Olivia Gordon

News intern
TCEQ

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has released the records history of the West Fertilizer Co.The plant was built in 1962, before the federal government required such facilities to have federal air permit authorizations for certain chemicals. The plant did not receive the authorization until 2004.

In 2006, a citizen filed an official complaint with the TCEQ. The complaint said that an ammonia smell was "very bad last night from Fertilizer Plant,” and that the smell “lingered until after they went to bed.” The TCEQ investigated the plant and issued a violation because the plant had not gotten the required authorization.

Courtesy of The Trail Foundation

Officials from the City of Austin and The Trail Foundation teamed together to celebrate the official start of construction on the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk.

The festivities brought together dozens of interested spectators, plus a Popsicle vendor, a mariachi band and water cannons courtesy of the Austin Fire Department. The boardwalk will close a 1.1-mile long gap in the trail circling Lady Bird Lake.

At the event, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the project was about more than convenience for cyclists and joggers.

City of Austin

City to Break Ground on Boardwalk

Today the City of Austin and The Trail Foundation will officially launch the Boardwalk Trail Completion Project for the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake.

The project will close a 1.1-mile gap in the trail. The boardwalk will be over land and over the lake. Construction could be done by early 2014.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, city officials and Trail Foundation officials will take part in today's groundbreaking. The ceremony will take place at International Shores Park near the trail. The Austin Fire Department will shoot off celebratory water cannons at the park to commemorate the project’s launch.

Bryant Miller, KUT News

University Medical Center Brackenridge announced its re-designation as a Level I Trauma center for adults today.

The designation reaffirms the original Level I designation the hospital received in 2009. Every three years the center goes through a stringent re-designation test by The Texas Department of State Health Services.

flickr.com/kcivey

Last Day to Vote Early

Today is the last day to cast your ballot early in the primary runoff election.

You can click here to find a list of early voting locations in Travis County. Most locations close at 6 p.m. The polling place at the Travis County Offices on Airport Boulevard is open until 7 p.m.

Less than three percent of registered Travis County voters have cast a ballot so far.

Election Day for the primary runoff is Tuesday. On Election Day you’ll only be allowed to vote at your precinct.

Colorado Shooting Victim Remembered in Austin

A funeral for the former Austinite killed in the Aurora movie theater massacre will take place in Austin today.

U.S. Drought Monitor

As far as the Texas drought goes, no news might be good news.

After steadily improving for months, the U.S. Drought Monitor map shows statewide drought conditions have reached a plateau.

Heavy rains two weeks ago brought more than 10 percent of the state out of any drought. That number remains steady.

flickr.com/m-i-k-e

Gas prices continue to inch back up. AAA Texas reports they are now at an average price of $3.36 a gallon in Texas.

The average in Austin is also $3.36, a 10 cent increase over last week. Prices are still about 20 cents cheaper than this week last year.

Todos a Votar

A tour to inform and register Latino voters throughout the country kicks off tonight.

The ¡Todos a Votar! (“Let’s Vote!”) tour will travel through California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida and  Colorado, before winding its way to Texas. The group will be in Houston in mid-September but has plans to visit more Texas cities.

Tonight the campaign’s first event, a Twitter town hall with the hashtag #voto12, will allow users to chat online about issues effecting Latino voters.

Courtesy Texas Department of Public Safety

Thirteen people are reported dead and 10 others injured, after a pickup truck carrying 23 passengers crashed into a tree in South Texas Sunday evening.

“This is the most people I've seen in any passenger vehicle, and I've been an officer for 38 years,” Gerald Bryant, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety told the Associated Press.

Officials believe the passengers may be illegal immigrants. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol Agents were called in to assist with the investigation. “It's unknown whether or not (the victims) were illegal, but it's possible,” Bryant told the AP.

Austin police have noted the popularity of similar trucks in the transport of undocumented immigrants before.

Courtesy Cowden Family

Texans Victims of Colorado Shooting

An Austin native was one of the 12 people killed in Friday’s shooting at a Colorado movie theater.

Gordon Cowden, 51, of Aurora, took his two teenage children to the midnight premiere. They were not injured.

Cowden’s family described him as a “true Texas gentleman.” They say he was a “loving father, outdoorsman and small business owner.”

flickr.com/thomasebunton

Lackland Assault Case Nears Conclusion

The case against Staff Sergeant Luis Walker, the trainer accused of sexual assault at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, is wrapping up. Closing arguments got underway this  morning.

Staff Sgt. Walker is accused of 28 counts that include rape and sexual assault.

