Today U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel pdf issued an order (489 KB) denying a request from SOS Alliance, former Austin mayors Carole Keeton and Frank Cooksey, Save Barton Creek Assn, and others for a preliminary injunction to stop the clearing of the proposed SH 45 SW right-of-way. The court ruling means TxDOT and its toll road partner, CTRMA, are free to begin clearing the right of way, which crosses the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer recharge zone and includes at least 58 acres of mature oak/Ashe juniper woodland habitat for the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler. TxDOT and CTRMA have said they intend to initiate the land clearing on or about November 8th.
TxDOT and CTRMA, if they go forward as planned, still face potential liability under the Endangered Species Act for unauthorized harm to the endangered warbler and the endangered Barton Springs salamander and Austin blind salamander.
On Wednesday, October 12th, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel held a hearing on the Plaintiffs’ request in Fath et a. v. TxDOT and CTRMA to grant a preliminary injunction that would keep the CTRMA from cutting and ripping out the trees and other vegetation along the proposed SH 45 SW right of way in advance of initiating construction on the toll road. CTRMA officials told the court they would begin clearing the right of way on or about November 8th without an injunction.
The Plaintiffs, including SOS Alliance, former Austin Mayors Frank Cooksey and Carole Keeton, Texas music legend Jerry Jeff Walker, Save Barton Creek Assn, and others, seek to protect endangered species habitats, mature woodlands, caves, sinkholes and other recharge features, and Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer waters until there can be a trial on the merits some time in early 2017.
The second ever Barton Springs University scored a big win for water literacy and fun. Check out the photos here and this great piece from KUT radio. The Statesman's Asher Price gave some nice coverage as well.
Thank you to everyone who participated-students, teachers, partners, sponsors, lifeguards, speakers, volunteers, musicians - everyone! The weather was perfect, the springs gushing strong and clear, the instructors and activity guides amazing, the sponsors and partners generous, and the students, teachers, and other attendees appreciative and attentive.
Keep Mopac Local coalition leaders who filed suit in February to stop the proposed SH 45 SW/South Mopac toll loop from being built without a comprehensive federal environmental lawsuit won the first round. Late Tuesday U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss the case across the board. Read the Statesman story and the Austin Monitor coverage at the links. The court's order is here. folder Legal Documents
The Statesman reported on TxDOT’s failed attempt to legalize the harm to endangered Golden-cheeked warblers that would result from construction of the proposed SH 45 SW toll extension of South Mopac. TxDOT requested to pay into the joint City of Austin/Travis County federal permit and Balcones Canyonlands Plan in order to mitigate for destroying and fragmenting over 100 acres of GCW habitat.
City officials rejected the TxDOT request, noting that building SH 45 SW would violate the City/County permit terms requiring protection of Flint Ridge Cave. Flint Ridge is one of the largest caves in Travis County, is home to rare cave-dwelling invertebrates, and funnels large amounts of water directly into the aquifer, where it flows through open channels in the rock to Barton Springs within a few days.
TxDOT has not even begun its SH 45 SW/Mopac toll loop plan, but already it is violating promises to protect the Edwards Aquifer and endangered species.
In the pdf Shudde Fath et al, v. TxDOT and CTRMA lawsuit (1.66 MB) over the proposed SH 45 SW/Mopac toll loop, TxDOT told the court in June that there would be no construction on the SH 45 SW Phase I piece of the loop before October and no construction on the misnamed “Mopac Intersections” piece before December.
But in a pdf Status Report (38 KB) filed with the court July 28, TxDOT disclosed that it had allowed AT&T crews to undertake trenching and tunneling along Mopac north of Slaughter Lane in order to move cable lines out of the way of the planned construction. TxDOT reported that as AT&T was boring a tunnel under the existing Mopac lanes “when the bore reamer passed through gravel, the bore hole collapsed, and AT&T excavated a pit to recover the bore reamer.”
On July 18th Save Our Springs Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a second federal lawsuit challenging a portion of TxDOT's push to expand and extend South Mopac over the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. This excellent KXAN news piece covered the story - explaining that TxDOT had sidestepped an Endangered Species Act requirement that it engage with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to assure, at minimum, that the proposed addition of six (6) lanes to the southern two miles of Mopac plus the construction of cross bridges at Slaughter and LaCrosse will not harm listed endangered species. The pdf new lawsuit (153 KB) will likely be consolidated with the pdf pending suit by SOS (1.66 MB) and eleven other parties that calls for TxDOT to complete a comprehensive environmental study on the proposed Mopac/45SW toll loop before building any piece of it. Absent these legal actions, TxDOT and its toll road partner, CTRMA, seek to begin construction as soon as October on the 3.6 mile SH 45 SW toll road. Learn more at KeepMopacLocal.org.