Not a drop of rain in the sky, but it was a wet day at City hall, with the debate over Water Treatment Plant 4 flooding out other items set for the morning’s agenda.
With a series of close votes, City Council dedicated $300 million dollars to the completion of Water Treatment Plant 4. It effectively gives the project a final green light. The votes came after hours of sometimes emotional public comment and council discussion. Water Utility Director Greg Mazaros said it made sense for council to approve the remaining funds all in one go.
“Prior to this we were bringing smaller chunks of the project through there full approval process. $20 million here $30 million there, and when you’re talking about a $359 million construction contract it really made it more difficult for us to create a bidding environment that was attractive to perspective bidders,” Mazaros said.
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who supports the plant, had also argued that blanket approval allows the city to take advantage of lower than normal construction costs.
But the coalition of environmentalists, neighborhood activists and taxpayer groups who oppose the plant saw it differently. The blanket approval effectively put an end to a process that allowed opponents, both on and off city council, to air their concerns publicly with each vote. Council member Laura Morrison opposes construction.
"This action merely removes public participation in that it removes the council responsibility for looking at particular items and defers completely to staff. For me that’s not a comfortable position to be in," Morrison said.
But just because council may not vote more funds towards the plant, doesn’t mean the opposition is going away. Bill Bunch is the executive director of the Save Our Springs Coalition, a group that has already filed one lawsuit that could impede construction.
“There’s still a bunch of hurdles they have to cross before it’s a done deal," Bunch said.
Others believe opposition will grow as Austin’s water rates increase.