Erika Aguilar, KUT News

Reporter

I started working at KUT November 2007. If you're a weekend NPR listener, you may have caught my reports on KUT during "Weekend Edition" or "All Things Considered". I keep tabs on what happens on Saturdays in Austin and other environment, science and development  news.

I came to KUT after working behind scenes in the newsroom at KEYE-TV in Austin. I'm a proud Texas State Bobacat. I love to write, be creative, clicking away on the internet, reading history books, anything outdoors, and I always love a rich conversation. Drop me line if you've got an interesting story to tell.

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Image courtesy Chesapeake Energy

UT Study Says Fracking Doesn’t Directly Contaminate Groundwater

A new report by the University of Texas at Austin released this week says there’s no direct link between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing – a controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil from shale formations.

The research was done by UT's Energy Institute. The report’s authors say contamination is often the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wasterwater, but not caused directly by fracking. 

Fracking involves blasting water, mixed with sand and chemicals, underground to fracture rock and improve the flow of natural gas and oil. The practice is used at the North Texas Barnett Shale.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is also studying the environmental effects fracking may have on groundwater. Its preliminary results differ from the UT study.

Photo by Erika Aguilar/KUT News.

Some Central Texas volunteers gave up their Saturday morning to clean bathrooms and move furniture at Austin Groups for the Elderly. It was part of today’s MLK Day of Service.

“It’s a great way to help the elderly because they’ve done so much in the past to make it possible for us now," said Gwen Blackburn.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Perry Comes Back To Texas For Now

Texas Governor Rick Perry is coming back home. After a disappointing fifth-place finish in yesterday’s Iowa caucus, far behind Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Perry told supporters that he is giving his bid for the White House a second look.

“With the voters decision tonight in Iowa,” Perry told supporters. “I decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight’s Caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race.”

Photo courtesy of House the Homeless.

Austin’s House the Homeless is hoping to keep the homeless warm with its annual Thermal Underwear Drive. On Monday, the non-profit will hand out free thermal underwear to the homeless. Thermals are easier than blankets for homeless people to carry with them.

Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless, estimates there are about 4,000 homeless people in the Austin metropolitan area.

Photo by Erika Aguilar/KUT News.

Austin styled music, film screenings, hula-hooping performers and, of course, fireworks – that’s what the city is offering tonight.

Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole revealed details in a Wednesday news conference of the city's Austin' New Year's party to ring in 2012. 

Image courtesy flickr.com/pixajen

It's no secret: Downtown Austin on New Year's Eve is like Halloween all over again on Sixth Street. Austin public safety officials are urging New Year's Eve revelers to play it smart Saturday night.

“If you have plans to go out drinking, be safe and be mindful of the alternative methods to get home," warned Assistant Police Chief Patrick Oclketree.

Gov. Perry's request to add his name or stop the Virginia primary ballots from being printed was denied today by a federal judge. Photo by Ben Philpott/KUT News.

Governor Rick Perry lost a bid to get his named added to the Virginia Republican presidential primary ballot. He needed 10,000  signatures, with at least 400 signatures from the state's 11 congressional districts to qualify.

Governor Perry filed an emergency motion Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Richmond for an injunction to get his name on the ballot or to stop the state from printing them. He argued the signature requirements were burdensome and unconstitutional.

Photo by Ben Philpott/KUT News

Occupy Austin Protesters Sue the City of Austin

Photo by Erika Aguilar/KUT News.

Austin is getting a good steady soaking this weekend. Light rain showers and patchy drizzle started this morning and have continued this afternoon. Downtown Austin got about half an inch of rain over the last 24 hours. A cold front arrives in Central Texas overnight. We’ll wake up to temperatures in the 50s tomorrow morning with a greater chance for isolated thunderstorms.

Photo by Erika Aguilar/KUT News.

Although some larger cities have cleared Occupy protesters out of public spaces, people with Occupy Austin say they are trying to expand. Some Occupiers at a march and rally Saturday told KUT News they are planning on having daily protests at the south steps of the State Capitol.

Occupy Austin continues to take place in the city plaza at City Hall.

Saturday, Occupy Austin demonstrators slowed traffic for a short time, as they marched on Guadalupe Street to protest bank bailouts. The march ended at the State Capitol. Debbie Staat is a nurse who participated.

Photo by Erika Aguilar/KUT News.

The wet weather turned Auditorium Shores a muddy pit this weekend, but it was good demonstration of why the city of Austin wants to returf the park. Marty Stump is a landscape architect with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. They held public meeting Saturday on the Town Lake Park Master Plan to finish developing Butler Park and Auditorium Shores.

Local civil rights activists want Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo to fire Nathan Wagner, an APD officer who shot and killed 20-year old Byron Carter, Jr. May 2011. Carter was a passenger in a car that struck and injured a police officer. The teen driver was shot in the arm but survived.

Chief Acevedo has 180-days from the incident to make a decision. That deadline is Saturday. Acevedo today notified the State Attorney General that he is delaying a disciplinary decision until a criminal investigation into Wagner’s actions is completed.

In a press release, Acevedo said the delay was intended to protect “the ongoing criminal investigation and the integrity of the criminal justice process."

Photo courtesy of the Trail Foundation

The planned 1.1 mile boardwalk to be constructed over Lady Bird Lake received a $2.4 million dollar commitment today from the Trail Foundation.

The organization announced it’s almost done raising $3 million needed as part of the construction cost to build the boardwalk in one phase. The City of Austin will spend another $14.4 million in mobility bond money approved by Austin voters last year to build the boardwalk. 

