Emily Zendt

Texas Parks and Widlife

A 100 year-old battleship anchored in Houston started taking on water last weekend – and has since sunk two feet into the ship channel.

The crew of the U.S.S. Texas noticed a leak early Saturday and have been pumping out water ever since. The ship’s crew has also been working around the clock to stop oil aboard the ship from leaking into the channel.

Ship manager Andy Smith says the crew is filtering and skimming the water and is also using a floating barricade to prevent contamination of the channel. “We don’t have any oil in the water right now; that’s just a precautionary measure,” Smith says. “So we’re in the process right now of cleaning that oil up and kind of maintaining the status quo with the water coming in.” 

Five storage units containing disaster response equipment at the Bastrop State Park were broken into last week. About $16,000 worth of state equipment including chain saws, power tools and two generators were stolen.

Mike Cox with Texas Parks and Wildlife says  when funding is available, "the  equipment will need to be replaced to maintain the same level of preparedness we had prior to the break-in."

Emily Zendt for KUT News

Texas courthouses are named on a list of the “11 Most Endangered Historic Places” in the U.S., released by The National Trust for Historic Preservation this morning.

Texas has 244 historic courthouses in the state – that’s the largest collection of county courthouses in the country. About 63 of them have been fully restored, including central Texas’ Williamson and Lee County courthouses, but more than 70 are still in need of serious repairs.

Texas courthouses on the whole were first placed on the list in 1998; the following year, the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program was created by Governor George W. Bush. Since its inception, the program has awarded nearly $247 million to 83 counties for the preservation of their courthouses.

Photo by Mario Jacinto for KUT News

Fire-ravaged Bastrop State Park is in second place in an online competition naming “America’s Favorite Park.” At stake? First place is a $100,000 grant, second place nets $50,000 and third place gets $25,000.

The park was devastated last year by the Labor Day wildfires which burned 96 percent of the historic 6,500 acre park. Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Rob McCorkle says the grant money would allow the park to extend a contract with an American YouthWorks team that’s been rebuilding trails and bridges.

McCorkle says despite the damage done by the fires, the park is making a comeback. “Everything is pretty much up and running – it’s just the landscaping that took such a serious hit from the fires.” The park largely reopened in April.

Image courtesy City of Austin

The City of Austin wants to know: What do you want our waterfront to look like in 20 years?

Starting tonight, planners are facilitating a three-day discussion on the future of Lady Bird Lake’s “south shore central” area – Congress Avenue, First Street and eastward, including sites like the Hyatt Regency and Austin American-Statesman building. The talks kicked off this morning with boat tours of the area at stake.

Alan Holt, a principal planner with the city, says that this area is lacking in good infrastructure and “like it or not, slated for some big changes because there are a lot of parking lots and development at the end of their shelf life.”

Photo by Filipa Rodriguez for KUT News

A recently-launched website allows anyone to add information about historic Austin landmarks to an online map, augmented with historical data, architectural descriptions and more.

The Austin Historical Survey Wiki works like a Wikipedia page. Anyone can sign up and add information to the site, which is then filtered by a moderator.

But here, users add pin points to a map, creating a compilation of information, pictures and data about Austin’s historic sites from professional and architectural historians.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Austin scored an A-plus in a survey of small business friendliness.

The capitol city ranks as the nation’s fourth friendliest city to small business, according to a survey by Thumbtack.com and the entrepreneurship-focused Kauffman Foundation.

The nationwide survey asked 6,000 of the small business owners registered with Thumbtack – a service which aggregates bids for hiring local help – questions about small business friendliness and finance in their city.

Image courtesy youtube.com/user/austintexasgov

Catastrophic floods. Bio-terrorism. Nuclear attacks.

Can a flash mob and a funky beat help people prepare for such emergencies?

The City of Austin’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management office thinks it might be weird enough to work. Today, HSEM is gathering a flash mob outside of City Hall to spread its message of preparedness. The city partnered with Dance Austin Studio to design a dance accompanying a song with instructions for making a plan. (Yes, such a thing exists.)

Paulo Martins for KUT News

Yesterday, the Austin City Council unanimously came out in favor of what is called a moderate plan for increasing Austin Energy electric rates – and against a potential discount to customers outside the city limits.  

The proposal would see an overall increase of seven percent, spaced over five years  – an effort to “spread the pain” of rising rates, as council member Bill Spelman put it.

“At this point it feels like it’s a little bit more an art than a science,” council member Laura Morrison said before council voted to adopt the moderate plan over other proposals. “And since we don’t have any one single, definitive reason to go in another direction. There’s so many different things that we’re trying to juggle.”

Photos courtesy austintexas.gov

Many people are enjoying a three-day weekend this Memorial Day. The City of Austin offices are closed, although city pools and golf courses are operating on a regular schedule today.

