Dec 19, 2019 - 10:41 am CST

Pictured, Oscar Garza.
Oscar Garza
Email - PH 512-974-1893

Field Notes

In the spring, the East Austin community suffered the loss of a great warrior for social justice, Akwasi Evans. We feel much gratitude for Evans, who dedicated his life to improving his community. Evans’ dedication lives on through the ongoing efforts of many social activists, some recognized nationally and internationally for their work and other, less well-known activists who also play very important roles. It’s comforting to know that, despite the loss of Evans, the fight against social inequality remains alive in East Austin. In this issue, we pay tribute to Evans and highlight current community efforts to restore East Austin’s Red Bluff Wildlife Preserve.

We’re pleased to also bring you an update about the large erosion control project in Roy G. Guerrero Park and to help spread the word about the Austin History Center’s drive to collect information.

As always, please feel free to contact me with your feedback and ideas.

Red Bluff Wildlife Preserve Approved for East Austin

The Austin City Council voted to establish the Red Bluff Wildlife Preserve. A 57-acre tract of land between Springdale Road-Airport Boulevard and U.S. Highway 183, Red Bluff offers a stunning view of downtown Austin.

The vision of one lifelong East Austin resident made the planned preserve possible. Pete Rivera grew up exploring Red Bluff, calling it La Loma (“The Hill” in Spanish). The area provided the perfect playground for him and his brothers to explore and hunt rabbits and armadillos. Sadly, the area became an illegal dumping ground for used oil, paint, and construction waste.

Rivera decided to do something. First, he formed the Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association (SANA). He then asked the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice Team (ATXEJ) to help him raise awareness about the area. He saw Red Bluff as a place that should be protected and benefit the community.

As president of SANA, Rivera also teamed with Public Citizen, another local environmental group. Together, these groups worked diligently to raise awareness of the unacceptable neglect and pollution. Rivera organized a hike to teach people about Red Bluff’s history and beauty.

After years of hard work, Rivera’s perseverance has paid off with a City Council resolution to clean up and protect Red Bluff for many generations to come.

The City’s Urban Trails Program is reviewing La Loma Trail as part of the 2016 Mobility Bond to determine the best route to provide safe walking access and improved connectivity between the existing Southern Walnut Creek Trail and adjacent neighborhoods. The project is located between Airport Blvd and US 183 and would extend through the East Boggy Creek Greenbelt area. To learn more about this project, visit https://data.austintexas.gov/stories/s/La-Loma-Trail/nswa-swke/.

Pete Rivera, president of Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association, leads a group of environmental activists and citizens on a hike to Red Bluff.
Pete Rivera, President of Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association, leads a group of environmental activists and citizens on a hike to Red Bluff.

City Receives Grant for Roy G. Guerrero Park Stabilization Project

In 2015, heavy rainfall caused flooding in many of Austin’s creeks, including Country Club Creek West, where severe erosion destroyed a pedestrian bridge, damaged a wastewater line, and destabilized the creek bank.

The area’s flooding and erosion problems began in the 1970s, before Austin had developed floodplain and environmental regulations. The City split the original Country Club Creek to direct floodwaters to the Colorado River and to allow for development on Riverside Drive. Water flowing from this area to the Colorado River cut huge gullies through the park. Erosion eventually caused the bridge to collapse and threatened the nearby softball fields.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded $8.4 million to the City for storm-related repairs. This stabilization project will include three large concrete structures, or “steps,” that cause the creek water to flow more slowly to the river. The steps will decrease the powerful force of the water as it plunges downstream and will protect the creek from further erosion. Between each step, native plants will be added to the channel to improve the scenery and provide a home to wildlife. The design phase for this project is expected to be complete in early 2020.

The City’s Watershed Protection and Parks and Recreation Departments will work together to rebuild the bridge, reconnecting a section of the hike and bike trail in Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metropolitan Park.

For more information visit https://austintexas.gov/countryclubcreek.

Overview of the stabilization project
Overview of the stabilization project

Community Archivists Program Seeks Historical Information

The Austin History Center’s Community Archivists Program (CAP) is designed to collect and preserve the history of underrepresented and marginalized groups in Austin and Travis County. By documenting the local histories of African, Mexican, and Asian Pacific American communities, the program ensures that their lives, history, and experiences are recognized and represented.

The Austin History Center accepts donations of personal and family documents, photographs, publications, oral histories, and business records for the collection. CAP also develops programming and events to educate the public about the area’s diverse history.

African Americans in Austin: The web project Desegregation in Austin: Five Decades of Social Change includes information and a timeline of major events from 1940 to 1980, developed from local newspapers and other materials covering this extraordinary period of the city's history.

Mexican Americans in Austin: The Mexican American Resource Guide contains valuable materials about Austin's Mexican American communities. Much of this history remains to be documented.

Asian Pacific Americans in Austin: The Asian Pacific Americans Resource Guide provides a general overview of all the Austin History Center’s materials related to the Asian American community.

For more information about the Community Archivists Program, visit https://library.austintexas.gov/ahc/outreach.

Anderson High School Drum Majorettes, 1957
Anderson High School Drum Majorettes, 1957

Tribute to Akwasi Evans an East Austin Activist

Pictured, Akwasi Evans
Akwasi Evans

The late Akwasi Evans, who died April 8, 2019, greatly benefited the East Austin community with his passion and dedication for social justice. Evans founded East Austin’s NOKOA, The Observer newspaper and served as its editor for more than 30 years.

As a longtime civil rights activist, Evans fought for social justice issues, such as opposing police misconduct and assisting community empowerment. His family and the Austin community remember him as a true servant, giving unselfishly of himself. With both deep sadness and also gratitude, our team honors this great East Austin newspaper man.

 

Akwasi Evans: October 17, 1948 – April 8, 2019
Akwasi Evans: October 17, 1948 – April 8, 2019

 

Nov 28, 2018 - 02:34 pm CST

Pictured, Oscar Garza.
Oscar Garza

Field Notes

Welcome to the latest edition of the Eastside Environmental Newsletter! This newsletter’s goal is to keep the East Austin community informed about environmental activities, projects, and community outreach events in your neighborhoods. The City of Austin has committed to keeping you informed for more than 25 years.

In this issue, you will find articles about our progress on two recent developments: the revitalization of the Montopolis Recreation Center and the Colony Park community development planning.

The Sierra Club of Texas recently presented the East Austin Environmental Initiative (EAEI) with their Environmental Justice Award. EAEI is honored to have received this recognition as we continue with our goal to help the East Austin community resolve environmental issues.

In addition, we congratulate Chuck Lesniak, a founding member of the EAEI program in 1993, on his retirement from City service. We wish him well.

As always, please feel free to contact me, Oscar Garza, at 512-974-1893. Enjoy the articles and help us share what’s going on in East Austin.

From "Brownfield" to Butterfly, Montopolis Park Begins Transformation

A rendition of the future Montopolis Recreation and Community Center.
The future Montopolis Recreation and Community Center.

A metamorphosis will soon begin at Montopolis Park. A cornerstone of East Austin for decades, two aging facilities in this timeworn park will transform into a new recreation and community center, which will be a crown jewel among eastside parks.

Fifty years ago, this location at 1200 Montopolis Drive was home to a local gas station. Brownfields are abandoned or underused properties that were once the site of, or are located near, a business (such as a gas station, dry cleaner, or chemical plant) that used chemicals or potentially harmful substances. Before redevelopment or use, experts must test the buildings, land, and groundwater for lingering toxins and, if needed, clean up any potential contamination left behind from previous inhabitants.

In 2017, Austin’s Brownfields Revitalization Office performed testing in and around Montopolis Park. They first completed a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) at the park, which identified an area’s prior use as a gas station. A second ESA confirmed that no gas or related chemicals had reached groundwater. Finally, they performed an asbestos and lead-based paint survey on existing buildings to ensure workers’ safety during demolition. The survey identified asbestos in the building, which was removed and properly disposed of before demolition.

When completed, the revitalized, 33,000 square-foot recreation and community center will feature a commercial kitchen, multisport gymnasium, fitness room, track, teen space, computer lab, conference rooms, and educational programming areas. This new facility is currently projected to open in spring 2020.

The Brownfields Revitalization Office receives grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to provide property owners with free assessments of properties to determine potential risk, plus low-interest loans for any necessary cleanup. For more information about the recreation and community center project, please visit www.austintexas.gov/department/montopolis-recreation-and-community-center-project.  If you have questions about brownfields or the steps the City of Austin took to clean up Montopolis Community Center, please email brownfields.

Preserving Our City's Forest… Think Trees!

Think Trees logo and City of Austin logo.

The urban forest provides social, ecological, and economic benefits that greatly enhance the quality of life in Austin, so the City encourages community members to “Think Trees!” City of Austin Urban Forester Emily King notes, “Just like the parks where we play and the bike lanes we use to commute to work, our urban forest is a community asset.”

Below are a number of ways that you can get involved in supporting Austin’s urban forest!

APPLY FOR AN URBAN FOREST GRANT: This grant was created to support tree projects across Austin that benefit the urban forest ecosystem and strengthen community connections to nature and each other. Learn more and apply at www.bit.ly/UFGrant..

GET FREE TREES: Planting trees around your home will lower your energy bills, make your home more beautiful, and clean the air you breathe. Through the NeighborWoods program, City of Austin residents are eligible to receive free trees!  Visit www.bit.ly/freetreeatx.

EDUCATE YOUR SCHOOL OR COMMUNITY GROUP: Interested in having the Community Tree Preservation Division present in your classroom or at a community meeting? Contact Conservation Program Coordinator Aimee Aubin.

VISIT THE TREE INFORMATION CENTER: This webpage provides answers on how to get involved in our urban forest, understanding Austin’s tree ordinances, protecting your trees, and more. Visit www.austintexas.gov/trees.

CONNECT ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Austin Nature in the City promotes upcoming events and news from nature-based programs across the city. Follow @naturecityatx on Instagram and Twitter, or follow the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/naturecityatx.

 

A community Tree Preservation Division staff host a tree education activity at Bartholomew Park.
Community Tree Preservation Division staff host a tree education activity at Bartholomew Park.

Colony Park Community Ready for Transformation

The Colony Park subdivision began as a working-class neighborhood that once included Bergstrom Air Force Base troops and veterans. When the air base closed in 1993, most base workers sold their homes. Many of the houses became rental properties of absentee owners who neglected them over time.

In 2001, the City of Austin bought approximately 200 acres next to Colony Park and the Lakeside subdivision near Lake Walter E. Long. Following this purchase, the City set aside 50 of the acres for a regional park. Another portion became the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center and Overton Elementary School.

In 2013, the City won a federal grant to develop a proposal for a master-planned neighborhood on this property. An exciting new Colony Park community is now beginning to take shape. At a recent meeting, the City laid out a vision of a master plan for a mixed-use, mixed-income development that will unite the former Colony Park neighborhood on the west with the Lakeside neighborhood on the east. Residents and planners will work together on the area’s development.

The plan calls for a mixture of single-family homes, town homes, commercial use, and park space. Residents and planners are discussing the addition of a health clinic and a Capital Metro Rail station that would run from Elgin to downtown Austin. Catellus Development Corporation, the same organization that transformed Austin’s old airport into the Mueller neighborhood, is the recommended Colony Park Master Developer.

To find out more about the Colony Park project and to sign up for the newsletter, visit www.colonyparkatx.org.  Follow the Colony Park Sustainable Community Initiative on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CPSCI/.

A map of Colony Park, a subdivision in far East Austin, off Loyola Lane between US 183 and the Texas 130 toll road.
Colony Park is a subdivision in far East Austin, off Loyola Lane between US 183 and the Texas 130 toll road.

Leaving a Legacy of Success

Chuck Lesniak, City of Austin Environmental Officer, retired after 28 years with the Watershed Protection Department. He was charged with ensuring environmental protection as the highest priority in public and private development. Mr. Lesniak was instrumental in creating the East Austin Environmental Initiative (EAEI) program in the early 1990s. He provided valuable services to the community during the crucial period of the Tank Farm remediation. The EAEI team is grateful for his outstanding public service and dedication. We extend our best wishes for a wonderful future.

The Watershed Protection Department staff recognized Chuck Lesniak (photo center) at his retirement party.
The Watershed Protection Department recognized Chuck Lesniak (photo center) at his retirement party.

East Austin Environmental Initiative Receives Sierra Club Award

In spring 2018, the East Austin Environmental Initiative (EAEI) received the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter’s Environmental Justice Award for outstanding service to the East Austin community. This award recognizes individuals or organizations that have performed outstanding work in identifying and addressing environmental problems with a disproportionately adverse effect on communities of color and/or low-income communities.

Oscar Garza, coordinator of EAEI, a program of the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department, accepted the award on behalf of the City. The EAEI program helps residents and organizations address environmental challenges and promotes environmentally sustainable activities and achievements in East Austin.  In his role as coordinator, Mr. Garza has helped communities clean up several waste dump sites, including the recent Red Bluff. He also led the multi-year cleanup at Homewood Heights, next to a former incinerator waste dump. This East Austin neighborhood off Rosewood Avenue now boasts a beautiful hillside with trees and a community garden.  Mr. Garza has facilitated vital communication and awareness of East Austin success stories through the Eastside Environmental Newsletter and is also a member of the City’s Pollution Prevention and Spills Response Team.

The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States and has a long track record of sustainability actions, including passing laws to protect open spaces and natural resources and establishing the National Parks System.

Oscar Garza receives Sierra Club Award on behalf of the East Austin Environmental Initiative.
Oscar Garza receives Sierra Club Award on behalf of the East Austin Environmental Initiative.

May 23, 2018 - 10:24 am CDT

Oscar Garza

Collaboration. What is it good for? Absolutely everything!

Collaboration is a theme that runs through our current newsletter. But what is collaboration? It simply means people working together to achieve a desired goal.

In this issue, we’re pleased to highlight a couple of exemplary collaborations in east Austin: Austin Youth River Watch participants and St. Johns community volunteers working together on the MLK Day Buttermilk Creek Cleanup and collaborative efforts that were showcased in the fascinating Juntos/Together exhibit at the George Washington Carver Museum’s Cultural and Genealogy Center.

For the City’s East Austin Environmental Initiative program, collaboration means continuing a 24-year effort to improve the East Austin community and environment.

East Austin has a nationally recognized legacy of collaboration between many grassroots groups and community organizations that makes us all proud.

We hope you enjoy the articles and help us share what’s going on in East Austin. As always, please feel free to contact me!

Oscar Garza 512-974-1893

If you would like to receive this information electronically twice each year, please visit www.austintexas.gov/PollutionPrevention – in the Public Awareness Programs section (middle of page), click the “Subscribe to the biannual newsletter” tab.

Cleanup at Buttermilk Creek

Austin Youth River Watch and community members collect 1,000 pounds of trash.  Volunteers cleaning up Buttermilk Creek.

Written by: Raquel Veliz, an Austin Youth River Watch participant from Austin High School

Raquel is a member of Austin Youth River Watch, an afterschool and summer program for high school students that combines environmental education with youth development. The program’s mission is to transform and inspire youth through environmental education, community engagement, and adventure.

On January 15, 2018, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a few of my fellow River Watchers and I piled our equipment, along with ourselves, into vans and headed off to Buttermilk Creek for a morning of picking up trash and planting native grasses.

Upon arriving, we propped up our little table and set out our gear. Within a few minutes, volunteers from the St. John community arrived, eager and ready to get started. As the event began, everybody set out to either plant native eastern gamagrass or pick up trash all along the creek.

One might think that picking up trash would be painfully boring, but as I looked around I saw smiles upon all faces as people laughed and joked and competed to see who could get the most trash into their bags! A couple of our River Watchers even pulled on wader suits, hopped into the water and had a blast collecting trash that floated just below the water’s surface. Everyone enjoyed the company of friends and family as they worked. Within a few hours, we planted 94 native plugs of eastern gamagrass and picked up about 1,000 pounds of trash! It was truly a wonderful sight to see not only the park after the major cleanup, but also to see our community come together to help restore our park.

