Cooper Rejects WTP Lawsuit

Lawsuit alleged city acted in 'bad faith'

WTP4 construction continues in northwest Austin.
WTP4 construction continues in northwest Austin. (Photo by John Anderson)

On April 12, Judge Margaret Cooper of the 250th District Court ruled against the Save Our Springs Alliance, the Spicewood Springs Road Tunnel Coalition, and landowner Joe Wheeler in their joint lawsuit against the city of Austin (and city officials) hoping to block the use of Bull Creek parkland (i.e., the "Spicewood Tract") for a temporary tunnel shaft to be used to construct transmission lines for Water Treatment Plant No. 4. In a terse order, Cooper granted the defendants "plea to the jurisdiction" (that is, denying the plaintiffs standing to sue) and dismissed the suit "without prejudice." Doug Young, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he plans to appeal the decision. "We're looking at whether there are other remedies to proceed, but it's not likely," Young said. "It looks like it will just be a straight appeal."

The plaintiffs had sued on the grounds that the city had neither, as required under state law, held a sufficient "Chapter 26 hearing" for the land use, nor adequately notified the public, and had acted "arbitrarily, capriciously, and in bad faith" in not fully considering "feasible and prudent alternatives" (all legal standards required to overturn the city decision). The suit made related claims of potential damage to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve having not been sufficiently reviewed in advance of the WTP4 project, and argued additionally that the project itself is unnecessary. The plaintiffs asked for a temporary injunction against the tunnel work, pending trial for a permanent injunction.

The suit was filed in January, and the subsequent cascade of pleadings and counter-pleadings replay much of the public debate over the city's decision to build WTP4 and its transmission lines. But those arguments didn't directly reach the court; attorney Casey Dobson argued for the city that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue because they could not show "particularized injuries" sufficient to do so, and moreover that their general objections would be outweighed by the public need for a clean and adequate water supply. Dobson said he believes Cooper's ruling was "absolutely correct" and will be sustained on appeal. (An appeal, due 30 days from Cooper's decision, would be heard by the Third Court of Appeals.)

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Legislature, Water Treatment Plant No. 4, Save Our Springs Alliance, Spicewood Springs Road Tunnel Coaltion, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve

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