SOS, 2 others file suit to halt water plant
The Save Our Springs Alliance has sued to stop work on a $500 million water treatment plant that would draw from Lake Travis, hoping partly to buy time to change Austin’s political picture.
Save Our Springs claims that the city government is violating federal environmental law by building the treatment plant before doing the required environmental studies. Activist group Environment Texas and University of Texas professor Mark Kirkpatrick also joined the lawsuit, which was filed late Thursday.
“They’re building the plant while they’re doing the studies,” said Bill Bunch, Save Our Springs’ executive director. “The regulations are quite clear on this: You can’t take actions that prejudice the outcome (of environmental studies), and deciding to the build the plant first prejudices the outcome.”
City officials say the water treatment plant must be built now and is necessary to ensure that Austin avoids shortages as its population grows. The fight over the plant dates back a quarter century, but in October, a split City Council gave the key approval to proceed.
Kevin Buchman, a spokes- man with the Austin Water Utility, said Thursday that the city had not been notified of the lawsuit and had no comment on it.
Since the October vote, the city has spent tens of millions of dollars on engineering and preparation of the site, which is off Bullick Hollow Road near the Oasis restaurant.
Every few weeks a new spending proposal has gone to the council for approval, usually encountering some sort of protest that ultimately has failed.
Critics say the city won’t need the plant for decades and could stop work now, resuming it at some point in the future if needed.
Bunch said SOS wants a federal judge to order the city to stop until it finishes its environmental studies. The judge’s ruling alone would not stop the plant. Bunch said the lawsuit speaks to completing the environmental studies, not the question of what the city does after.
But, Bunch said, those stud- ies typically take as long as two years, “and we have two City Council races” over that time, in which the entire council is up for election.
Four council members now support the project, and three oppose it.
Meanwhile, Save Our Springs remains financially on the ropes. It continues to seek bankruptcy protection and owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to its creditors, chief among them developer Bill Gunnto whom it lost a long legal battle.
Bunch said that money won’t be an issue with the treatment plant lawsuit because Save Our Springs has secured grants, mainly from the Kirk Mitchell Environmental Law Fund.
Skip Cameron, president of the Bull Creek Foundation and a Save Our Springs critic, accused the organization of filing a frivolous lawsuit that will cost taxpayer dollars to defend.