Photo courtesy of the City of Austin by Mark Sanders.

A city biologist told the Austin City Council yesterday that the Jollyville Plateau Salamander has the potential to delay construction on the city's Water Treatment Plant Four.

At its work session Tuesday, city staff briefed the Council on what the construction and planning team of WTP4 is doing to lessen environmental impacts caused by the Jollyville transmission main and the four access shaft sites.

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News.

Some Austin parents such as Norma Sanchez worry a college education will be the most costly expense for their families. A college fair Saturday at Travis High School was hosted by Con Mi Madre, a non-profit active in Austin schools that encourages Hispanic mothers to seek a college education for their daughters.

Photo courtesy of the Off-Leash Area Advisory Committee

Austin area dog trainers are volunteering to help give free training and park etiquette lessons. The first one was held Saturday morning at Zilker Park. It’s an initiative from the new citizen-led Off Leash Area Advisory Committee (OLAAC).

Daniel Reese

As if awaking from a two year hibernation, a sub-committee of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) held its first meeting this afternoon with a new leader and new members. The Transit Working Group (TWG) was restored in time to prepare for Austin’s soon-to-come vote on an urban rail system.

The working group was first established in 2007 under Austin Mayor Will Wynn. He decided the city needed an urban rail or street car system. But nothing really came out of it. Now, Mayor Lee Leffingwell is leading the TWG.

“The big difference between this group and the one of that before is our focus is going to be regional,” Leffingwell said.

Photo by KUT News

Austin residents looking to become U. S. citizens got some help Saturday navigating the system. Immigrant Services Network of Austin, a coalition of immigrant service organizations, hosted a free workshop.

Texas Loses to Oklahoma State

The Longhorns lost to the Cowboys Saturday afternoon in Austin, 38-26. This is the first time Head Coach Mack Brown has lost following the OU game.

QB David Ash took all the snaps. It was the first game that offensive coaches did not rotate quarterbacks throughout of the game. Longhorn running backs DJ Monroe and Malcom Brown carried the running game in the first half. Freshman Malcom Brown  had 135 yards on 19 carriers with two touchdowns.

Texas doesn't have a game this week. They’ll play Kansas Oct. 29.

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News.

Austin Groups for the Elderly held a Medicare workshop Saturday, the first day of the annual Medicare enrollment period. This year the annual enrollment period is earlier than usual. It also ends earlier, December 7th.

flickr.com/59195512@N00

Texas homeowners insured by Farmers Insurance Group could see their premiums increase by almost 10 percent next year. The Houston Chronicle reports the insurance company says the cost of claims in Texas has risen over the last three years.

The state's third-largest insurer needs the increase because of rising claims costs, said John Henle, state executive director of southern Texas for the company.

"Our losses over the past three years in Texas have been over $250 million, not including Hurricane Ike or the wildfires in Bastrop," he said.

The premium change would affect 350,000 people in Texas. The Texas Department of Insurance is reviewing the increase including another one by Farmers announced last month that would increase homeowner insurance rates and change deductibles.

Photo couresty of Ohio Office of Redevelopment at Flickr.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/63837784@N08/5925932549/

A Gulf Coast landowner may sell groundwater to the builders of the proposed coal-fired power plant White Stallion in Matagorda County. The landowner has submitted an application to drill a well that would provide 1,199 acre feet of water a year to the power plant.

Logo courtesy of SXSWeco

We all know about the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festivals but SXSW is delving into more civic engagement events.

It was just this past March when SXSW organizers launched their first ever SXSWedu for teachers, education researchers and state leaders. That education conference came at time when Texas lawmakers were laying out big cuts to public education.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News.

Construction of the proposed Formula One track complex in Southeast Travis County is slowing down, at least that is what some drivers and neighbors are reporting. Organizers broke ground on the 970-acre tract of land last December. The first race is scheduled for November 2012. It was pushed back from an original June date. Jacob Dirr is a freelance writer who covers Formula One development in Austin. He says the holdup could be stemming from a change-up in management.

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News.

A federal judge in Lubbock has blocked a National Rifle Association suit that claimed an age requirement on gun purchases was unconstitutional. The judge ruled that federal restrictions barring people younger than 21 from buying a gun do not violate the Second Amendment.

Photo courtesy of NPR.

Authorities in the U.S. and Yemen are confirming the death of leading al-Qaeda figure, 40-year old Anwar al-Awlaki.

It’s believed he was killed in a U.S. operation involving a drone and jets. The American born Muslim cleric has been outspoken in leading the al-Qaeda arm in Yemen. The Treasury Department put al-Awlaki on a list of designated terrorists in July of 2010.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst is putting distance between himself and Governor Rick Perry over in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants in Texas. He said this in a TV news interview with Dallas’ WFAA.

"If we're not going to give fellow Americans who live in Louisiana or Oklahoma or New Mexico the ability to come into Texas and have in-state tuition and save, then is it fair to give that break to people who are not citizens here?" Dewhurst told WFAA said. "I would not have signed that law."

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News

UPDATE: 7:55 p.m.:  Authorities on the wildfire burning north of San Marcos are optimistic that rising humidity and dropping temperatures overnight will halt the fire's progress. The fire is about 50 percent contained, but air crews and firefighers will remain on the scene overnight to make sure the blaze doesn't spread. Sunday's forecast is for temperatures over 100 degrees again, with southwesterly winds between 10 and 20 mph.

UPDATE 6:35 p.m.:  The Hays County Sheriff's Department issued this update on the wildfire on Post Road:

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