As the event wrapped up, the volunteers began to leave. My fellow River Watchers and I gathered around a picnic table to enjoy lunch. We all shared what we considered the best thing about the day, and we all agreed that this was something that we will all do again!

Juntos/Together Exhibit Showed East Austin Success

The Juntos/Together: Black and Brown Activism in Austin poster.

The Juntos/Together: Black and Brown Activism in Austin, Texas From 1970-1983 exhibit was on display from early January to early April at the George Washington Carver Museum’s Cultural and Genealogy Center in East Austin.

The exhibit showcased collaborations between Latino and African American activists that brought attention to various injustices in the East Austin community, including lack of access to government aid and environmental concerns.

The exhibit showed how groups like the Austin Brown Berets, a local Mexican-American grassroots organization, and the Black Citizens Task Force, an African American socio/economic justice group, leveraged their power to create a better environment in East Austin. In the 1970s, these and similar groups fought to end the Town Lake boat races, which were polluting Town Lake (now called Lady Bird Lake) and causing riverbank erosion.

Many of these changes might not have been successful if the groups had not unified their messages. Through organized networks, they were able to find resources needed to resolve these issues. The exhibit provides an in-depth look at these alliances and how they helped to bring about positive responses to social, economic, and environmental problems facing the East Austin community.

The Juntos/Together exhibit was curated by archivists Alan Garcia, founder of ATX Barrio Archive, an Instagram account that documents and celebrates East Austin’s Black and Chicano history, and Rachel E. Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist at the University of Texas LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies & Collections.

Pollution Prevention and Reduction Team

Sharon Cooper (photo center), who managed the Watershed Protection Department’s Pollution Prevention and Reduction section and was instrumental in creating the East Austin Environmental Initiative, has retired after 30 years of service with the City of Austin. Our creeks and lakes are cleaner and healthier because of her management. We are grateful for her hard work and extend our best wishes for a wonderful future.

Tannehill Branch Creek at Givens Park – Upcoming Erosion Repair

Givens Park
Givens Park picnic area threatened by erosion of Tannehill Branch Creek

An illustrated map og the Givens park project
Tannehil Creek Watershed at Givens Park - Stream Restoration Project Map

 

The City’s Watershed Protection Department (WPD) is planning improvements for a portion of Tannehill Branch Creek that runs through Givens Park in East Austin. The park is named in memory of Dr. Everett Givens, who was a well-known East Austin dentist and civic leader. Next to the park is Plummer’s Cemetery, a historically African American cemetery established in the late 1800s.

Severe erosion along the creek has damaged portions of the park. While erosion, the loss of soil by moving water, can be due to natural causes, severe erosion is usually due to increased or new development nearby. In Givens Park, erosion has caused the creek to widen and could cause the loss of large trees and a park picnic bench. Additionally, WPD environmental studies show that Tannehill Branch Creek suffers poor water quality.

This project will restore a 300-foot-long section of Tannehill Branch Creek that is downstream of the Givens Park pavilion. The project will stabilize the creek bank and revegetate the area around the creek with native plants. Additionally, a shallow rain garden will be constructed at the southwest corner of the parking lot near Oak Springs Drive. This garden will capture and filter stormwater from the parking lot, helping reduce pollution and creekside erosion.

The project is currently being designed, and construction is expected to begin in late 2018. For more information, visit www.austintexas.gov/tannehillbranchcreek.

[Re]vers Pitch Competition Announces 2018 Winners!

[Re]Verse Pitch Competition Winner Waste Free Grain Flour.
[Re]Verse Pitch Competition Winner Waste Free Grain Flour.

The [Re]Verse Pitch Competition program, funded by the City of Austin, encourages the reuse of a company’s discarded, but otherwise valuable, waste material into a new product. The program supports Austin Resource Recovery’s goal for Austin to reach zero waste by 2040.

Many businesses regularly dispose of items no longer needed. However, unwanted items, such as empty wine bottles from a wine tasting room, oyster shells from a seafood market, or bags full of cloth scraps from a garment factory, can be repurposed. A resourceful person or company can contact the business and offer to make something useful with those items.

For the past three years, the [Re]Verse Pitch Competition has offered the opportunity for inventive folks to compete to see who can come up with the best use of waste material. The competitors work with mentors and advisors to develop business ideas. Two winners receive cash prizes from a $20,000 prize pool and receive services, such as business incubation and coaching, to help them start their new venture.

This year, the winners were Waste Free Grain Flour (Seed Stage Innovation Prize and People’s Choice – Seed Stage), Evo Conversion Systems, LLC (Growth Stage Innovation Prize), and Classic Childhood (People’s Choice – Growth Stage).

Congratulations to the winners and all the competitors! For more information on the [Re]Verse Pitch Competition, visit www.reversepitch.org or email Natalie Betts.

[Re]Verse Pitch Competition Winner Evo Conversion Systems
[Re]Verse Pitch Competition Winner Evo Conversion Systems

Blackland Prairie Study In East Travis County

For many years, the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department (WPD) has studied trees and other vegetation that grow along local creeks. These vegetated areas along the water are called “riparian buffers,” and they benefit our creeks and river by improving water quality and preventing erosion. Most of WPD’s riparian buffer studies have been in central and west Austin; however, a recent study took place in far eastern Travis County, around and east of U.S. 183. This area, located in the Blackland Prairie region, has deep, fertile soils and is mostly agricultural. WPD’s goal was to document conditions of the creeks and their riparian buffers before major development occurs there.

The results of the study surprised WPD staff, who expected to find forested land along the creeks in this less-developed area. Instead, these riparian buffers have much less plant diversity and fewer trees compared to more developed areas in central Austin (scoring, on average, half that of urban Austin sites). Even with little development in these Blackland Prairie watersheds, erosion has negatively impacted the area’s creeks. Severe erosion has caused the creek banks to be too dry to support strong vegetation. The lack of surrounding vegetation enables rainwater to enter the creek in powerful surges, leaving the creeks unable to support healthy aquatic habitat. WPD hopes these findings and further investigations will guide improvements to the City’s regulations and policies. These efforts will help restore watershed function to these degraded riparian buffers and protect them from future damage.

Creek banks without enough vegetation.
Creek banks without enough vegetation

Creek with severe erosion.
Creek with severe erosion

 

Nov 08, 2017 - 08:48 am CST

Oscar Garza

Field Notes

Welcome to the latest edition of the Eastside Environmental Newsletter! This newsletter is part of our continuing effort to inform the East Austin community about environmental activities, projects, and community outreach events around town. We’ve been writing these newsletters for almost 20 years!

In this issue, you can read how the City took a giant step forward with its commitment to environmental justice by creating the new Equity Office and how a new grant is helping revitalize blighted properties in East Austin. You’ll also find out about award-winning teacher Sam DeSanto and the green projects he, his students, and fellow staff have created on the campus of Brooke Elementary School.

As always, please feel free to contact me, Oscar Garza, at 512-974-1893. Enjoy the articles and help us share what’s going on in East Austin.

Oscar Garza 512-974-1893 email If you would like to receive this information electronically twice each year, please visit www.austintexas.gov/PollutionPrevention – in the Public Awareness Programs section (middle of page), click the “Subscribe to the biannual newsletter” tab.

Mr. DeSanto and some of his students pose with one of the awards earned in 2017.
Mr. DeSanto and some of his students pose with one of the awards earned in 2017.

Chickens and Rabbits and Bees, Oh My!  Brooke Elementary wins Ecorise Awards

Brooke Elementary School stands on Tillery Lane near a handful of busy auto repair shops. A row of tall sycamore trees stands guard along the school’s chain link fence, as if to protect the campus from the noise and commotion of the city. These trees are only a small part of this remarkable campus. Brooke’s unconventional grounds boast flowers, miniature ponds, and chicken coops.

Students here learn about life cycles as they tend their own vegetable gardens and the many fruit trees on campus. They learn about nature as they chase butterflies that are attracted to the flowers that students planted in the school yard. They take care of their chickens, rabbits, and ducks. The school sells honey, vegetables and chicken eggs at their studentdriven farmers’ market. Proceeds of the sales are given to the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) for school improvements, and students learn invaluable lessons in the outdoor learning environment.

Austin-based nonprofit EcoRise, which teaches sustainability, design innovation, and social entrepreneurship, recognized Brooke Elementary School with two awards in 2017. EcoRise gave their first-ever Legacy Award to Brooke’s reading teacher Sam DeSanto. Mr. DeSanto has guided students and the community in creating a very impressive living campus for the past 18 years. EcoRise gave the second award, funded by the City’s Office of Sustainability Bright Green Future Grants program, to Mr. DeSanto’s students for their Beehive Education project. The National Wildlife Federation has also recognized Brooke as part of their Eco-Schools USA program, which helps schools and students integrate sustainability into the curriculum and onto school grounds.

Congratulations to Brooke Elementary School and Mr. Sam DeSanto on the Eco- Rise awards! Keep up the great work!

Romeo Rodriguez January 20, 1948—March 30, 2017In Remembrance of Romeo Rodriguez

The East Austin Environmental Initiative team remembers and honors local journalist and publisher Romeo Rodriguez, who passed away in March 2017. Mr. Rodriguez founded Austin’s bilingual ARRIBA Newspaper, which he produced for over 37 years. It covered issues important to the Latino community, including health care, politics, culture, and the arts. His groundbreaking work inspired new journalists to follow in his footsteps, and the newspaper he founded shed a bright light on Austin’s multifaceted Spanish and bilingual cultures.

 

City's New Equity Office to Address Equal Representation

Cities across the United States, including Austin, are looking for innovative ways to create equality for their citizens. Austin recently joined Seattle, Portland, Washington D.C., Boston, and San Antonio by creating an office that specifically addresses equity issues.

In a 2015 memo, Austin Mayor Steve Adler proposed that City Council discuss the idea of creating an office to address equity issues. “While Austin prides itself on being a wonderful place to live, due to a number of inequities, it can be a difficult place for people of color,” he wrote. The Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission was instrumental in getting the Equity Office off the ground, and City Council approved $183,000 to get the office started in 2016.

Austin’s new Equity Office, headed by Brion Oaks, focuses on hiring issues and funding allocation. It is also responsible for monitoring other equity problems citywide. Mr. Oaks comes to Austin from a long career with the American Heart Association, where he focused on minority communities’ access to health care. Former City Manager Mark Ott said, “It’s clear to me that his work in that area will serve him well as he helps guide Austin to a more equitable future for all our residents and employees.”

Citizens can access the Equity Office by calling the program coordinator, Gabriella Beker, at 512-974-9077.

Austin Brownfields Revitalization Office. Brownfield before and after.

EPA Grant to Benefit East Austin

The City of Austin has received an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant to help clean up contaminated land in East Austin. The Brownfields Revitalization Office, an Austin Resource Recovery program that began in 1998, will administer the $820,000 grant.

Brownfields are properties that are abandoned or underutilized. These properties are difficult to redevelop because of real or perceived environmental contamination. The 1928 Koch and Fowler City Plan, which included poor zoning restrictions, permitted industrial facilities such as power plants, fuel tank farms, and cement plants to operate in East Austin. The result of that plan is hundreds of brownfield sites in East Austin that hinder redevelopment.

Traditional banks may not fund redevelopment for brownfields.

EPA loans bridge the gap between cleaning and redevelopment. The loans will be interest-only until the cleanup is complete. Borrowers can have their businesses up and running before repayment is required. The grant will also make it easier for property owners to receive a traditional loan once the environmental issues are resolved.  Such loans will provide funds for public or private entities to develop properties that can provide a public benefit, such as a public park, affordable housing, or local jobs.

"This revolving loan fund grant means we will now be able to assess properties, clean contamination and remove barriers to community redevelopment," said Christine Whitney, the City’s Brownfields Revitalization Program Manager. "Helping facilitate land recycling is just one way we are responding effectively to the high expectations of our community."

Property owners or prospective buyers who have discovered contamination at a site can apply for a cleanup loan online at AustinTexas.gov/brownfields.

Austin Energy Piloting Innovative Energy in East Austin

Austin Energy reaches out to the community to introduce its solar energy project. Local artists
Austin Energy reaches out to the community to introduce its solar energy project.

Austin Energy is currently working in East Austin to solve one of the world’s toughest energy problems: how to store solar energy and make it available for homes and businesses when the sun doesn’t shine.

Austin Energy – the city-owned electric utility – received $4.3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to fund the Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar Photovoltaics project (SHINES). SHINES is a pilot program that will test the abilities of solar energy systems, batteries, and smart inverters to store and send solar energy. This innovative study will investigate technologies that could bring the power of the sun to Austin residents, day or night, rain or shine. Additional funding for the program comes from Austin Energy and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The Mueller and the Springdale Road/Airport Boulevard areas of Northeast Austin are the focus of this innovative, multi-year project. During the study, Austin Energy will tie two energy storage systems directly to Austin’s electric grid. One energy storage system pairs a battery with a 2 megawatt community solar farm in the Springdale Road/Airport Boulevard area. The project helps to transform this former home of a toxic-polluting tank farm into a leader in clean energy innovation. The second battery storage project is in the Mueller neighborhood.

By testing the integration of battery storage, solar energy systems, and smart technologies, Austin residents will be part of a bold, nationwide effort to determine the best ways to apply these technologies and reduce costs for everyone.

Visit www.austinenergy.com/go/shines for more information.

East Austin Spirit in the Trees

Local artists created sculptures from the dead tree trunks found at the former East Austin Tank Farm site.

Local artists created sculptures from the dead tree trunks found at the former East Austin Tank Farm site.

Local artists created sculptures from the dead tree trunks found at the former East Austin Tank Farm site.

When East Austin artist Daniel Llanes saw dead trees at the site of the former East Austin Tank Farms on Springdale Road, he didn’t see ruin. He saw potential.

Several major oil companies once kept large vessels filled with petrochemicals on this piece of land. Leaks caused soil and groundwater contamination, and long-time residents of the surrounding neighborhood had to evacuate their homes after an explosion.

In the early 1990s, the East Austin community, led by environmental activist group PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources), began a herculean effort that resulted in the closure of the now infamous East Austin Tank Farms. After many years of cleanup, developers purchased the site in 2012 and began working on a project called thinkEAST that features a mix of affordable housing and live/work spaces for artists. Last year, during a thinkEast development event, Llanes noticed many dead trees at the site. He thought he could rescue them for a new generation of East Austin residents.

Llanes teamed up with master sculptor Victor Torres to give the trees new life by transforming them into sculptures that honor the neighborhood’s history and culture. Llanes and East Austin activists hope the large-scale, tree-trunk carvings will help their community learn about the struggle to close the tank farms. The “Spirit in the Trees” exhibit featured the new sculptures. The sculptures now are located at the thinkEAST development site at 5600 Jain Lane.

Austin Resource Recovery Offers Safe Medication Disposal

Do you have old over-the-counter or prescription medications in your bathroom cabinet that you don’t know how to dispose? The City’s Austin Resource Recovery department can help.

Austin Resource Recovery has responded to the need for year-round drug disposal by co-sponsoring two medication drop-off bins in Austin. Individuals can drop off unused or expired medications for free and anonymously.

The bins accept pills, creams, inhalers and liquid medications. Items that are not accepted include thermometers, batteries, needles, and illegal drugs. A complete list of items that are and are not accepted is available at austintexas.gov/drugs. You can also find more information at this site on how to best dispose of medications if you cannot make it to one of these locations.

Disposing of unwanted drugs securely can benefit everyone. It prevents people from misusing the drugs and keeps them away from children and pets. Safe disposal also protects the environment by keeping medications out of landfills and sewer systems.

Call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 for more information.

Drop-off bin locations:

Travis County Constable, Precinct 5
1003 Guadalupe St. Monday - Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
(Short-term parking is available in the parking lot.)

