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Reluctantly, City Council Gives Up $15M for Water Treatment Plant 4

Jessie Wang for KUT News

Austin City Council begrudgingly parted with $15.5 million Thursday to help complete construction of Water Treatment Plant No. 4  in northwest Austin.

The controversial plant was designed to provide the city’s growing population with more drinking water. But it’s been controversial since its proposal as environmental groups opposed its construction. Now many of those activists are saying I told you so.

The city has already spent some $359 million on the project, which was the original cost the city approved for construction of WTP4. Council members expressed that they had been under the impression that the initial $359 million figure was set in stone.

Council member Bill Spelman had a problem with the utility using the plant opponents' arguments as the reason for the overruns. 

“Were there any changes instituted in this project between the original design at the time of the preliminary engineering estimate and now which were not instituted by pesky environmentalists and neighborhood people?,” he asked Austin Water director Greg Meszaros. 

Austin Water says it’s not trying to shift the blame. It says design changed along the way and that some construction costs were underestimated. At one point, City Manager Marc Ott said "the buck stops at my desk" regarding council members' complaints they felt misled. 

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole looked for ways to come up with the money.

“We received a memo and there was some thoughts at some point about selling property to deal with cost overruns associated with Water Treatment Plant 4,” Cole said. “Can I get any information about that?”

Water authorities said yes, and plan on selling a property. There are also some savings associated with the project since the bond interest is lower than originally expected.  That was when the council decided to sign the check. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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