The Austin Animal Center is open today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.  It’s holding an adoption special: $35 for all pets one year and older, over half-off its normal $75 fee. Pets five years and older are free. All pets are spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.

Some 400 kittens are currently at the shelter, a “record number” according to Animal Services Foster Coordinator Sarah Hammond. “The mild winter and the abundance of rain have made for an explosive kitten season,” Hammond says, exasperating the crowding at the animal center. The Austin Animal Center is located at 7201 Levander Loop.  

Image via austintexas.gov

It wouldn’t be a major weekend in Austin without some downtown street closures.

Don’t worry, as KUT News has everything you need to know to navigate Austin this Memorial Day weekend.  

Sunday: As a precursor to Memorial Day’s Capital of Texas Triathlon, organizers are hosting a Doggie Du Dash and Kids K fun run – meaning the following streets will be closed:

Photo by KUT News

Austinites will flock to the city's numerous parks and waterways this weekend. We've put together a guide for what you need to know about rules and safety.

Watercraft Ban: Put Away that Motorized Surfboard!

If you’re planning to celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend on Lady Bird Lake, you'll need to leave your motorized surfboard at home. The Austin Police Department will be enforcing an annual ban on motorized personal watercraft – like jet skis – from sunset on Friday until sunrise on Tuesday.

Image courtesy / City of Austin

It’s slow-going at City Hall as the Austin City Council trudges through its agenda.

A lengthy executive session has kept the council off the dais since this afternoon. And some marquee items have been postponed until this evening: The sale and redevelopment of the former Green Water Treatment Plant site downtown (Items 12 and 13) won’t be heard until at least 6:30 p.m.

And Item 22, which would allow Austin Pets Alive to occupy the entire Town Lake Animal Center won’t be heard until at least 6 p.m.  Similarly, a public hearing on new regulations for short-term rentals by homeowners (Item 140) has been postponed to June 7. 

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

At a marathon meeting that stretched early into Wednesday morning, Austin’s Planning Commission recommended new regulations for short-term rentals – properties that homeowners offer for rent on sites like HomeAway and VRBO.com.

Short-term rentals are increasingly popular over events like South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, with Austin visitors choosing to rent area homes instead of staying in hotels. But the growth in short-term rentals hasn’t been applauded by all.

Those pushing to regulate short-term rentals argue they can be detrimental to neighborhoods, and have considered regulating them as commercial rather than residential properties. Homeowners that rent out their homes and companies that depend on their business – like Austin-based HomeAway – argue too much regulation will drive the market underground, giving aggrieved neighbors even less options for dealing with bad actors.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Austin’s urban rail plans will take a major step tomorrow when a preliminary funding and phasing plan will be outlined during an Austin City Council work session.

The Austin Transportation Department sent out a memo last Thursday outlining initial phases of investment for urban rail. 

The first proposed phase would serve Downtown, the Capitol Complex, UT, Hancock Center and Mueller. Phase Two would cross the river and head down Riverside Drive to Pleasant Valley.

Photo by By Daniel Reese for KUT News

Today marks the beginning of another "Click it or Ticket" campaign, a two-week undertaking by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to enforce seat belt usage. 

In Texas and across the country, law enforcement will be on the lookout for drivers and passengers shirking seatbelt laws, or whose children are improperly restrained. (Children under eight years must be in a child safety seat, unless they are taller than 4'9".) Citations run up to $250.

The NHTSA writes on its website that in the annual “Click It or Ticket” initiative, over three million tickets have been written over the last five years – a ticket every other second.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

On Saturday, members of the media were invited to check progress on the Waller Creek tunnel, currently being burrowed some 70 feet underground.

When finished, the tunnel will stretch just over a mile from Waterloo Park to an outlet at Lady Bird Lake. The tunnel will create a steady flow for Waller Creek, and inlets along the creek will prevent water from overflowing, pulling 1 million square feet of developable land out of the 100-year floodplain downtown.

A design competition plotting the future of the Waller Creek area is unfolding alongside the tunnel excavation.

Photo by KUT News

Yesterday, KUT News took a look at what made the cut in the city’s latest proposal for a bond spending package. Today, we look at what took the biggest hits, and the few areas that saw a boost in funding.

Here’s a financial crash diet: going from $1.5 billion to $575 million. And then, down to $400 million.

Those are some of the moves Austin’s Bond Election Advisory Task Force has recently made. A citizen group appointed by the Austin City Council, the group was tasked with paring down an initial $1.5 billion “needs assessment” from the city’s various departments into something it could put to voters this November.

At a meeting Monday, the task force recommended what it feels is a balanced bond package. But because a separate vote on Urban Rail funding might also make it to the ballot – the Transportation department is set to make a recommendation for rail investment this Tuesday, May 29 – the task force is also compiling a smaller, roughly $400 million package to recommend, should rail make it to the voters.