Forty Acres Pharmacy
(inside the UT Student Services Building)
100 W. Dean Keaton St. Monday – Friday 9:00 am to 5:30 pm
(Parking is available in the garage behind the pharmacy.)

May 05, 2016 - 02:28 pm CDT

Field Notes…

Oscar GarzaGreetings, and welcome to our latest edition of the Eastside Environmental Newsletter! This newsletter highlights East Austin area activities, projects, and community outreach events. In this issue, we explore some exciting new initiatives, including an East Austin historic survey and the Spirit of East Austin – the City’s resurged commitment to equitable economic development. We also bring updates about continuing City initiatives, such as the Watershed Protection Department’s Clean Campus Program that engages students with exciting, hands-on learning and outdoor service activities.

As always, please feel free to contact me with your feedback and ideas:
Oscar Garza
PH 512-974-1893

Spirit of East Austin

Spirit of East Austin

Austin is one of the fastest developing cities in the nation, currently offering a strong job market, a vibrant entertainment scene, and a host of other cultural activities; however, not all areas of Austin are benefiting from the rapid growth. The City’s demographic study of East Austin showed great disparities in income, employment, and educational attainment between those who live in the “Eastern Crescent” (all of Travis County east of IH-35, with a few parcels west of the interstate) and Travis County as a whole.

The City of Austin hosted a community forum to engage the East Austin community in a planning process for equitable economic and community development. This Spirit of East Austin Community Forum, held in September at the Travis County Expo Center, brought East Austin residents and stakeholders together to discuss existing development efforts and to identify three to five substantial and achievable goals or projects to transform the area.

During the forum, Mayor Adler, Council Member Houston, City Manager Ott, and County Judge Eckhardt described their hopes for and commitment to the residents of East Austin. Attendees watched a video describing the history of segregation and disinvestment in the Eastern Crescent and joined small groups to discuss one of 14 themes:

Spirit fo East Austin
Citizens participate in the Spirit of East Austin Forum

  1. Equity, Culture, Diversity
  2. Neighborhood Character
  3. Transportation
  4. Housing and Affordability
  5. Family Support and Social Services
  6. Justice & Law Enforcement
  7. Sustainability, Prevention, & Environment
  8. Food Access
  9. Health
  10. Education
  11. Jobs, Employment, & Training
  12. Business & Entrepreneurship
  13. Public Facilities
  14. Government & Engagement

The community forum was part of an ongoing effort to overcome some of the disparities that have negatively affected East Austin communities. To learn more or to become involved in the Spirit of East Austin initiative, please visit www.mayoradler.com/spirit-of-east-austin.

Clean Creek Campus
Sims Elementary students clean up Boggy Creek in Givens Park

Elementary Students Explore and Restore Local Creek

Thirty 4th graders tossing mud balls might sound like an alarming behavioral issue… but it was all part of good fun and ecological restoration for Sims Elementary students, who pitched in to help protect Boggy Creek at Givens Park!

The activity was part of the Clean Creek Campus program, hosted by Keep Austin Beautiful and the City’s Watershed Protection Department for 3rd-8th graders. Participating classrooms receive two interactive (and standards-aligned) lessons focused on water quality protection, followed by a service project outside the classroom. In the last school year, the program reached nearly 2,000 students in 19 schools.

Sims Elementary 4th grade classes have participated in the program for the past two years. For their service project, they tossed seed balls (a mixture of clay, compost and native plant seeds) into a Grow Zone, a formerly mowed creekside area where native vegetation is allowed to grow, reviving the ecology of the creek and natural beauty of the area. As part of their service project, the students also removed 10 bags of trash from the creek, including a crutch, a bicycle tire, a chair, and numerous fast food wrappers.

Givens Park was an ideal site for the restoration project since recent floods had washed a large amount of litter into the creek, and WPD had recently established a Grow Zone in the area. Students learned how trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses growing around the creek help filter some of the pollution that washes into the creek when it rains.

We’re grateful for our volunteers of all ages, who help protect and restore Austin’s creeks! Learn more about creekside restoration at www.austintexas.gov/creekside and about the Clean Creek Campus program at https://keepaustinbeautiful.org/programs/clean-creek-campus.

City begins historic survey of East Austin

A historic home in East Austin.The City’s Historic Preservation Office has contracted a historic preservation planning and management company to conduct a survey of East Austin. The company will research, photograph, and document residential, commercial, and other structures to determine the existence of historic landmarks and potential boundaries for historic districts.

Over the next few months, East Austin residents might observe consultants taking photos of various structures. During the year-long process, city staff will hold public meetings to solicit feedback and gather information from residents and property owners within the survey area. Residents are encouraged to share their stories or interesting facts about a home or structure with the photographers or at a public meeting.

Upon completion, the survey will delineate important neighborhood characteristics worthy of preservation and make the information available to property owners and neighborhoods interested in writing applications for local historic districts or landmark designations.

For more information, contact Jerry Rusthoven, Planning Manager, at 512-974-3207 or email Jerry Rusthoven.

Fresh Art. Fresh Water

A mural painted over a storm drain.
A mural painted over a storm drain.
A mural painted over a storm drain.

Fresh Art. Fresh Water logo.Creeks and lakes are a big attraction for Austin residents and tourists! The natural beauty of our waterways attract thousands of people who walk, jog, bike, boat, picnic, and play. Events of all sizes are based in and near our water, contributing greatly to our city’s culture and healthy economy. Clean water is a wonderful place for people and pets to cool off in our hot climate and is essential to sustain Austin’s unique wildlife populations. The Colorado River (including Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin) runs deep in the heart of Austin.

Activities on land can significantly deteriorate Austin’s water quality. Litter and pollutants (motor oil, pet waste, pesticides, etc.) that are left on the land will wash into our waterways when it rains, directly or through storm drains on our streets. Local artists painted water-themed designs on ten storm drains around Austin to raise awareness that these unobtrusive curbside cutouts carry pollutants directly to our creeks and river.

This public education project promotes the importance of protecting Austin’s water quality and encourages community members to take actions that show their #creeklove, including using least-toxic gardening practices, picking up pet waste, not littering, and more. For more information and to view the painted storm drains, visit www.austintexas.gov/freshartfreshwater.

 

Puppet Show Engages Families in Growing Friendly Gardens

Puppet ShowThis spring, the Austin Public Library Literature Live team entertained families with an original, musical puppet show about sustainable gardening, based on Oscar Wilde’s classic The Selfish Giant. The puppet show’s theme supported the City of Austin’s Grow Green program, which promotes yard care and gardening techniques that are healthy for people and the planet, including least-toxic ways to address challenging pest issues. At the end of the show, attendees received packets of native wildflower seeds, a color-your-own native plant themed mask, and temporary tattoos featuring Grow Green characters. For more information about Literature Live, visit http://library.austintexas.gov/literature-live/home and for more information on earth-friendly gardening, visit www.GrowGreen.org.

 

Bike Repair Shops will provide students at Langford Elementary and Maplewood Elementary Schools with materials and training to perform basic bicycle maintenance.

Grants Support a Bright Green Future for Schools

The City of Austin’s Bright Green Futures Grants program provides funding for sustainability initiatives at local elementary, middle, and high schools. The competitive grant program (sponsored by the Office of Sustainability and funded by Austin Resource Recovery, and the Watershed Protection, Public Works, and Transportation departments) provides up to $3,000 funding for each selected school-based project.

These East Austin projects are among the 2015 grant recipients:

  1. Cycle Academies will offer educational bike rodeos at Metz Elementary and Zavala Elementary Schools to teach students about bike safety.
  2. Bike Repair Shops will provide students at Langford Elementary and Maplewood Elementary Schools with materials and training to perform basic bicycle maintenance. (see photo above)
  3. A new Wash and Grow Vegetable Station at Kealing Middle School will promote conservation by encouraging students to use the water captured in an existing rain garden to wash their hands after working in the garden and to clean produce.
  4. Metz Elementary School will create space for two shaded outdoor learning areas, surrounded by vegetable and native plant beds, as part of their Green Classroom Project.
  5. The Foundation Communities at M Station Green and Healthy Kids Program will provide instruction about water and energy conservation and waste reduction. Students will learn how “going green” protects the environment and benefits their health.
  6. Students at the Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy will plant new native plants and maintain the campus Rain Garden. Additionally, these young leaders will develop outreach materials to educate the surrounding community about the project and its benefits.
  7. At International High School, the Keep International Beautiful Campaign will raise awareness about the wide variety of materials that can be recycled and the importance of recycling.
  8. Students at Eastside Memorial High School will build educational display boards about recycling, collect and monitor recyclable materials from classrooms weekly, and create a recycling how-to video.
  9. At the Clifton Career Development School, students will install a 2,500-gallon storage system to harvest rainwater from the roof of an existing metal barn on campus.

Bright Green Future Grant applications are accepted each year from September 1 through October 31.

For more information, visit www.austintexas.gov/brightgreenfuture, or contact the grants program coordinator by email Mary Priddy or call (512) 974-2539.

Oct 06, 2015 - 09:07 am CDT

We have great news about reducing waste in Austin! The Household Hazardous Waste Facility and the Resource Recovery Center are merging to become a new Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center (2514 Business Center Drive), which will significantly expand local recycling and reuse opportunities.

Come celebrate the new facility’s Grand Opening on Oct. 17 from 10:00 a.m. to noon with family-friendly fun, including kids’ crafts, a photo booth, live music, an art display, and booths from local businesses, non-profit organizations and City departments.

At the new Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center, you can:

Recycle & Reuse Drop of Locations

Drop Off:

  • Household hazardous wastes, chemicals, and automotive fluids
  • Tires and scrap metal
  • Electronics and large appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, washers and dryers
  • Large hard plastic items
  • Lightbulbs and batteries
  • Brush and yard trimmings
  • Cardboard
  • All single-stream recycling items

Pick up (free):

  • Austin ReBlend paint
  • Mulch
  • Household cleaners and chemicals
  • Automotive fluids
  • Fertilizers and pesticides

Until the new Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center opens, the Household Hazardous Waste Facility and Resource Recovery Center will remain open as usual. For more information, visit austintexas.gov/department/austin-resource-recovery/locations.

May 05, 2015 - 10:27 am CDT

Field Notes…

Oscar Garza

It's amazing to see the major shifts that continue to occur in east Austin, both physical and philosophical. In this newsletter, we feature inspiring evidence of both.

One change to the physical landscape is the renovation of the former “Tank Farm” property. Once populated with petroleum storage tanks, this site incited frequent protests from nearby residents due to the emission of sickening fumes. Currently, thinkEAST is planning to redevelop this property into a multi-use, creative hub, with a design inspired by input from neighborhood groups and citizens.

As for philosophical transformation, we are witnessing an enthusiastic and ever-widening embrace of sustainable environmental practices. One shining example of new leadership in this direction comes from a student-led organization at Huston-Tillotson University, “Green is the New Black.” This recently formed group of young leaders is already attracting national attention.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading about some of the exciting changes in East Austin. As always, please feel free to contact me with your feedback and ideas:

As always, please feel free to contact me:
Oscar Garza
PH 512-974-1893

Proposed Conceptual Site

thinkEAST: "Tank Farm" Revival

Plans to renovate the once infamous “Tank Farm” property are underway, which will transform a formerly contaminated and reviled property into a highly anticipated mixed-use development. Six of the largest oil companies operated petroleum storage and distribution facilities on this property (between Airport Boulevard, Bolm Road, and Shady Lane) for decades until the early 1990s. Contamination migrated into the surrounding neighborhoods, degrading natural areas, making residents sick, and stagnating economic growth in the area. In the early 1990s, six neighborhood residents formed a grassroots environmental organization, PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources), to lead the fight for environmental justice and remove the Tank Farm from east Austin. This pressure from the community led governmental officials to investigate the property. The State ordered an assessment and cleanup, and fuel storage ended in 1993.

In 2012, developers Richard deVarga and Robert Summers purchased and rezoned the 24-acre property and formed thinkEAST, a model for sensitive development. The developers solicited input from community leaders and residents, earning their trust and support. Last year, thinkEAST joined forces with Austin nonprofit arts organization Fusebox to design an 18-month planning process for the community that prioritizes the needs of the immediate neighborhood, the arts, and creative industries. The inclusive and participatory planning process was awarded a $400,000 grant from the ArtPlace America consortium of federal agencies, private foundations, and financial institutions.

At the midpoint of that process, and as part of the 2015 Fusebox Festival held in April, Fusebox invited the entire community to participate directly in the planning and visioning of the former Tank Farm. Community members contributed ideas for the site’s renovation during four days of performances, installations, talks, workshops, and planning activities. The proposed development includes affordable living units and flexible work studios for a range of creative industries. The property is enhanced by its park-like location, near the City’s new East 7th Gateway Corridor and adjacent to the Boggy Creek Priority Woodlands, Govalle Park, the Southern Walnut Creek Hike and Bike Trail, and the planned Green Line metro rail.

For more information, visit www.thinkeastaustin.com.

Bright Green Future Grants

Schools can be an amazing instigator of creative action among students; however, finding the funds to implement project ideas can be challenging. The City of Austin has created a Bright Green Future Grants program to help fill this void and support innovative projects that help students in grades K-12 develop a lifelong passion for environmental protection.

Since the program’s inception in 2012, Austin-area students, teachers and parents have implemented a variety of projects on school campuses to support a “bright green future,” including composting systems, earth-friendly stormwater infrastructure, rainwater harvesting systems, organic gardens, bike academies, outdoor classrooms, and wildlife habitats

"A green mindset, coupled with problem-solving skills, is critical for our youth,” says the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Lucia Athens. “The creative thinking and evident passion and enthusiasm behind these projects give me great hope for our community’s future."

Projects funded by the Bright Green Future Grants have already achieved impressive results, including:

  • saving more than 65,000 gallons of water
  • traveling 17,000 miles by bikes in place of cars
  • decreasing waste more than 25% on four campuses through composting and recycling
  • producing more than 2,500 pounds of vegetables
  • growing 19 native species of plants

This competitive program provides funding for sustainability projects through sponsorships from the City’s Office of Sustainability, Austin Resource Recovery, Watershed Protection, and the Public Works Department. Applications are accepted each year from September 1 through October 31.

For more information, visit austintexas.gov/brightgreenfuture, or contact the grants program coordinator, Mary Priddy, by email or call (512) 974-2539.

Eastside Memorial High School students show off their new garden.
Eastside Memorial High School students show off their new garden.

Green is the New Black

Green is the New Black receives the “Best Booth” award at Austin’s 2014 Earth Day Festival.

For environmental protection to gain momentum in all parts of Austin, sustainability messaging must appeal to a diverse constituency, including communities of color. Green is the New Black (GITNB) is one of the leaders in a movement to infuse outreach and activism with an often-neglected perspective on race, culture, and community. GITNB, a student-led organization based at Huston-Tillotson University in east Austin, targets an African-American and Hispanic audience to widen the appeal of environmental conservation and foster “new shades of green” at the university and in the community.

In just its first year, GITNB has achieved notable success. Members competed against some of the most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the country to win the $75,000 top prize in the Ford HBCU Community Challenge in December. They won the honor of “Best Booth” at the 2014 Austin Earth Day Festival. At the 2014 SXSW festival, they led a panel discussing sustainability education, connections between student-led engagement and activism. They are now working with the City of Austin’s Transportation Division to expand student transportation options.

The organization has a strong presence both on-campus and beyond, working with community groups to open up a broader dialogue about sustainability, affordability, and environmental justice. Members also have reached out to a younger audience, working with students at nearby Blackshear Elementary School to build vegetable gardens on campus.

In recognizing that communities of color are too often left out of the “green” conversation, GITNB is not only making Austin more environmentally-friendly, but making our community more everybody-friendly.

For more information, visit greenisthenewblack.org.