In three days of testimony, the prosecution presented 14 witnesses, including alleged victims. The defense brought only one witness, a technical sergeant familiar with the video surveillance capabilities throughout the base.

flickr.com/hayesandjenn

A blue green algae bloom in Lake Austin may lead to “musty” or “earthy” smelling and tasting water for some Austinites says Austin Water, the utility responsible for city water treatment and distribution.

Jason Hill, a spokesman for Austin Water, said there is no way to know what parts of the city might receive the water, but that the strange smell does not effect its safety.

Austin Water discovered high levels of the algae in routine samples of the city's raw water. Hill said the company is adding powdered carbon to its treatment process to try and counteract the algae’s scent and flavor.

Wikimedia

When Texas A&M left the Big 12, many assumed the rivalry between the Aggies and the Longhorns left with it.

Now the two Texas colleges are facing off again, but this time there’s a chance both schools – and the public –  could win. Yesterday, UT-Austin and Texas A&M were awarded grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop cheaper natural gas vehicles.

UT’s Center for Electromechanics received more than $4 million to engineer new ways to refuel natural gas cars at home.

Ben Philpott for KUT News

Voter ID Trial Continues

Closing arguments are set to begin today in the Texas Voter ID trial in Washington, D.C.

The law would require voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls.

A three-judge panel will decide whether the Texas law violates the Voting Rights Act by making it harder for minorities to cast a ballot. The U.S. Department of Justice argues that it does.

But lawyers for the state say the law wouldn’t disenfranchise minority voters. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott hopes the judges will agree and that the law will be in place in time for the November election.

City of Austin

A new central library – an updated replacement for the 1970s-era  Faulk Central Library downtown – has been in the works since 2006. It was that year that voters approved $90 million in bonds to finance the project.

Six years later, and construction hasn’t  started on what the city touts as the “library for the future.” And the Austin City Council recently approved an additional $1.3 million in funding.  

In the spring of 2008, the Council approved the library’s site, nestled between the slated-for-redevelopment Seaholm Power Plant, and the site of the former Green Water Treatment Plant.  The library was officially defined as the “Library for the Future” when the council approved an “Architectural Program Building Narrative” later that year. That’s also when the council also selected the architects to guide the project.

Study Advises APD to Grow with City

A new study commissioned by the City of Austin recommends the Austin Police Department increase its staffing numbers by over 250 by 2017.

The study, released by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit organization which has studied police departments around the nation, suggested APD increase its officer-to-population ratio to 2.11 officers per one thousand residents. Right now, Austin has 2.08 officers per one thousand residents.

The department spends 57 percent of its time responding to calls, leaving little time “to engage the community, solve local crime and disorder problems, or patrol hot spots,” says the report. The study recommends aiming to drop the time spent responding to calls to 45 percent.

David Ashcroft, bit.ly/Pfwjag

Just months before Formula One arrives in Austin, city officials left today to tour the F1 Silverstone circuit in Northampton, England, and meet with race and safety officials.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and City Manager Marc Ott have their full travel expenses covered the Circuit of the Americas, the organization responsible for building the Austin-area track and hosting the race.

The other city officials, including Police Chief Art Acevedo and Fire Chief Rhonda Mae Kerr, have a portion of their expenses covered; their flights are being paid for with approximately $5,500 in city taxpayer dollars.

flickr.com/rampant.gaffer

Firing up the grill? Don’t expect to be fired up at work.

With this year's Fourth of July holiday falling on a Wednesday, many workers are taking vacations in addition to the mid-week day off. Though summer vacations are commonplace, the quantity of workers taking off at the same time could spell trouble for some companies.

But John Challenger, CEO of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told KUHF that not all companies will be hurt.

“For a busy company, there’s just the risk that they can’t produce the same amount worker-hours they need to provide a high quality service or product," he said. "For companies that are in a slowdown, it’s probably not a bad idea to get their vacations loaded up at the same time.”

Caleb Miller Bryant, Texas Tribune

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is launching a new Medicaid initiative to help prevent premature births.

The program was launched this week and provides a 24-hour help line and other resources to help mothers carry their babies to term.

Medicaid pays for more than half of the births in Texas. HHSC spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman told The Texas Tribune that premature births are especially expensive.

“One of those babies is more than 18 times the cost of a regular newborn,” said Goodman. “If we can reduce that, we can save a lot of money.”

IFAF U-19 World Championship

Beloved Austin Family Doctor Dies

Dr. Mathis Blackstock, a well-known Austin doctor, died Tuesday from melanoma. He was 87.

According to his obituary, Dr. Blackstock remained engaged with former patients and doctors at the Blackstock Family Health Center, named for him, until about two weeks ago. In the 1970s, he helped found a clinic at the San Jose Catholic Church in South Austin in order to serve underprivileged patients.

