution for an age-old problem. Besides improving the environment by reducing waste, it creates jobs, cuts energy usage, and reduces carbon emissions. Once again, Austin is leading the way for other communities in Texas as well as nationwide." AWU projects that the improvements will yield about 560 local jobs and a carbon footprint reduction of 6,500 tons of greenhouse gases a year (in part by saving 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel). The project will expand plant capacity and increase production of biogas – which new generators will convert to electricity, said AWU, sending up to 1.75 megawatts of electricity to Austin Energy's grid annually. – Katherine Gregor
Dive In, Candidates
The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is currently accepting applications for candidates for its board of directors, precincts 2 and 5. Candidates must file in person at the district's office, 1124 Regal Row, by 5pm March 8. If a seat is contested, it will be on the May 8 municipal ballot. Directors must live in the precinct that they represent. Get more info by visiting www.bseacd.org or calling 282-8441. – Lee Nichols
The Austin Parks Foundation needs 3,000 volunteers for It's My Park Day on Saturday, March 6. The event occurs simultaneously at 60 parks around town. Sample projects include helping expand the Clarksville Community Garden; mulching historic trees at Wooldridge Square; constructing an off-leash, dog-friendly nature trail at Mary Moore Searight Park; beautifying Norwood Estate Park; and cleaning up Lady Bird Lake from a canoe. Large groups are needed to spend a morning together on tree-planting, trail construction, retaining-wall work, or installing a new playground – satisfying projects that make permanent improvements to parks. To find an event near you (some with live music and group picnics), visit www.austinparks.org. Volunteers receive T-shirts, water, snacks, and surprise goodies. Partners include the city of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, presenter Wheatsville Food Co-op, and numerous corporate sponsors. – K.G.
Vote for Smiles
The Manos de Cristo Dental Clinic, which serves low-income Austinites, is asking for your vote to help it win $20,000 in funding from the Tom's of Maine Dental Health for All program. That's enough money to serve another 470 patients – who typically arrive at the clinic in pain, with no other source for affordable dental care. Add your "vote" by watching Manos de Cristo's short video at www.tomsofmaine.com by March 12. According to the clinic, Texas ranks last in the nation for health insurance coverage, last in the percentage of low-income children who are insured, and 48th for access to dental care. Helping Manos de Cristo win the sponsorship is one small way to help improve those dismal numbers. – K.G.
Greenhouse Gas Goal for Austin?
The Austin Climate Protection Program plans to host a community climate change planning charrette March 4-5, to establish an overarching goal for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in Austin. For inspiration, an ACPP handout states that the cities of Portland, Albuquerque, Berkeley, Chicago, Seattle, and Toronto all have set goals to reduce emissions 80% by 2050. However, as the weak results of the Kyoto Protocol show, such long-term targets are meaningless unless supported by measurable interim goals and action plans. The ACPP and mayor's offices have invited about 100 people, representing diverse sectors of the community, to the City Hall event, which is not open to the general public. They'll develop headlines for Austin as a Green/Sustainable Community in 2050, set a big community greenhouse gas reduction goal (e.g., 80%) and then define how that translates to individual resource areas (energy, land use, transportation, etc.), develop measurable objectives, elect resource area chairs, and determine next steps and immediate action items. They'll reconvene in council chambers March 5, 12:30-1:30pm, to present the outcome; it has yet to be determined whether that portion may be open to the public either. – K.G.
Scrap Tire Records Stay Sealed
The Texas Attorney General's Office on Feb. 19 sided with the city of Austin, ruling that city officials could withhold from public release documents related to the city's moldering scrap tire heap in Southeast Austin. The Chronicle had requested internal communications about any possible wrongdoing within the city's Fleet Services Division made to City Manager Marc Ott or assistant city attorneys that might show that city officials knew prior to our December report about problems with the city's scrap tire program. Initially, city officials said they knew nothing about problems that led to thousands of tires being abandoned on the southside property, but later they said that releasing the documents we requested would interfere with the city's investigation of any potential crime connected with the scrap tire heap. The city earlier this month collected and properly disposed of the tires abandoned on property leased by Victor Almaguer but said the Austin Police inquiry into the scrap tires is still pending. (For more, see "The Tire Mound of Mystery," Dec. 4, 2009.) – Jordan Smith
Call for Immigration Reform
Several hundred people from all over Texas gathered at the Travis County Exposition Center Saturday, Feb. 20, to build support for national, comprehensive immigration reform. The Texas Convention for Immigration Integration was sponsored by the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, which hopes to "educate Texas elected officials about the need to fix America's broken immigration system." The audience heard from union organizers, public officials, law enforcement officers, religious advocates, and the families of immigrants separated by deportation. For more, see www.reformimmigrationfortexas.org or the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, www.austinirc.org. – Michael King
Republicans Stink on Environment
If the environment is a major factor in how you'll vote on March 2, then here's fresh info for you to consider: The League of Conservation Voters has released its annual congressional report card, and as predictably as the sun rising in the east, Democrat Lloyd Doggett rated great while the rest of Austin's delegation – all Republicans – stunk up the joint. On 13 votes that the LCV considered to be of major importance in 2009, Doggett voted the LCV's way 100% of the time. And as per usual, Michael McCaul rated a mere 14%, Lamar Smith 7%, and John Carter a miserable 0%. Your senators are not up for reelection, but of course Kay Bailey Hutchison is attempting to become governor this year. Don't expect her to be too much of an improvement over Rick Perry – she came in at 18% for 2009 on 11 scored votes. As for the other senator, we're stuck with John "Zero Percent" Cornyn until at least 2014. – Lee Nichols
Tuggey: Tugged Left, Veering Right
Could Tim Tuggey's challenge to Ken Mercer for State Board of Education District 5 get derailed by the people who most want Mercer gone? Knowing that District 5 is drawn to elect conservatives (it includes northern Bexar County, southern Travis County, and a good chunk of the Hill Country), many progressives may be resigned to replacing the pro-creationism Mercer with a reasonable Republican rather than a Democrat. Mercer used this fact to attack Tuggey, writing on his website that Tuggey "was endorsed by one of the most liberal newspaper editorial boards in America" and "'earned' the support of the Democrat leaning, education political lobby." Tuggey responded by trying to shore up his credentials with the right, declaring that voters needed to "Dump Desperate Deception" (we've heard catchier campaign slogans). Tuggey emphasized that he and his law firm have dumped tons of cash into the GOP, represent the Bexar County GOP pro bono, and represented the Texas GOP in the 2003 re-redistricting fiasco that gave Republicans eight more seats on Texas' congressional delegation. Always remember – when driving the GOP primary highway, swerve hard to the right. – Lee Nichols