Austin Materials Marketplace

Businesses and entrepreneurs in Austin and Travis County have a new resource to help find uses for unwanted materials. The Austin Materials Marketplace is a new public-private partnership that aims to reduce waste going to landfills by connecting businesses that have unwanted materials with businesses that can use those materials. In August 2014, the US Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD), together with Ecology Action of Texas and Austin Resource Recovery, launched this innovative program, in which one company’s waste becomes another company's raw material.

As of mid-April, 64 businesses and organizations have signed up to participate, and the number is growing steadily. The marketplace has helped find new homes for items ranging from unneeded office furniture and obsolete electronics to plastic chart holders.

"We are excited to introduce this resource to the Austin business community so that today’s waste products can become tomorrow’s new revenue source,” said Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery. “The launch of the Austin Materials Marketplace is an important step toward achieving Austin’s Zero Waste goal."

Since 1995, US BCSD has successfully implemented similar business-to-business material reuse projects in many other U.S. cities, as well as other countries. To implement the project, the business council teamed up with Austin-based Ecology Action of Texas, a nonprofit organization with deep roots in Austin’s recycling community.

This collaboration stimulates innovative and business-friendly solutions. As a 21-year member of the Austin business community, the US BCSD is excited to bring our work home to Austin," said Andrew Mangan, executive director of the US BCSD.

"Ecology Action is thrilled to be a part of bringing the practices and principles of landfill diversion that we have developed over the last 44 years into the mainstream of the Austin business community and business culture. This project is an incredibly significant milestone in our community’s path toward Zero Waste," said Joaquin Mariel, former co-director of Ecology Action.

To find out more about current participants, available materials, and wish list materials, visit austinmaterialsmarketplace.org.

Keep Austin Beautiful Dell Youth Achievement Award

Congratulations to Keep Austin Beautiful Dell Youth Achievement Award winner Carlos Venegas.Congratulations to Keep Austin Beautiful Dell Youth Achievement Award winner Carlos Venegas, a 7th grader at Martin Middle School (pictured right), and finalist Lorenzo Sanchez, a senior at Eastside Memorial High School. Recipients earn this award for implementing or maintaining an outstanding youth project or activity to clean, beautify, or restore an area or promote environmental stewardship.

Current Opportunities

FREE Clean Creek Camp: Youth ages 9-13, accompanied by an adult guardian, can enjoy trails, creeks, and springs this summer while learning! For more information and to register, visit austintexas.gov/CleanCreekCamp.

FREE Groundwater to Gulf Summer Institute for Texas Educators: Go caving, canoeing, hiking, and splashing in creeks while earning 22 continuing education credits! For more information and to register, visit http://tinyurl.com/py2zmsm.

REBATES for Business Waste Reduction: Qualifying Austin companies can save up to $1,800 by starting, expanding or improving recycling, composting or other waste diversion programs. Funding is limited – apply now! For complete details, visit austintexas.gov/zwbizrebate.

 

Mar 25, 2015 - 10:05 am CDT

What’s in your garden? Find out with free soil testing

The Soil Kitchen, a three-day opportunity for backyard gardeners to receive free soil tests, will take place during the Fusebox Festival at 1098 Jain Lane in East Austin on April 10-12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. School gardens and community gardens can be tested as well, and the results will help you to safely and effectively start or continue gardening.

How does it work?

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension, and the City of Austin will be on hand to test your soil for the presence of heavy metals and soil nutrients. Soil samples will be tested while you enjoy the festival’s great interactive activities, demonstrations and musical performances.

Enjoy the festival and get a free snack!

In exchange for your soil sample(s), we’ll give you a free snack!  Follow the steps below to prepare your soil for testing. We’re here to help your garden grow!

How to collect your soil sample:

  1. You’ll need a garden trowel, two zip-top plastic bags, a waterproof marker, and a clean, shallow pan.
  2. Label the bag(s) with the following information: your initials, the date you took your sample and the approximate location of your garden plot. PLEASE do not give your exact address.
  3. Go to your garden area and sample the soil in five to 10 different spots around the garden bed(s). Sample to a depth of six inches, using your trowel to make a cone shape into the soil and then extracting the sample. Place each of the collected samples into the shallow pan.
  4. When you have completed the sampling work, take your spoon and mix all the soil together in the shallow pan to obtain a more representative sample. If the soil is very wet, leave the soil to dry out in the pan overnight. Make sure to remove any rocks, grass or dead plant material that could get in the way.
  5. If you would like to have your soil sampled for the presence of heavy metals AND for soil nutrients, please use the collected soil to half-fill TWO separate zip-top bags.
  6. Fill your plastic bag(s) until it is half full and seal it shut.
  7. Drop your sample off at the Soil Kitchen. The soil nutrient information may be obtained while you wait. The heavy metals analysis may take a bit longer. We will give you a card that has information on how to obtain your soil results online.

The Soil Kitchen is sponsored by the City of Austin’s Brownfields Revitalization Office, the Office of Sustainability, and Parks and Recreation’s Sustainable Urban Agriculture & Community Gardens & Wildlife program. We hope to see you at the Austin Soil Kitchen for soil diagnostics, fun, and all the gardening tips you can imagine!

 

Dec 29, 2014 - 08:51 am CST

EAEI Logo

Oscar Garza

Many community improvement projects are achieved through partnerships between the City, neighborhood groups, and other entities. We are grateful to our community partners and delighted to share stories in this newsletter about resulting landscape improvements and other environmental activities in East Austin. In this issue, we’re highlighting a creek and trail restoration; the transformation of a former landfill; new funding to bring potentially contaminated properties back to productive use; and an entertaining, educational solar car event that was fueled by the sun, creative engineering, and adrenaline.

As always, please feel free to contact me:
Oscar Garza
PH 512-974-1893

If you would like to receive this information electronically twice each year, please visit www.austintexas.gov/PollutionPrevention. In the Public Awareness Programs section (middle of page), click the link "Subscribe to the biannual newsletter"

City of Austin and UT Give Boggy Creek a Helping Hand

Neigborhood childre enhoy the new additions to Boggy Creek Greenbelt.The next time you want to explore a beautiful area in Austin, check out the recently improved Boggy Creek hike and bike trail! Between spring 2013 and spring 2014, University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture students and the City of Austin restored natural areas and added features to enhance the visitor experience.

UT architecture students initiated the improvements through the Public Interest Design Studio, which addresses environmental issues by working closely with community members. The students targeted two locations stretching across 1.5 miles of the Boggy Creek greenbelt. The north end of the project, east of the MLK light rail stop, near the intersection of E. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Alexander Avenue, includes views of the creek from an old concrete plant that closed decades ago. The students built several platforms to help visitors walk down a steep slope from the high bluff to a heavily shaded area of the creek. The path provides visitors an opportunity to access the creek and appreciate nature in an urban park.

In the second section of the project, north of the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, visitors can now enjoy a creek-facing seating area for wildlife viewing, a second seating area with a view directed up to the live oak tree canopy, and a pavilion adjacent to the senior activity center. At the pavilion, educational signage explains how human activity changed the creek by removing the natural vegetation and confining the naturally meandering creek to a concrete channel. Additionally, visitors can learn about the community that formerly resided on this spot, including residents who were forced to move there in the 1920s and then forced to move away several decades later due to frequent flooding.

The City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department and Watershed Protection Department improved channel stability, reintroduced native vegetation along the creek, and extended the length of the trail.

All of these projects, directed to a community most in need, make the park a more desirable destination for neighborhood residents and community members. The transformation of this public space is a stepping stone to a healthier and more vibrant community.

For information about the UT project, visit: www.soa.utexas.edu/csd/PID/files/ PID_Final_Report_2013.pdf. For information about the City of Austin project, visit: www.austintexas.gov/ boggycreekrestoration.

 

Austin Energy Powered Sun Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas

Austin Energy Powered Sun Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. Solar powered cars reace around the Circuit of the Americas track.In July, the Circuit of The Americas welcomed back the Formula Sun Grand Prix powered by Austin Energy. The free event featured a day of solar car racing, as well as exhibits and activities for all ages.

The Formula Sun Grand Prix is a unique competition that showcases the innovative design, speed, and endurance of cars powered solely by the sun. Twenty student teams from around the world designed, built, and raced solar powered electric vehicles. The teams represented colleges and universities from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and India. The University of Michigan solar car team won 1st place, and the University of Texas at Austin solar car team took 11th place.

Austin Energy Solar Programs Manager Danielle Murray noted that Austin Energy’s sponsorship of the Formula Sun Grand Prix is just another example of the City’s support of renewable energy and the advancement of innovative technologies that help bring the costs of renewable energy down for consumers. “Electric vehicles are already gaining popularity in Austin, and perhaps one day we will all be driving clean solar cars that require no fuels except the energy from the sun," said Murray. “We cheer for the participants of the Formula Sun Grand Prix driving solar innovation and helping make yesterday’s science fiction tomorrow’s reality."

Event visitors also were able to race radio-controlled solar cars, participate in a children’s solar model car building workshop, and visit solar technology exhibits.

 

Shade Tree Mechanic.  Gear heads for clean water

Become a Shade Tree Mechanic!

Do you maintain your own vehicle? Do you change your car or truck’s oil at home? Take a big step toward keeping your surroundings clean for you and your family! The Watershed Protection Department’s Shade Tree Mechanic program helps reduce pollution commonly caused by home car repair. Check out the new video at http://tinyurl.com/kknknsk. Request a free evaluation of your car care practices and receive a free Shade Tree Mechanic oil change bucket! For more information, visit www.austintexas.gov/shadetreemechanic, or call 512-974-2550.

 

From Trashed to Treasured Property: The Grove Landfill Story

From Trashed to Treasured Property: The Grove Landfill Story.  An AmeriCorps olunteer hauls mulch for new trails.

In the late 1960s, the Grove Municipal Landfill operated as an open pit dump in the East Austin neighborhood of Montopolis. After closing in 1970, the open pit was subjected to many long years of illegal trash disposal and neglect.

The Rhizome Collective, a local grassroots environmental group, acquired the 10-acre site in 2004 with a mission to boost urban sustainability and enhance the quality of life of the surrounding community. They intended to transform the beleaguered property into an environmental justice education park, complementary to the adjacent City of Austin Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park.

They collaborated with the City’s Brownfields Redevelopment Office and received a $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields grant. The federal funds were used, in part, to purchase a vegetable oil powered tractor to help clean the site. From 2005 to 2006, hundreds of volunteers helped remove more than 10 tons of trash and more than 700 tires. Huge amounts of wood scraps and concrete were reused on-site for erosion control. More than 30 tons of metals were retrieved and recycled.

In 2009, the Collective lost its base of operation in East Austin and was unable to continue the cleanup. The following year, another local environmental organization, Ecology Action, took over the site and renamed it Circle Acres. The new steward of this land has a 40-year history of environmental activism, including protesting against the landfill previously located on the site.

Although Ecology Action was very experienced in the recycling of used plastic, glass, metals, and other resources, this was the organization’s first experience with “recycling” land. In 2012, Impact Austin awarded the group a grant to fund the development of Circle Acres’ master plan and infrastructure improvements. Ecology Action has partnered with the internationally acclaimed green building organization Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems and Glenrose Engineering to develop long-term goals for the reclamation and remediation of this important site.

Ecology Action discovered that trashed land is one of the most difficult, but most important, resources to recycle. The group is transforming this former landfill site into an ecological treasure and community resource, as well as a model of remediating and reclaiming contaminated urban land in an environmentally-responsible and socially- equitable way.

Ecology Action plans to announce a Circle Acres grand opening in early 2015. To learn more about Circle Acres and the Grove Municipal Landfill remediation process, visit www.ecology-action.org/grove-landfill-remediation.

Austin Receives $400,000 from EPA to Assess Potentially Contaminated Properties

Austin Resource & RecoveryThe City of Austin received $400,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess up to 20 blighted properties for revitalization. Brownfields are abandoned or under-utilized properties where reuse of the land is complicated by the suspected or confirmed existence of hazardous chemicals, pollutants, or contaminants. Austin Resource Recovery will work with residents, nonprofits, the business community, and other City departments to identify sites that can be redeveloped into community assets.

The ultimate goal of brownfield redevelopment is to ensure sustained livability within the Austin community into the future. In addition to reducing public exposure to hazardous materials, these grants will be a catalyst for economic development, job creation, and neighborhood sustainability and beautification in areas that need it most.

Nonprofits and local government entities can apply for a property assessment at www.austintexas.gov/brownfields, and may apply on behalf of a private developer if the project is of community benefit. The City will hold community meetings to engage stakeholders during the assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment process.

The City’s Brownfields Revitalization Office partners with the community to bring projects to fruition. One such successful partnership was the Guadalupe-Saldaña Net Zero Subdivision, which is built on a former brownfield site. Hundreds of tires, construction debris, and numerous other discarded items littered the site, due to years of illegal dumping. The City worked with community members, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and the EPA to clean the site, which is now an energy-efficient affordable housing community. Additional examples of former Austin brownfields are the African American Heritage Cultural Center, Mabel Davis Skate Park, the Homewood Heights Community Garden, and El Sapo restaurant on Manor Road.

To contact the City of Austin’s Brownfields Program Manager Christine Whitney about a particular brownfield site, call 512-974-6085, or email Christine.Whitney@austintexas.gov. For more information about the grants, the public engagement process, or to sign up for email updates about the City’s brownfields program, visit www.austintexas.gov/brownfields.

Plotting to Garden? Join the Blackshear Community!

Chickens that call Blackshear Community Garden Home

The Blackshear Community Garden, a dynamic communal growing space at 2011 East 9th Street, has individual and shared plots available for anyone interested in planting and harvesting their own vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Gardeners also pitch in to take care of the communal chickens and harvest eggs. The garden is often buzzing with educational, volunteer, and festive activities. Gardeners recently celebrated the beginning of fall with a volunteer day, clearing paths and sifting compost to prepare for a fresh new growing season. Blackshear takes part in an annual community urban farm bike ride and, throughout the year, hosts monthly volunteer days, special speakers and workshops, and a seasonal potluck.

Communal gardening is a great way to add more healthy foods and activity into your lifestyle, while meeting your neighbors and having fun! For more information about the garden, contact Liz McConnell at liz.j.mcconnell@gmail.com, or stop by and pin a note on the bulletin board.

 

May 22, 2014 - 07:49 am CDT

Field Notes - 20 Years of Environmental ServiceEAEI Logo

Oscar Garza

Welcome to the Spring/Summer issue of the Eastside Environmental Newsletter!

The number of changes in East Austin can be a bit overwhelming - new houses, roads, and businesses seem to be popping up everywhere! During this time of urban growth, it’s important for community members to help protect and improve the health and vitality of their neighborhoods and the environment. Want to get involved?

This issue also includes information to help East Austin residents save water and reduce risks from potential wildfire - very important topics during this time of drought!

  • Volunteer to help with a project or event led by community groups, schools, or City programs (www.austintexas.gov/volunteer).
  • Plan an activity to improve your neighborhood and recruit your neighbors to help!
  • Join forces with the City by reporting spills or pollution concerns, identifying abandoned or underused properties for potential cleanup and reuse, or participating in City incentive programs, such as recycling old refrigerator/freezers.

Residents new to the area might not be familiar with the East Austin community’s long history of activism – including removing polluting tank farms or replacing the decommissioned Holly Power Plant with green spaces. For years, East Austin has been an exemplary model of community participation and improvement. We look forward to engaging with an increasing number of residents and businesses to continue this tradition.

As always, please feel free to contact me:

Oscar Garza
512-974-1893
email

Students take charge of revitalizing their campus courtyard

Community Supports Student-Designed Campus Projects

Submitted by Nicole Welling, Eastside Memorial High School at Johnston Campus, and Carolyn M. Appleton, EcoRise Youth Innovations

Thanks to a $3,000 grant from the City of Austin’s “Bright Green Future” program, English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher Nicole Welling and six students from Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus (EMHS) are revitalizing a campus courtyard with raised garden beds, a rainwater catchment system, and a new outdoor classroom.

