City of Austin considers land sale to pay for cost overruns from water treatment plant project

money

A massive Austin public works project that triggered political turmoil and second-guessing by City Council members now has top city leaders preparing for cost overruns.

City Hall staffers are seeking permission to sell 73 acres for as much as $11 million to pay for unexpected costs on the water-treatment plant under construction near Lake Travis in Northwest Austin, the Austin American-Statesman reports. City Manager Marc Ott and his senior leaders expect the most expensive project since construction of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to exceed its $508 million budget.

Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros downplays any cost overruns and believes they will amount to just 1 percent of the project — $5 million. Whatever the final cost-overrun dollar amount, the scope of the water-treatment plant has already been cut at least $12 million, the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, crews constructing a shaft near the plant identified a leak in December, the Statesman reported. All that digging prompted talk of legal action by environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Save Our Springs Alliance, who say the project threatens the Jollyville Plateau salamander.

The costs have also been political. Former Council Member Randi Shade, who cast one of the four votes for the plant in October 2009, was defeated last year by Kathie Tovo, an opponent of the plant. Council also had a heated debate last year whether to stop the project but opted not to after learning it would have cost $100 million to $155 million to restart the project, the Statesman reported.

The talk of cost overruns has led to I-told-you-so refrains from project critics.

"I think this tells us the staff was grossly misleading the council about what sort of venture they were getting the city into," said Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, the Statesman reports.

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Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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