The funeral for Blackstock will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, 4700 Grover Ave. Dr. Blackstock is survived by three children and a wife of 63 years.

Daniel Reese, KUT News

The Texas Department of Public Safety is reminding Fourth of July revelers to plan ahead before they party.

“If you are drinking, make sure you have a designated driver or some other form of transportation,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Otherwise, you could be making a very expensive or even fatal mistake.”

DPS has ramped up DWI patrols and will continue to increase enforcement through July 8. The department will focus their patrols on areas they consider to be high-risk during holiday weekends.

Austin Parks and Recreation Department

Less Rain is the Texas Beach-Goer’s Gain?

Turns out, there may be a positive side to the state's historic drought. Less rain means less polluted runoff – so Texas beaches are cleaner than they have been in years. It's all detailed in a report released this week by the National Resources Defense Council.

The report details the testing done on hundreds of state beaches around the nation and evaluates the levels of certain bacteria found in the water. Texas’ South Padre Island was rated one of the nation’s twelve cleanest beaches, though Nueces, Matagorda, Kleberg, Harris and Aransas beaches exceeded the daily maximum bacteria standard. 

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The Austin Fire Department is reminding everyone to be extra careful to prevent grass fires.

Fire crews responded to 12 calls about small grass fires yesterday afternoon, mostly along major roads. The fire department says the flare-ups were probably caused by cigarette butts.

Travis County Commissioners put a burn ban back in effect on Tuesday. Cigarettes are not included in the burn ban, but the Austin Police Department will issue tickets for littering to anyone they see improperly dispose of their butts.

.naacp-austin.org

Update: Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo refuted claims the department uses excessive force against minorities at a press conference this afternoon.

The chief’s heated speech came after the Austin NAACP formally filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against APD for alleged mistreatment of Hispanics and African-Americans.

Acevedo said that occasional use of force is an ugly reality of the job for many police officers. “We can’t change law to take away officers’ rights to defend themselves or others,” he said.

flickr.com/loudtiger

Two Austin public art projects were named among the nation's 50 best in Americans for the Arts2012 Public Art Year in Review.

James Edward Talbot’s “Your Essential Magnificence” on South Congress, and Chris Levack’s “Trilobite Shade” and “Iron Wave” for the Austin BMX and Skate Park at House Park were selected from hundreds of entries across the country.

Americans for the Arts announced its selected projects at their annual convention in San Antonio earlier this month.

Courtesy of Nation Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Update: The suspects, one black male and one white male, are in a red 1990 Toyota Celica GT with Texas license plate# CG5G973, according ot the Selma Police Department.

Original post (7:40 a.m.): The Live Oak Police Department issued an Amber Alert this morning for six year-old Simon Colby Weyman. Simon is a white male, 4’ 0” tall, about 90 pounds with blonde hair and brown eyes.

Simon was last seen wearing a white t-shirt with black cars on it, khaki shorts and no shoes.

The suspects are unknown but police believe they are driving a black 4-door compact Mazda or Toyota with a green and white bumper sticker on the rear.

lesliefest.com

Cesar Chavez Traffic Closures

Traffic on Cesar Chavez Street will be disrupted this morning as crews repair a broken water main.

Early this morning, the water main that serves businesses on Cesar Chavez between Brazos Street and Trinity Street burst. Eastbound traffic between Congress Avenue and Red River Street is down to one lane. Westbound traffic will be detoured northbound on Brazos Street, then westbound on Second Street.  

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Get your helicopter permits in now.

That was one of the takeaways from a presentation to the Austin City Council yesterday, regarding planning underway for the Circuit of the Americas’ inaugural Formula One race this November – displaying the size, scope and expense of hosting the Grand Prix.

“We don’t know where to direct them,” council member Mike Martinez said of entrepreneurs inquiring about helicopter permits to chauffeur high-rolling F1 attendees. “They’re asking us questions that we’ve never heard of before, like where do we land a helicopter in downtown.”

flickr.com/austintexasgov

Austin City Council members voted unanimously early this morning to adopt the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, a blueprint for the city's growth in decades to come.

A public hearing on the plan lasted past 1 a.m.

The Imagine Austin plan was created from thousands of ideas submitted by residents about how Austin should develop over the next 30 years.

Mose Buchele, KUT News; Photo courtesy US Geological Survey; Photo by Layne Murdoch NBAE

North Texas Tremor

An earthquake shook part of North Texas early this morning.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the 3.1 magnitude earthquake happened about 16 miles south of Fort Worth and just over 150 miles north of Austin.

The local sheriff’s office says so far there are no reports of injuries or damage.

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