The City grant aims to help Austin-area students, teachers, and parents envision a “bright green future” through a variety of hands-on learning projects. Welling asked her students to design an outdoor learning space that utilizes sustainable building practices, adds value to their campus, and positively impacts the community.

Students’ engagement and leadership in the project reflects the increased academic performance of EMHS students in recent years. Their design for the gardens and outdoor structure creates a place for students to learn in an outdoor environment and for community members to interact.

The project is a collaborative effort. Mentoring support has been shared, and will continue to be provided, by the Austin Permaculture Guild, Upcycle Organics, Keep Austin Beautiful, Austin Community College’s Building and Construction Department, and EcoRise Youth Innovations. Parents and members of the community will share their knowledge of gardening, building techniques, and more.

This campus project is a work in process. Please contact Nicole Welling at 512-569-0595 or writetonicole@gmail.com if you have questions or would like to support the project by donating supplies or volunteering.

Visit www.austintexas.gov/brightgreenfuture to learn more about the City’s Bright Green Future grants program and www.austintexas.gov/raingardens to learn about sustainable stormwater solutions.

Austin Enviro Mechanics Program

Austin Enviro Mechanics Program

The Austin Enviro Mechanics program (formerly known as the Austin Clean Water Partners Program), a cooperative effort between the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department and local auto repair businesses, promotes businesses’ efforts to prevent pollution and help protect good water quality in Austin’s creeks and river.

Local consumers prefer to support businesses that help protect our community’s beauty and natural resources. For more information or to become a participant in the program and an environmental leader in your industry, call Chris Miller at 512-974-2550, or visit the website www.austintexas.gov/AustinEnviroMechanics.

Austin Resource Recovery

Reclaiming East Austin

It’s no easy task to bring vacant, run-down, potentially contaminated properties back to productive use. Just ask Christine Whitney with the City of Austin’s Brownfields Division. Although she just stepped into the role in October, Whitney is no stranger to the legal and environmental challenges that come with the job. Before joining the City of Austin, Whitney spent more than a decade with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) overseeing similar responsibilities.

Brownfields are underused or abandoned properties that might be contaminated. These properties are often rundown “eyesores” that negatively impact communities by decreasing property values, increasing crime, creating safety hazards, and restricting economic opportunity. Redevelopment of these sites can improve public health and the environment, as well as attract investment to provide housing, jobs, recreational opportunities, open space, and public facilities. As the Brownfields Program manager, Whitney orchestrates environmental assessments and cleanups on brownfields to encourage property reuse and neighborhood revitalization. “This position is a natural fit,” Whitney said. “I get to combine my love of helping people with my passion for improving the community we live in.”

In 2013, the City of Austin assisted in the reclamation process of three brownfields in East Austin:

  • Plaza Saltillo: The City partnered with the TCEQ and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess a four-block area adjacent to the Plaza Saltillo Metro stop between 4th and 5th Streets. The transitoriented development will include residential and commercial space.
  • Guadalupe-Saldaña Subdivision: The City partnered with TCEQ to complete the assessment and cleanup of two properties, which enabled the construction of 90 affordable housing units at the intersection of Tillery Street and Goodwin Avenue.
  • Festival Beach Food Forest: The City started the assessment of Holly Shores, located east of I-35 and north of Lady Bird Lake, as part of the Holly Shores Master Plan. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department Urban Forestry Program, as well as Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens Program, are working together with the Festival Beach Food Forest team to determine if the area just south of the existing Festival Beach Community Garden is suitable for a “food forest” of fruit and nut trees.

Christine Whitney, City of Austin - Brownfields Division

Whitney looks forward to finding ways to preserve the character of East Austin, while expanding opportunities for its residents. As the sole employee overseeing the program, Whitney depends largely on feedback from area residents. If you are interested in learning more about the program, visit www.austintexas.gov/brownfields; if you would like to contact Whitney about a particular brownfield site, call 512-974-6085 or email Christine.Whitney@austintexas.gov.

Ready, Set, Plant!

Ready, Set, Plant!

Are you familiar with the full impact of trees on our community? Most of us are grateful for the shade they provide during our long, hot summers, but trees also provide many environmental and economic benefits, such as cleaning the air, holding soil in place, cooling streets and buildings, providing food, beautifying neighborhoods, and much, much more!

Austin’s drought has taken a significant toll on our beloved trees, and the population of urban trees continues to decline. Additionally, the tree population is under increasing pressure from drought, disease, and urban development spurred by Austin’s rapid growth.

The City and the community have taken steps to protect trees and the valuable services they provide. The City’s Urban Forestry Program and Watershed Protection Department partnered with local organization, TreeFolks, Inc., to create the Ready, Set, Plant! program to support the planting of thousands of seedling (young) trees and shrubs.

We’ve recently emerged from an exciting season of growing Austin’s urban forest. Central Texas’ tree planting season runs from October 1 – March 31, the best time for new trees to become established before being subjected to the stress of Texas’ high summer temperatures.

Ready, Set, Plant! engaged the help of more than 400 volunteers to plant more than 11,000 tree seedlings during the recent planting season.

Visit the Austin Forest Portal at www.austintexas.gov/treeportal for all your tree-related questions.

Get PAID to Recycle Your Old Refrigerator/Freezer - FREE Appliance Pick-up Included!

Your old, inefficient refrigerator or freezer is costing you extra money and should be put permanently in the deep freeze!

Older refrigerators and freezers use two to three times more energy than a newer, Energy Star® model. An older unit in the garage during the summer has a significant impact on your electric bill! By recycling your old refrigerator/freezer, you can receive $50 per appliance (for up to two appliances) from Austin Energy, plus save $100 - $200 a year on your electric bill!

The Austin Energy Refrigerator/Freezer Recycling Program provides FREE pick-up of older, working refrigerators and freezers for Austin Energy customers. Austin Energy’s contractor recycles 98% of the materials in the appliances and safely disposes the ozone-depleting refrigerants.

To participate:

  • You must be an Austin Energy electric utility customer.
  • Your refrigerator or freezer must be an older unit, in working condition (cooling), and between 14–27 cubic feet in size.

Austin Energy residential customers will receive $50 per appliance (paid by check, within four-six weeks of pick-up), for up to two refrigerators, freezers, or a combination of the two appliances. To schedule the pick-up of your refrigerator or freezer, call (toll-free) 1-800-452-8685, or visit www.austinenergy.com.

When you buy a new refrigerator or freezer, look for the ENERGY STAR® label for the greatest energy savings.

Nov 28, 2018 - 02:34 pm CST

Pictured, Oscar Garza.
Oscar Garza

Field Notes

Welcome to the latest edition of the Eastside Environmental Newsletter! This newsletter’s goal is to keep the East Austin community informed about environmental activities, projects, and community outreach events in your neighborhoods. The City of Austin has committed to keeping you informed for more than 25 years.

In this issue, you will find articles about our progress on two recent developments: the revitalization of the Montopolis Recreation Center and the Colony Park community development planning.

The Sierra Club of Texas recently presented the East Austin Environmental Initiative (EAEI) with their Environmental Justice Award. EAEI is honored to have received this recognition as we continue with our goal to help the East Austin community resolve environmental issues.

In addition, we congratulate Chuck Lesniak, a founding member of the EAEI program in 1993, on his retirement from City service. We wish him well.

As always, please feel free to contact me, Oscar Garza, at 512-974-1893. Enjoy the articles and help us share what’s going on in East Austin.

From "Brownfield" to Butterfly, Montopolis Park Begins Transformation

A rendition of the future Montopolis Recreation and Community Center.
The future Montopolis Recreation and Community Center.

A metamorphosis will soon begin at Montopolis Park. A cornerstone of East Austin for decades, two aging facilities in this timeworn park will transform into a new recreation and community center, which will be a crown jewel among eastside parks.

Fifty years ago, this location at 1200 Montopolis Drive was home to a local gas station. Brownfields are abandoned or underused properties that were once the site of, or are located near, a business (such as a gas station, dry cleaner, or chemical plant) that used chemicals or potentially harmful substances. Before redevelopment or use, experts must test the buildings, land, and groundwater for lingering toxins and, if needed, clean up any potential contamination left behind from previous inhabitants.

In 2017, Austin’s Brownfields Revitalization Office performed testing in and around Montopolis Park. They first completed a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) at the park, which identified an area’s prior use as a gas station. A second ESA confirmed that no gas or related chemicals had reached groundwater. Finally, they performed an asbestos and lead-based paint survey on existing buildings to ensure workers’ safety during demolition. The survey identified asbestos in the building, which was removed and properly disposed of before demolition.

When completed, the revitalized, 33,000 square-foot recreation and community center will feature a commercial kitchen, multisport gymnasium, fitness room, track, teen space, computer lab, conference rooms, and educational programming areas. This new facility is currently projected to open in spring 2020.

The Brownfields Revitalization Office receives grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to provide property owners with free assessments of properties to determine potential risk, plus low-interest loans for any necessary cleanup. For more information about the recreation and community center project, please visit www.austintexas.gov/department/montopolis-recreation-and-community-center-project.  If you have questions about brownfields or the steps the City of Austin took to clean up Montopolis Community Center, please email brownfields.

Preserving Our City's Forest… Think Trees!

Think Trees logo and City of Austin logo.

The urban forest provides social, ecological, and economic benefits that greatly enhance the quality of life in Austin, so the City encourages community members to “Think Trees!” City of Austin Urban Forester Emily King notes, “Just like the parks where we play and the bike lanes we use to commute to work, our urban forest is a community asset.”

Below are a number of ways that you can get involved in supporting Austin’s urban forest!

APPLY FOR AN URBAN FOREST GRANT: This grant was created to support tree projects across Austin that benefit the urban forest ecosystem and strengthen community connections to nature and each other. Learn more and apply at www.bit.ly/UFGrant..

GET FREE TREES: Planting trees around your home will lower your energy bills, make your home more beautiful, and clean the air you breathe. Through the NeighborWoods program, City of Austin residents are eligible to receive free trees!  Visit www.bit.ly/freetreeatx.

EDUCATE YOUR SCHOOL OR COMMUNITY GROUP: Interested in having the Community Tree Preservation Division present in your classroom or at a community meeting? Contact Conservation Program Coordinator Aimee Aubin.

VISIT THE TREE INFORMATION CENTER: This webpage provides answers on how to get involved in our urban forest, understanding Austin’s tree ordinances, protecting your trees, and more. Visit www.austintexas.gov/trees.

CONNECT ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Austin Nature in the City promotes upcoming events and news from nature-based programs across the city. Follow @naturecityatx on Instagram and Twitter, or follow the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/naturecityatx.

 

A community Tree Preservation Division staff host a tree education activity at Bartholomew Park.
Community Tree Preservation Division staff host a tree education activity at Bartholomew Park.

Colony Park Community Ready for Transformation

The Colony Park subdivision began as a working-class neighborhood that once included Bergstrom Air Force Base troops and veterans. When the air base closed in 1993, most base workers sold their homes. Many of the houses became rental properties of absentee owners who neglected them over time.

In 2001, the City of Austin bought approximately 200 acres next to Colony Park and the Lakeside subdivision near Lake Walter E. Long. Following this purchase, the City set aside 50 of the acres for a regional park. Another portion became the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center and Overton Elementary School.

In 2013, the City won a federal grant to develop a proposal for a master-planned neighborhood on this property. An exciting new Colony Park community is now beginning to take shape. At a recent meeting, the City laid out a vision of a master plan for a mixed-use, mixed-income development that will unite the former Colony Park neighborhood on the west with the Lakeside neighborhood on the east. Residents and planners will work together on the area’s development.

The plan calls for a mixture of single-family homes, town homes, commercial use, and park space. Residents and planners are discussing the addition of a health clinic and a Capital Metro Rail station that would run from Elgin to downtown Austin. Catellus Development Corporation, the same organization that transformed Austin’s old airport into the Mueller neighborhood, is the recommended Colony Park Master Developer.

To find out more about the Colony Park project and to sign up for the newsletter, visit www.colonyparkatx.org.  Follow the Colony Park Sustainable Community Initiative on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CPSCI/.

A map of Colony Park, a subdivision in far East Austin, off Loyola Lane between US 183 and the Texas 130 toll road.
Colony Park is a subdivision in far East Austin, off Loyola Lane between US 183 and the Texas 130 toll road.

Leaving a Legacy of Success

Chuck Lesniak, City of Austin Environmental Officer, retired after 28 years with the Watershed Protection Department. He was charged with ensuring environmental protection as the highest priority in public and private development. Mr. Lesniak was instrumental in creating the East Austin Environmental Initiative (EAEI) program in the early 1990s. He provided valuable services to the community during the crucial period of the Tank Farm remediation. The EAEI team is grateful for his outstanding public service and dedication. We extend our best wishes for a wonderful future.

The Watershed Protection Department staff recognized Chuck Lesniak (photo center) at his retirement party.
The Watershed Protection Department recognized Chuck Lesniak (photo center) at his retirement party.

East Austin Environmental Initiative Receives Sierra Club Award

In spring 2018, the East Austin Environmental Initiative (EAEI) received the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter’s Environmental Justice Award for outstanding service to the East Austin community. This award recognizes individuals or organizations that have performed outstanding work in identifying and addressing environmental problems with a disproportionately adverse effect on communities of color and/or low-income communities.

Oscar Garza, coordinator of EAEI, a program of the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department, accepted the award on behalf of the City. The EAEI program helps residents and organizations address environmental challenges and promotes environmentally sustainable activities and achievements in East Austin.  In his role as coordinator, Mr. Garza has helped communities clean up several waste dump sites, including the recent Red Bluff. He also led the multi-year cleanup at Homewood Heights, next to a former incinerator waste dump. This East Austin neighborhood off Rosewood Avenue now boasts a beautiful hillside with trees and a community garden.  Mr. Garza has facilitated vital communication and awareness of East Austin success stories through the Eastside Environmental Newsletter and is also a member of the City’s Pollution Prevention and Spills Response Team.

The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States and has a long track record of sustainability actions, including passing laws to protect open spaces and natural resources and establishing the National Parks System.

Oscar Garza receives Sierra Club Award on behalf of the East Austin Environmental Initiative.
Oscar Garza receives Sierra Club Award on behalf of the East Austin Environmental Initiative.

East Austin Environmental Initiative
May 23, 2018 - 10:24 am CDT

Oscar Garza

Collaboration. What is it good for? Absolutely everything!

Collaboration is a theme that runs through our current newsletter. But what is collaboration? It simply means people working together to achieve a desired goal.

In this issue, we’re pleased to highlight a couple of exemplary collaborations in east Austin: Austin Youth River Watch participants and St. Johns community volunteers working together on the MLK Day Buttermilk Creek Cleanup and collaborative efforts that were showcased in the fascinating Juntos/Together exhibit at the George Washington Carver Museum’s Cultural and Genealogy Center.

For the City’s East Austin Environmental Initiative program, collaboration means continuing a 24-year effort to improve the East Austin community and environment.

East Austin has a nationally recognized legacy of collaboration between many grassroots groups and community organizations that makes us all proud.

We hope you enjoy the articles and help us share what’s going on in East Austin. As always, please feel free to contact me!

Oscar Garza 512-974-1893

If you would like to receive this information electronically twice each year, please visit www.austintexas.gov/PollutionPrevention – in the Public Awareness Programs section (middle of page), click the “Subscribe to the biannual newsletter” tab.

Cleanup at Buttermilk Creek

Austin Youth River Watch and community members collect 1,000 pounds of trash.  Volunteers cleaning up Buttermilk Creek.

Written by: Raquel Veliz, an Austin Youth River Watch participant from Austin High School

Raquel is a member of Austin Youth River Watch, an afterschool and summer program for high school students that combines environmental education with youth development. The program’s mission is to transform and inspire youth through environmental education, community engagement, and adventure.

On January 15, 2018, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a few of my fellow River Watchers and I piled our equipment, along with ourselves, into vans and headed off to Buttermilk Creek for a morning of picking up trash and planting native grasses.

Upon arriving, we propped up our little table and set out our gear. Within a few minutes, volunteers from the St. John community arrived, eager and ready to get started. As the event began, everybody set out to either plant native eastern gamagrass or pick up trash all along the creek.

One might think that picking up trash would be painfully boring, but as I looked around I saw smiles upon all faces as people laughed and joked and competed to see who could get the most trash into their bags! A couple of our River Watchers even pulled on wader suits, hopped into the water and had a blast collecting trash that floated just below the water’s surface. Everyone enjoyed the company of friends and family as they worked. Within a few hours, we planted 94 native plugs of eastern gamagrass and picked up about 1,000 pounds of trash! It was truly a wonderful sight to see not only the park after the major cleanup, but also to see our community come together to help restore our park.

As the event wrapped up, the volunteers began to leave. My fellow River Watchers and I gathered around a picnic table to enjoy lunch. We all shared what we considered the best thing about the day, and we all agreed that this was something that we will all do again!

Juntos/Together Exhibit Showed East Austin Success

The Juntos/Together: Black and Brown Activism in Austin poster.

The Juntos/Together: Black and Brown Activism in Austin, Texas From 1970-1983 exhibit was on display from early January to early April at the George Washington Carver Museum’s Cultural and Genealogy Center in East Austin.

The exhibit showcased collaborations between Latino and African American activists that brought attention to various injustices in the East Austin community, including lack of access to government aid and environmental concerns.

The exhibit showed how groups like the Austin Brown Berets, a local Mexican-American grassroots organization, and the Black Citizens Task Force, an African American socio/economic justice group, leveraged their power to create a better environment in East Austin. In the 1970s, these and similar groups fought to end the Town Lake boat races, which were polluting Town Lake (now called Lady Bird Lake) and causing riverbank erosion.

Many of these changes might not have been successful if the groups had not unified their messages. Through organized networks, they were able to find resources needed to resolve these issues. The exhibit provides an in-depth look at these alliances and how they helped to bring about positive responses to social, economic, and environmental problems facing the East Austin community.

The Juntos/Together exhibit was curated by archivists Alan Garcia, founder of ATX Barrio Archive, an Instagram account that documents and celebrates East Austin’s Black and Chicano history, and Rachel E. Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist at the University of Texas LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies & Collections.

Pollution Prevention and Reduction Team

Sharon Cooper (photo center), who managed the Watershed Protection Department’s Pollution Prevention and Reduction section and was instrumental in creating the East Austin Environmental Initiative, has retired after 30 years of service with the City of Austin. Our creeks and lakes are cleaner and healthier because of her management. We are grateful for her hard work and extend our best wishes for a wonderful future.

Tannehill Branch Creek at Givens Park – Upcoming Erosion Repair

Givens Park
Givens Park picnic area threatened by erosion of Tannehill Branch Creek

An illustrated map og the Givens park project
Tannehil Creek Watershed at Givens Park - Stream Restoration Project Map

 

The City’s Watershed Protection Department (WPD) is planning improvements for a portion of Tannehill Branch Creek that runs through Givens Park in East Austin. The park is named in memory of Dr. Everett Givens, who was a well-known East Austin dentist and civic leader. Next to the park is Plummer’s Cemetery, a historically African American cemetery established in the late 1800s.

Severe erosion along the creek has damaged portions of the park. While erosion, the loss of soil by moving water, can be due to natural causes, severe erosion is usually due to increased or new development nearby. In Givens Park, erosion has caused the creek to widen and could cause the loss of large trees and a park picnic bench. Additionally, WPD environmental studies show that Tannehill Branch Creek suffers poor water quality.

This project will restore a 300-foot-long section of Tannehill Branch Creek that is downstream of the Givens Park pavilion. The project will stabilize the creek bank and revegetate the area around the creek with native plants. Additionally, a shallow rain garden will be constructed at the southwest corner of the parking lot near Oak Springs Drive. This garden will capture and filter stormwater from the parking lot, helping reduce pollution and creekside erosion.

The project is currently being designed, and construction is expected to begin in late 2018. For more information, visit www.austintexas.gov/tannehillbranchcreek.

[Re]vers Pitch Competition Announces 2018 Winners!

[Re]Verse Pitch Competition Winner Waste Free Grain Flour.
[Re]Verse Pitch Competition Winner Waste Free Grain Flour.

The [Re]Verse Pitch Competition program, funded by the City of Austin, encourages the reuse of a company’s discarded, but otherwise valuable, waste material into a new product. The program supports Austin Resource Recovery’s goal for Austin to reach zero waste by 2040.

Many businesses regularly dispose of items no longer needed. However, unwanted items, such as empty wine bottles from a wine tasting room, oyster shells from a seafood market, or bags full of cloth scraps from a garment factory, can be repurposed. A resourceful person or company can contact the business and offer to make something useful with those items.

For the past three years, the [Re]Verse Pitch Competition has offered the opportunity for inventive folks to compete to see who can come up with the best use of waste material. The competitors work with mentors and advisors to develop business ideas. Two winners receive cash prizes from a $20,000 prize pool and receive services, such as business incubation and coaching, to help them start their new venture.

This year, the winners were Waste Free Grain Flour (Seed Stage Innovation Prize and People’s Choice – Seed Stage), Evo Conversion Systems, LLC (Growth Stage Innovation Prize), and Classic Childhood (People’s Choice – Growth Stage).

Congratulations to the winners and all the competitors! For more information on the [Re]Verse Pitch Competition, visit www.reversepitch.org or email Natalie Betts.

[Re]Verse Pitch Competition Winner Evo Conversion Systems
[Re]Verse Pitch Competition Winner Evo Conversion Systems

Blackland Prairie Study In East Travis County

For many years, the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department (WPD) has studied trees and other vegetation that grow along local creeks. These vegetated areas along the water are called “riparian buffers,” and they benefit our creeks and river by improving water quality and preventing erosion. Most of WPD’s riparian buffer studies have been in central and west Austin; however, a recent study took place in far eastern Travis County, around and east of U.S. 183. This area, located in the Blackland Prairie region, has deep, fertile soils and is mostly agricultural. WPD’s goal was to document conditions of the creeks and their riparian buffers before major development occurs there.

The results of the study surprised WPD staff, who expected to find forested land along the creeks in this less-developed area. Instead, these riparian buffers have much less plant diversity and fewer trees compared to more developed areas in central Austin (scoring, on average, half that of urban Austin sites). Even with little development in these Blackland Prairie watersheds, erosion has negatively impacted the area’s creeks. Severe erosion has caused the creek banks to be too dry to support strong vegetation. The lack of surrounding vegetation enables rainwater to enter the creek in powerful surges, leaving the creeks unable to support healthy aquatic habitat. WPD hopes these findings and further investigations will guide improvements to the City’s regulations and policies. These efforts will help restore watershed function to these degraded riparian buffers and protect them from future damage.

Creek banks without enough vegetation.
Creek banks without enough vegetation

Creek with severe erosion.
Creek with severe erosion

 

East Austin Environmental Initiative
Nov 08, 2017 - 08:48 am CST

Oscar Garza

Field Notes

Welcome to the latest edition of the Eastside Environmental Newsletter! This newsletter is part of our continuing effort to inform the East Austin community about environmental activities, projects, and community outreach events around town. We’ve been writing these newsletters for almost 20 years!

In this issue, you can read how the City took a giant step forward with its commitment to environmental justice by creating the new Equity Office and how a new grant is helping revitalize blighted properties in East Austin. You’ll also find out about award-winning teacher Sam DeSanto and the green projects he, his students, and fellow staff have created on the campus of Brooke Elementary School.

As always, please feel free to contact me, Oscar Garza, at 512-974-1893. Enjoy the articles and help us share what’s going on in East Austin.

Oscar Garza 512-974-1893 email If you would like to receive this information electronically twice each year, please visit www.austintexas.gov/PollutionPrevention – in the Public Awareness Programs section (middle of page), click the “Subscribe to the biannual newsletter” tab.

Mr. DeSanto and some of his students pose with one of the awards earned in 2017.
Mr. DeSanto and some of his students pose with one of the awards earned in 2017.

Chickens and Rabbits and Bees, Oh My!  Brooke Elementary wins Ecorise Awards

Brooke Elementary School stands on Tillery Lane near a handful of busy auto repair shops. A row of tall sycamore trees stands guard along the school’s chain link fence, as if to protect the campus from the noise and commotion of the city. These trees are only a small part of this remarkable campus. Brooke’s unconventional grounds boast flowers, miniature ponds, and chicken coops.

Students here learn about life cycles as they tend their own vegetable gardens and the many fruit trees on campus. They learn about nature as they chase butterflies that are attracted to the flowers that students planted in the school yard. They take care of their chickens, rabbits, and ducks. The school sells honey, vegetables and chicken eggs at their studentdriven farmers’ market. Proceeds of the sales are given to the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) for school improvements, and students learn invaluable lessons in the outdoor learning environment.

Austin-based nonprofit EcoRise, which teaches sustainability, design innovation, and social entrepreneurship, recognized Brooke Elementary School with two awards in 2017. EcoRise gave their first-ever Legacy Award to Brooke’s reading teacher Sam DeSanto. Mr. DeSanto has guided students and the community in creating a very impressive living campus for the past 18 years. EcoRise gave the second award, funded by the City’s Office of Sustainability Bright Green Future Grants program, to Mr. DeSanto’s students for their Beehive Education project. The National Wildlife Federation has also recognized Brooke as part of their Eco-Schools USA program, which helps schools and students integrate sustainability into the curriculum and onto school grounds.

Congratulations to Brooke Elementary School and Mr. Sam DeSanto on the Eco- Rise awards! Keep up the great work!

Romeo Rodriguez January 20, 1948—March 30, 2017In Remembrance of Romeo Rodriguez

The East Austin Environmental Initiative team remembers and honors local journalist and publisher Romeo Rodriguez, who passed away in March 2017. Mr. Rodriguez founded Austin’s bilingual ARRIBA Newspaper, which he produced for over 37 years. It covered issues important to the Latino community, including health care, politics, culture, and the arts. His groundbreaking work inspired new journalists to follow in his footsteps, and the newspaper he founded shed a bright light on Austin’s multifaceted Spanish and bilingual cultures.

 

City's New Equity Office to Address Equal Representation

Cities across the United States, including Austin, are looking for innovative ways to create equality for their citizens. Austin recently joined Seattle, Portland, Washington D.C., Boston, and San Antonio by creating an office that specifically addresses equity issues.

In a 2015 memo, Austin Mayor Steve Adler proposed that City Council discuss the idea of creating an office to address equity issues. “While Austin prides itself on being a wonderful place to live, due to a number of inequities, it can be a difficult place for people of color,” he wrote. The Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission was instrumental in getting the Equity Office off the ground, and City Council approved $183,000 to get the office started in 2016.

Austin’s new Equity Office, headed by Brion Oaks, focuses on hiring issues and funding allocation. It is also responsible for monitoring other equity problems citywide. Mr. Oaks comes to Austin from a long career with the American Heart Association, where he focused on minority communities’ access to health care. Former City Manager Mark Ott said, “It’s clear to me that his work in that area will serve him well as he helps guide Austin to a more equitable future for all our residents and employees.”

Citizens can access the Equity Office by calling the program coordinator, Gabriella Beker, at 512-974-9077.

Austin Brownfields Revitalization Office. Brownfield before and after.

EPA Grant to Benefit East Austin

The City of Austin has received an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant to help clean up contaminated land in East Austin. The Brownfields Revitalization Office, an Austin Resource Recovery program that began in 1998, will administer the $820,000 grant.

Brownfields are properties that are abandoned or underutilized. These properties are difficult to redevelop because of real or perceived environmental contamination. The 1928 Koch and Fowler City Plan, which included poor zoning restrictions, permitted industrial facilities such as power plants, fuel tank farms, and cement plants to operate in East Austin. The result of that plan is hundreds of brownfield sites in East Austin that hinder redevelopment.

Traditional banks may not fund redevelopment for brownfields.

EPA loans bridge the gap between cleaning and redevelopment. The loans will be interest-only until the cleanup is complete. Borrowers can have their businesses up and running before repayment is required. The grant will also make it easier for property owners to receive a traditional loan once the environmental issues are resolved.  Such loans will provide funds for public or private entities to develop properties that can provide a public benefit, such as a public park, affordable housing, or local jobs.

"This revolving loan fund grant means we will now be able to assess properties, clean contamination and remove barriers to community redevelopment," said Christine Whitney, the City’s Brownfields Revitalization Program Manager. "Helping facilitate land recycling is just one way we are responding effectively to the high expectations of our community."

Property owners or prospective buyers who have discovered contamination at a site can apply for a cleanup loan online at AustinTexas.gov/brownfields.

Austin Energy Piloting Innovative Energy in East Austin

Austin Energy reaches out to the community to introduce its solar energy project. Local artists
Austin Energy reaches out to the community to introduce its solar energy project.

Austin Energy is currently working in East Austin to solve one of the world’s toughest energy problems: how to store solar energy and make it available for homes and businesses when the sun doesn’t shine.

Austin Energy – the city-owned electric utility – received $4.3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to fund the Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar Photovoltaics project (SHINES). SHINES is a pilot program that will test the abilities of solar energy systems, batteries, and smart inverters to store and send solar energy. This innovative study will investigate technologies that could bring the power of the sun to Austin residents, day or night, rain or shine. Additional funding for the program comes from Austin Energy and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The Mueller and the Springdale Road/Airport Boulevard areas of Northeast Austin are the focus of this innovative, multi-year project. During the study, Austin Energy will tie two energy storage systems directly to Austin’s electric grid. One energy storage system pairs a battery with a 2 megawatt community solar farm in the Springdale Road/Airport Boulevard area. The project helps to transform this former home of a toxic-polluting tank farm into a leader in clean energy innovation. The second battery storage project is in the Mueller neighborhood.

By testing the integration of battery storage, solar energy systems, and smart technologies, Austin residents will be part of a bold, nationwide effort to determine the best ways to apply these technologies and reduce costs for everyone.

Visit www.austinenergy.com/go/shines for more information.

East Austin Spirit in the Trees

Local artists created sculptures from the dead tree trunks found at the former East Austin Tank Farm site.

Local artists created sculptures from the dead tree trunks found at the former East Austin Tank Farm site.

Local artists created sculptures from the dead tree trunks found at the former East Austin Tank Farm site.

When East Austin artist Daniel Llanes saw dead trees at the site of the former East Austin Tank Farms on Springdale Road, he didn’t see ruin. He saw potential.

Several major oil companies once kept large vessels filled with petrochemicals on this piece of land. Leaks caused soil and groundwater contamination, and long-time residents of the surrounding neighborhood had to evacuate their homes after an explosion.

In the early 1990s, the East Austin community, led by environmental activist group PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources), began a herculean effort that resulted in the closure of the now infamous East Austin Tank Farms. After many years of cleanup, developers purchased the site in 2012 and began working on a project called thinkEAST that features a mix of affordable housing and live/work spaces for artists. Last year, during a thinkEast development event, Llanes noticed many dead trees at the site. He thought he could rescue them for a new generation of East Austin residents.

Llanes teamed up with master sculptor Victor Torres to give the trees new life by transforming them into sculptures that honor the neighborhood’s history and culture. Llanes and East Austin activists hope the large-scale, tree-trunk carvings will help their community learn about the struggle to close the tank farms. The “Spirit in the Trees” exhibit featured the new sculptures. The sculptures now are located at the thinkEAST development site at 5600 Jain Lane.

Austin Resource Recovery Offers Safe Medication Disposal

Do you have old over-the-counter or prescription medications in your bathroom cabinet that you don’t know how to dispose? The City’s Austin Resource Recovery department can help.

Austin Resource Recovery has responded to the need for year-round drug disposal by co-sponsoring two medication drop-off bins in Austin. Individuals can drop off unused or expired medications for free and anonymously.

The bins accept pills, creams, inhalers and liquid medications. Items that are not accepted include thermometers, batteries, needles, and illegal drugs. A complete list of items that are and are not accepted is available at austintexas.gov/drugs. You can also find more information at this site on how to best dispose of medications if you cannot make it to one of these locations.

Disposing of unwanted drugs securely can benefit everyone. It prevents people from misusing the drugs and keeps them away from children and pets. Safe disposal also protects the environment by keeping medications out of landfills and sewer systems.

Call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 for more information.

Drop-off bin locations:

Travis County Constable, Precinct 5
1003 Guadalupe St. Monday - Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
(Short-term parking is available in the parking lot.)

Forty Acres Pharmacy
(inside the UT Student Services Building)
100 W. Dean Keaton St. Monday – Friday 9:00 am to 5:30 pm
(Parking is available in the garage behind the pharmacy.)

East Austin Environmental Initiative
May 05, 2016 - 02:28 pm CDT

Field Notes…

Oscar GarzaGreetings, and welcome to our latest edition of the Eastside Environmental Newsletter! This newsletter highlights East Austin area activities, projects, and community outreach events. In this issue, we explore some exciting new initiatives, including an East Austin historic survey and the Spirit of East Austin – the City’s resurged commitment to equitable economic development. We also bring updates about continuing City initiatives, such as the Watershed Protection Department’s Clean Campus Program that engages students with exciting, hands-on learning and outdoor service activities.

As always, please feel free to contact me with your feedback and ideas:
Oscar Garza
PH 512-974-1893

Spirit of East Austin

Spirit of East Austin

Austin is one of the fastest developing cities in the nation, currently offering a strong job market, a vibrant entertainment scene, and a host of other cultural activities; however, not all areas of Austin are benefiting from the rapid growth. The City’s demographic study of East Austin showed great disparities in income, employment, and educational attainment between those who live in the “Eastern Crescent” (all of Travis County east of IH-35, with a few parcels west of the interstate) and Travis County as a whole.

The City of Austin hosted a community forum to engage the East Austin community in a planning process for equitable economic and community development. This Spirit of East Austin Community Forum, held in September at the Travis County Expo Center, brought East Austin residents and stakeholders together to discuss existing development efforts and to identify three to five substantial and achievable goals or projects to transform the area.

During the forum, Mayor Adler, Council Member Houston, City Manager Ott, and County Judge Eckhardt described their hopes for and commitment to the residents of East Austin. Attendees watched a video describing the history of segregation and disinvestment in the Eastern Crescent and joined small groups to discuss one of 14 themes:

Spirit fo East Austin
Citizens participate in the Spirit of East Austin Forum

  1. Equity, Culture, Diversity
  2. Neighborhood Character
  3. Transportation
  4. Housing and Affordability
  5. Family Support and Social Services
  6. Justice & Law Enforcement
  7. Sustainability, Prevention, & Environment
  8. Food Access
  9. Health
  10. Education
  11. Jobs, Employment, & Training
  12. Business & Entrepreneurship
  13. Public Facilities
  14. Government & Engagement

The community forum was part of an ongoing effort to overcome some of the disparities that have negatively affected East Austin communities. To learn more or to become involved in the Spirit of East Austin initiative, please visit www.mayoradler.com/spirit-of-east-austin.

Clean Creek Campus
Sims Elementary students clean up Boggy Creek in Givens Park

Elementary Students Explore and Restore Local Creek

Thirty 4th graders tossing mud balls might sound like an alarming behavioral issue… but it was all part of good fun and ecological restoration for Sims Elementary students, who pitched in to help protect Boggy Creek at Givens Park!

The activity was part of the Clean Creek Campus program, hosted by Keep Austin Beautiful and the City’s Watershed Protection Department for 3rd-8th graders. Participating classrooms receive two interactive (and standards-aligned) lessons focused on water quality protection, followed by a service project outside the classroom. In the last school year, the program reached nearly 2,000 students in 19 schools.

Sims Elementary 4th grade classes have participated in the program for the past two years. For their service project, they tossed seed balls (a mixture of clay, compost and native plant seeds) into a Grow Zone, a formerly mowed creekside area where native vegetation is allowed to grow, reviving the ecology of the creek and natural beauty of the area. As part of their service project, the students also removed 10 bags of trash from the creek, including a crutch, a bicycle tire, a chair, and numerous fast food wrappers.

Givens Park was an ideal site for the restoration project since recent floods had washed a large amount of litter into the creek, and WPD had recently established a Grow Zone in the area. Students learned how trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses growing around the creek help filter some of the pollution that washes into the creek when it rains.

We’re grateful for our volunteers of all ages, who help protect and restore Austin’s creeks! Learn more about creekside restoration at www.austintexas.gov/creekside and about the Clean Creek Campus program at https://keepaustinbeautiful.org/programs/clean-creek-campus.

City begins historic survey of East Austin

A historic home in East Austin.The City’s Historic Preservation Office has contracted a historic preservation planning and management company to conduct a survey of East Austin. The company will research, photograph, and document residential, commercial, and other structures to determine the existence of historic landmarks and potential boundaries for historic districts.

Over the next few months, East Austin residents might observe consultants taking photos of various structures. During the year-long process, city staff will hold public meetings to solicit feedback and gather information from residents and property owners within the survey area. Residents are encouraged to share their stories or interesting facts about a home or structure with the photographers or at a public meeting.

Upon completion, the survey will delineate important neighborhood characteristics worthy of preservation and make the information available to property owners and neighborhoods interested in writing applications for local historic districts or landmark designations.

For more information, contact Jerry Rusthoven, Planning Manager, at 512-974-3207 or email Jerry Rusthoven.

Fresh Art. Fresh Water

A mural painted over a storm drain.
A mural painted over a storm drain.
A mural painted over a storm drain.

Fresh Art. Fresh Water logo.Creeks and lakes are a big attraction for Austin residents and tourists! The natural beauty of our waterways attract thousands of people who walk, jog, bike, boat, picnic, and play. Events of all sizes are based in and near our water, contributing greatly to our city’s culture and healthy economy. Clean water is a wonderful place for people and pets to cool off in our hot climate and is essential to sustain Austin’s unique wildlife populations. The Colorado River (including Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin) runs deep in the heart of Austin.

Activities on land can significantly deteriorate Austin’s water quality. Litter and pollutants (motor oil, pet waste, pesticides, etc.) that are left on the land will wash into our waterways when it rains, directly or through storm drains on our streets. Local artists painted water-themed designs on ten storm drains around Austin to raise awareness that these unobtrusive curbside cutouts carry pollutants directly to our creeks and river.

This public education project promotes the importance of protecting Austin’s water quality and encourages community members to take actions that show their #creeklove, including using least-toxic gardening practices, picking up pet waste, not littering, and more. For more information and to view the painted storm drains, visit www.austintexas.gov/freshartfreshwater.

 

Puppet Show Engages Families in Growing Friendly Gardens

Puppet ShowThis spring, the Austin Public Library Literature Live team entertained families with an original, musical puppet show about sustainable gardening, based on Oscar Wilde’s classic The Selfish Giant. The puppet show’s theme supported the City of Austin’s Grow Green program, which promotes yard care and gardening techniques that are healthy for people and the planet, including least-toxic ways to address challenging pest issues. At the end of the show, attendees received packets of native wildflower seeds, a color-your-own native plant themed mask, and temporary tattoos featuring Grow Green characters. For more information about Literature Live, visit http://library.austintexas.gov/literature-live/home and for more information on earth-friendly gardening, visit www.GrowGreen.org.

 

Bike Repair Shops will provide students at Langford Elementary and Maplewood Elementary Schools with materials and training to perform basic bicycle maintenance.

Grants Support a Bright Green Future for Schools

The City of Austin’s Bright Green Futures Grants program provides funding for sustainability initiatives at local elementary, middle, and high schools. The competitive grant program (sponsored by the Office of Sustainability and funded by Austin Resource Recovery, and the Watershed Protection, Public Works, and Transportation departments) provides up to $3,000 funding for each selected school-based project.

These East Austin projects are among the 2015 grant recipients:

  1. Cycle Academies will offer educational bike rodeos at Metz Elementary and Zavala Elementary Schools to teach students about bike safety.
  2. Bike Repair Shops will provide students at Langford Elementary and Maplewood Elementary Schools with materials and training to perform basic bicycle maintenance. (see photo above)
  3. A new Wash and Grow Vegetable Station at Kealing Middle School will promote conservation by encouraging students to use the water captured in an existing rain garden to wash their hands after working in the garden and to clean produce.
  4. Metz Elementary School will create space for two shaded outdoor learning areas, surrounded by vegetable and native plant beds, as part of their Green Classroom Project.
  5. The Foundation Communities at M Station Green and Healthy Kids Program will provide instruction about water and energy conservation and waste reduction. Students will learn how “going green” protects the environment and benefits their health.
  6. Students at the Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy will plant new native plants and maintain the campus Rain Garden. Additionally, these young leaders will develop outreach materials to educate the surrounding community about the project and its benefits.
  7. At International High School, the Keep International Beautiful Campaign will raise awareness about the wide variety of materials that can be recycled and the importance of recycling.
  8. Students at Eastside Memorial High School will build educational display boards about recycling, collect and monitor recyclable materials from classrooms weekly, and create a recycling how-to video.
  9. At the Clifton Career Development School, students will install a 2,500-gallon storage system to harvest rainwater from the roof of an existing metal barn on campus.

Bright Green Future Grant applications are accepted each year from September 1 through October 31.

For more information, visit www.austintexas.gov/brightgreenfuture, or contact the grants program coordinator by email Mary Priddy or call (512) 974-2539.

East Austin Environmental Initiative
Oct 06, 2015 - 09:07 am CDT

We have great news about reducing waste in Austin! The Household Hazardous Waste Facility and the Resource Recovery Center are merging to become a new Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center (2514 Business Center Drive), which will significantly expand local recycling and reuse opportunities.

Come celebrate the new facility’s Grand Opening on Oct. 17 from 10:00 a.m. to noon with family-friendly fun, including kids’ crafts, a photo booth, live music, an art display, and booths from local businesses, non-profit organizations and City departments.

At the new Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center, you can:

Recycle & Reuse Drop of Locations

Drop Off:

  • Household hazardous wastes, chemicals, and automotive fluids
  • Tires and scrap metal
  • Electronics and large appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, washers and dryers
  • Large hard plastic items
  • Lightbulbs and batteries
  • Brush and yard trimmings
  • Cardboard
  • All single-stream recycling items

Pick up (free):

  • Austin ReBlend paint
  • Mulch
  • Household cleaners and chemicals
  • Automotive fluids
  • Fertilizers and pesticides

Until the new Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center opens, the Household Hazardous Waste Facility and Resource Recovery Center will remain open as usual. For more information, visit austintexas.gov/department/austin-resource-recovery/locations.

East Austin Environmental Initiative
May 05, 2015 - 10:27 am CDT

Field Notes…

Oscar Garza

It's amazing to see the major shifts that continue to occur in east Austin, both physical and philosophical. In this newsletter, we feature inspiring evidence of both.

One change to the physical landscape is the renovation of the former “Tank Farm” property. Once populated with petroleum storage tanks, this site incited frequent protests from nearby residents due to the emission of sickening fumes. Currently, thinkEAST is planning to redevelop this property into a multi-use, creative hub, with a design inspired by input from neighborhood groups and citizens.

As for philosophical transformation, we are witnessing an enthusiastic and ever-widening embrace of sustainable environmental practices. One shining example of new leadership in this direction comes from a student-led organization at Huston-Tillotson University, “Green is the New Black.” This recently formed group of young leaders is already attracting national attention.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading about some of the exciting changes in East Austin. As always, please feel free to contact me with your feedback and ideas:

As always, please feel free to contact me:
Oscar Garza
PH 512-974-1893

Proposed Conceptual Site

thinkEAST: "Tank Farm" Revival

Plans to renovate the once infamous “Tank Farm” property are underway, which will transform a formerly contaminated and reviled property into a highly anticipated mixed-use development. Six of the largest oil companies operated petroleum storage and distribution facilities on this property (between Airport Boulevard, Bolm Road, and Shady Lane) for decades until the early 1990s. Contamination migrated into the surrounding neighborhoods, degrading natural areas, making residents sick, and stagnating economic growth in the area. In the early 1990s, six neighborhood residents formed a grassroots environmental organization, PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources), to lead the fight for environmental justice and remove the Tank Farm from east Austin. This pressure from the community led governmental officials to investigate the property. The State ordered an assessment and cleanup, and fuel storage ended in 1993.

In 2012, developers Richard deVarga and Robert Summers purchased and rezoned the 24-acre property and formed thinkEAST, a model for sensitive development. The developers solicited input from community leaders and residents, earning their trust and support. Last year, thinkEAST joined forces with Austin nonprofit arts organization Fusebox to design an 18-month planning process for the community that prioritizes the needs of the immediate neighborhood, the arts, and creative industries. The inclusive and participatory planning process was awarded a $400,000 grant from the ArtPlace America consortium of federal agencies, private foundations, and financial institutions.

At the midpoint of that process, and as part of the 2015 Fusebox Festival held in April, Fusebox invited the entire community to participate directly in the planning and visioning of the former Tank Farm. Community members contributed ideas for the site’s renovation during four days of performances, installations, talks, workshops, and planning activities. The proposed development includes affordable living units and flexible work studios for a range of creative industries. The property is enhanced by its park-like location, near the City’s new East 7th Gateway Corridor and adjacent to the Boggy Creek Priority Woodlands, Govalle Park, the Southern Walnut Creek Hike and Bike Trail, and the planned Green Line metro rail.

For more information, visit www.thinkeastaustin.com.

Bright Green Future Grants

Schools can be an amazing instigator of creative action among students; however, finding the funds to implement project ideas can be challenging. The City of Austin has created a Bright Green Future Grants program to help fill this void and support innovative projects that help students in grades K-12 develop a lifelong passion for environmental protection.

Since the program’s inception in 2012, Austin-area students, teachers and parents have implemented a variety of projects on school campuses to support a “bright green future,” including composting systems, earth-friendly stormwater infrastructure, rainwater harvesting systems, organic gardens, bike academies, outdoor classrooms, and wildlife habitats

"A green mindset, coupled with problem-solving skills, is critical for our youth,” says the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Lucia Athens. “The creative thinking and evident passion and enthusiasm behind these projects give me great hope for our community’s future."

Projects funded by the Bright Green Future Grants have already achieved impressive results, including:

  • saving more than 65,000 gallons of water
  • traveling 17,000 miles by bikes in place of cars
  • decreasing waste more than 25% on four campuses through composting and recycling
  • producing more than 2,500 pounds of vegetables
  • growing 19 native species of plants

This competitive program provides funding for sustainability projects through sponsorships from the City’s Office of Sustainability, Austin Resource Recovery, Watershed Protection, and the Public Works Department. Applications are accepted each year from September 1 through October 31.

For more information, visit austintexas.gov/brightgreenfuture, or contact the grants program coordinator, Mary Priddy, by email or call (512) 974-2539.

Eastside Memorial High School students show off their new garden.
Eastside Memorial High School students show off their new garden.

Green is the New Black

Green is the New Black receives the “Best Booth” award at Austin’s 2014 Earth Day Festival.

For environmental protection to gain momentum in all parts of Austin, sustainability messaging must appeal to a diverse constituency, including communities of color. Green is the New Black (GITNB) is one of the leaders in a movement to infuse outreach and activism with an often-neglected perspective on race, culture, and community. GITNB, a student-led organization based at Huston-Tillotson University in east Austin, targets an African-American and Hispanic audience to widen the appeal of environmental conservation and foster “new shades of green” at the university and in the community.

In just its first year, GITNB has achieved notable success. Members competed against some of the most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the country to win the $75,000 top prize in the Ford HBCU Community Challenge in December. They won the honor of “Best Booth” at the 2014 Austin Earth Day Festival. At the 2014 SXSW festival, they led a panel discussing sustainability education, connections between student-led engagement and activism. They are now working with the City of Austin’s Transportation Division to expand student transportation options.

The organization has a strong presence both on-campus and beyond, working with community groups to open up a broader dialogue about sustainability, affordability, and environmental justice. Members also have reached out to a younger audience, working with students at nearby Blackshear Elementary School to build vegetable gardens on campus.

In recognizing that communities of color are too often left out of the “green” conversation, GITNB is not only making Austin more environmentally-friendly, but making our community more everybody-friendly.

For more information, visit greenisthenewblack.org.

Austin Materials Marketplace

Businesses and entrepreneurs in Austin and Travis County have a new resource to help find uses for unwanted materials. The Austin Materials Marketplace is a new public-private partnership that aims to reduce waste going to landfills by connecting businesses that have unwanted materials with businesses that can use those materials. In August 2014, the US Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD), together with Ecology Action of Texas and Austin Resource Recovery, launched this innovative program, in which one company’s waste becomes another company's raw material.

As of mid-April, 64 businesses and organizations have signed up to participate, and the number is growing steadily. The marketplace has helped find new homes for items ranging from unneeded office furniture and obsolete electronics to plastic chart holders.

"We are excited to introduce this resource to the Austin business community so that today’s waste products can become tomorrow’s new revenue source,” said Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery. “The launch of the Austin Materials Marketplace is an important step toward achieving Austin’s Zero Waste goal."

Since 1995, US BCSD has successfully implemented similar business-to-business material reuse projects in many other U.S. cities, as well as other countries. To implement the project, the business council teamed up with Austin-based Ecology Action of Texas, a nonprofit organization with deep roots in Austin’s recycling community.

This collaboration stimulates innovative and business-friendly solutions. As a 21-year member of the Austin business community, the US BCSD is excited to bring our work home to Austin," said Andrew Mangan, executive director of the US BCSD.

"Ecology Action is thrilled to be a part of bringing the practices and principles of landfill diversion that we have developed over the last 44 years into the mainstream of the Austin business community and business culture. This project is an incredibly significant milestone in our community’s path toward Zero Waste," said Joaquin Mariel, former co-director of Ecology Action.

To find out more about current participants, available materials, and wish list materials, visit austinmaterialsmarketplace.org.

Keep Austin Beautiful Dell Youth Achievement Award

Congratulations to Keep Austin Beautiful Dell Youth Achievement Award winner Carlos Venegas.Congratulations to Keep Austin Beautiful Dell Youth Achievement Award winner Carlos Venegas, a 7th grader at Martin Middle School (pictured right), and finalist Lorenzo Sanchez, a senior at Eastside Memorial High School. Recipients earn this award for implementing or maintaining an outstanding youth project or activity to clean, beautify, or restore an area or promote environmental stewardship.

Current Opportunities

FREE Clean Creek Camp: Youth ages 9-13, accompanied by an adult guardian, can enjoy trails, creeks, and springs this summer while learning! For more information and to register, visit austintexas.gov/CleanCreekCamp.

FREE Groundwater to Gulf Summer Institute for Texas Educators: Go caving, canoeing, hiking, and splashing in creeks while earning 22 continuing education credits! For more information and to register, visit http://tinyurl.com/py2zmsm.

REBATES for Business Waste Reduction: Qualifying Austin companies can save up to $1,800 by starting, expanding or improving recycling, composting or other waste diversion programs. Funding is limited – apply now! For complete details, visit austintexas.gov/zwbizrebate.

 

East Austin Environmental Initiative
Mar 25, 2015 - 10:05 am CDT

What’s in your garden? Find out with free soil testing

The Soil Kitchen, a three-day opportunity for backyard gardeners to receive free soil tests, will take place during the Fusebox Festival at 1098 Jain Lane in East Austin on April 10-12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. School gardens and community gardens can be tested as well, and the results will help you to safely and effectively start or continue gardening.

How does it work?

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension, and the City of Austin will be on hand to test your soil for the presence of heavy metals and soil nutrients. Soil samples will be tested while you enjoy the festival’s great interactive activities, demonstrations and musical performances.

Enjoy the festival and get a free snack!

In exchange for your soil sample(s), we’ll give you a free snack!  Follow the steps below to prepare your soil for testing. We’re here to help your garden grow!

How to collect your soil sample:

  1. You’ll need a garden trowel, two zip-top plastic bags, a waterproof marker, and a clean, shallow pan.
  2. Label the bag(s) with the following information: your initials, the date you took your sample and the approximate location of your garden plot. PLEASE do not give your exact address.
  3. Go to your garden area and sample the soil in five to 10 different spots around the garden bed(s). Sample to a depth of six inches, using your trowel to make a cone shape into the soil and then extracting the sample. Place each of the collected samples into the shallow pan.
  4. When you have completed the sampling work, take your spoon and mix all the soil together in the shallow pan to obtain a more representative sample. If the soil is very wet, leave the soil to dry out in the pan overnight. Make sure to remove any rocks, grass or dead plant material that could get in the way.
  5. If you would like to have your soil sampled for the presence of heavy metals AND for soil nutrients, please use the collected soil to half-fill TWO separate zip-top bags.
  6. Fill your plastic bag(s) until it is half full and seal it shut.
  7. Drop your sample off at the Soil Kitchen. The soil nutrient information may be obtained while you wait. The heavy metals analysis may take a bit longer. We will give you a card that has information on how to obtain your soil results online.

The Soil Kitchen is sponsored by the City of Austin’s Brownfields Revitalization Office, the Office of Sustainability, and Parks and Recreation’s Sustainable Urban Agriculture & Community Gardens & Wildlife program. We hope to see you at the Austin Soil Kitchen for soil diagnostics, fun, and all the gardening tips you can imagine!

 

East Austin Environmental Initiative
Dec 29, 2014 - 08:51 am CST

EAEI Logo

Oscar Garza

Many community improvement projects are achieved through partnerships between the City, neighborhood groups, and other entities. We are grateful to our community partners and delighted to share stories in this newsletter about resulting landscape improvements and other environmental activities in East Austin. In this issue, we’re highlighting a creek and trail restoration; the transformation of a former landfill; new funding to bring potentially contaminated properties back to productive use; and an entertaining, educational solar car event that was fueled by the sun, creative engineering, and adrenaline.

As always, please feel free to contact me:
Oscar Garza
PH 512-974-1893

If you would like to receive this information electronically twice each year, please visit www.austintexas.gov/PollutionPrevention. In the Public Awareness Programs section (middle of page), click the link "Subscribe to the biannual newsletter"

City of Austin and UT Give Boggy Creek a Helping Hand

Neigborhood childre enhoy the new additions to Boggy Creek Greenbelt.The next time you want to explore a beautiful area in Austin, check out the recently improved Boggy Creek hike and bike trail! Between spring 2013 and spring 2014, University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture students and the City of Austin restored natural areas and added features to enhance the visitor experience.

UT architecture students initiated the improvements through the Public Interest Design Studio, which addresses environmental issues by working closely with community members. The students targeted two locations stretching across 1.5 miles of the Boggy Creek greenbelt. The north end of the project, east of the MLK light rail stop, near the intersection of E. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Alexander Avenue, includes views of the creek from an old concrete plant that closed decades ago. The students built several platforms to help visitors walk down a steep slope from the high bluff to a heavily shaded area of the creek. The path provides visitors an opportunity to access the creek and appreciate nature in an urban park.

In the second section of the project, north of the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, visitors can now enjoy a creek-facing seating area for wildlife viewing, a second seating area with a view directed up to the live oak tree canopy, and a pavilion adjacent to the senior activity center. At the pavilion, educational signage explains how human activity changed the creek by removing the natural vegetation and confining the naturally meandering creek to a concrete channel. Additionally, visitors can learn about the community that formerly resided on this spot, including residents who were forced to move there in the 1920s and then forced to move away several decades later due to frequent flooding.

The City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department and Watershed Protection Department improved channel stability, reintroduced native vegetation along the creek, and extended the length of the trail.

All of these projects, directed to a community most in need, make the park a more desirable destination for neighborhood residents and community members. The transformation of this public space is a stepping stone to a healthier and more vibrant community.

For information about the UT project, visit: www.soa.utexas.edu/csd/PID/files/ PID_Final_Report_2013.pdf. For information about the City of Austin project, visit: www.austintexas.gov/ boggycreekrestoration.

 

Austin Energy Powered Sun Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas

Austin Energy Powered Sun Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. Solar powered cars reace around the Circuit of the Americas track.In July, the Circuit of The Americas welcomed back the Formula Sun Grand Prix powered by Austin Energy. The free event featured a day of solar car racing, as well as exhibits and activities for all ages.

The Formula Sun Grand Prix is a unique competition that showcases the innovative design, speed, and endurance of cars powered solely by the sun. Twenty student teams from around the world designed, built, and raced solar powered electric vehicles. The teams represented colleges and universities from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and India. The University of Michigan solar car team won 1st place, and the University of Texas at Austin solar car team took 11th place.

Austin Energy Solar Programs Manager Danielle Murray noted that Austin Energy’s sponsorship of the Formula Sun Grand Prix is just another example of the City’s support of renewable energy and the advancement of innovative technologies that help bring the costs of renewable energy down for consumers. “Electric vehicles are already gaining popularity in Austin, and perhaps one day we will all be driving clean solar cars that require no fuels except the energy from the sun," said Murray. “We cheer for the participants of the Formula Sun Grand Prix driving solar innovation and helping make yesterday’s science fiction tomorrow’s reality."

Event visitors also were able to race radio-controlled solar cars, participate in a children’s solar model car building workshop, and visit solar technology exhibits.

 

Shade Tree Mechanic.  Gear heads for clean water

Become a Shade Tree Mechanic!

Do you maintain your own vehicle? Do you change your car or truck’s oil at home? Take a big step toward keeping your surroundings clean for you and your family! The Watershed Protection Department’s Shade Tree Mechanic program helps reduce pollution commonly caused by home car repair. Check out the new video at http://tinyurl.com/kknknsk. Request a free evaluation of your car care practices and receive a free Shade Tree Mechanic oil change bucket! For more information, visit www.austintexas.gov/shadetreemechanic, or call 512-974-2550.

 

From Trashed to Treasured Property: The Grove Landfill Story

From Trashed to Treasured Property: The Grove Landfill Story.  An AmeriCorps olunteer hauls mulch for new trails.

In the late 1960s, the Grove Municipal Landfill operated as an open pit dump in the East Austin neighborhood of Montopolis. After closing in 1970, the open pit was subjected to many long years of illegal trash disposal and neglect.

The Rhizome Collective, a local grassroots environmental group, acquired the 10-acre site in 2004 with a mission to boost urban sustainability and enhance the quality of life of the surrounding community. They intended to transform the beleaguered property into an environmental justice education park, complementary to the adjacent City of Austin Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park.

They collaborated with the City’s Brownfields Redevelopment Office and received a $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields grant. The federal funds were used, in part, to purchase a vegetable oil powered tractor to help clean the site. From 2005 to 2006, hundreds of volunteers helped remove more than 10 tons of trash and more than 700 tires. Huge amounts of wood scraps and concrete were reused on-site for erosion control. More than 30 tons of metals were retrieved and recycled.

In 2009, the Collective lost its base of operation in East Austin and was unable to continue the cleanup. The following year, another local environmental organization, Ecology Action, took over the site and renamed it Circle Acres. The new steward of this land has a 40-year history of environmental activism, including protesting against the landfill previously located on the site.

Although Ecology Action was very experienced in the recycling of used plastic, glass, metals, and other resources, this was the organization’s first experience with “recycling” land. In 2012, Impact Austin awarded the group a grant to fund the development of Circle Acres’ master plan and infrastructure improvements. Ecology Action has partnered with the internationally acclaimed green building organization Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems and Glenrose Engineering to develop long-term goals for the reclamation and remediation of this important site.

Ecology Action discovered that trashed land is one of the most difficult, but most important, resources to recycle. The group is transforming this former landfill site into an ecological treasure and community resource, as well as a model of remediating and reclaiming contaminated urban land in an environmentally-responsible and socially- equitable way.

Ecology Action plans to announce a Circle Acres grand opening in early 2015. To learn more about Circle Acres and the Grove Municipal Landfill remediation process, visit www.ecology-action.org/grove-landfill-remediation.

Austin Receives $400,000 from EPA to Assess Potentially Contaminated Properties

Austin Resource & RecoveryThe City of Austin received $400,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess up to 20 blighted properties for revitalization. Brownfields are abandoned or under-utilized properties where reuse of the land is complicated by the suspected or confirmed existence of hazardous chemicals, pollutants, or contaminants. Austin Resource Recovery will work with residents, nonprofits, the business community, and other City departments to identify sites that can be redeveloped into community assets.

The ultimate goal of brownfield redevelopment is to ensure sustained livability within the Austin community into the future. In addition to reducing public exposure to hazardous materials, these grants will be a catalyst for economic development, job creation, and neighborhood sustainability and beautification in areas that need it most.

Nonprofits and local government entities can apply for a property assessment at www.austintexas.gov/brownfields, and may apply on behalf of a private developer if the project is of community benefit. The City will hold community meetings to engage stakeholders during the assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment process.

The City’s Brownfields Revitalization Office partners with the community to bring projects to fruition. One such successful partnership was the Guadalupe-Saldaña Net Zero Subdivision, which is built on a former brownfield site. Hundreds of tires, construction debris, and numerous other discarded items littered the site, due to years of illegal dumping. The City worked with community members, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and the EPA to clean the site, which is now an energy-efficient affordable housing community. Additional examples of former Austin brownfields are the African American Heritage Cultural Center, Mabel Davis Skate Park, the Homewood Heights Community Garden, and El Sapo restaurant on Manor Road.

To contact the City of Austin’s Brownfields Program Manager Christine Whitney about a particular brownfield site, call 512-974-6085, or email Christine.Whitney@austintexas.gov. For more information about the grants, the public engagement process, or to sign up for email updates about the City’s brownfields program, visit www.austintexas.gov/brownfields.

Plotting to Garden? Join the Blackshear Community!

Chickens that call Blackshear Community Garden Home

The Blackshear Community Garden, a dynamic communal growing space at 2011 East 9th Street, has individual and shared plots available for anyone interested in planting and harvesting their own vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Gardeners also pitch in to take care of the communal chickens and harvest eggs. The garden is often buzzing with educational, volunteer, and festive activities. Gardeners recently celebrated the beginning of fall with a volunteer day, clearing paths and sifting compost to prepare for a fresh new growing season. Blackshear takes part in an annual community urban farm bike ride and, throughout the year, hosts monthly volunteer days, special speakers and workshops, and a seasonal potluck.

Communal gardening is a great way to add more healthy foods and activity into your lifestyle, while meeting your neighbors and having fun! For more information about the garden, contact Liz McConnell at liz.j.mcconnell@gmail.com, or stop by and pin a note on the bulletin board.

 

East Austin Environmental Initiative
May 22, 2014 - 07:49 am CDT

Field Notes - 20 Years of Environmental ServiceEAEI Logo

Oscar Garza

Welcome to the Spring/Summer issue of the Eastside Environmental Newsletter!

The number of changes in East Austin can be a bit overwhelming - new houses, roads, and businesses seem to be popping up everywhere! During this time of urban growth, it’s important for community members to help protect and improve the health and vitality of their neighborhoods and the environment. Want to get involved?

This issue also includes information to help East Austin residents save water and reduce risks from potential wildfire - very important topics during this time of drought!

  • Volunteer to help with a project or event led by community groups, schools, or City programs (www.austintexas.gov/volunteer).
  • Plan an activity to improve your neighborhood and recruit your neighbors to help!
  • Join forces with the City by reporting spills or pollution concerns, identifying abandoned or underused properties for potential cleanup and reuse, or participating in City incentive programs, such as recycling old refrigerator/freezers.

Residents new to the area might not be familiar with the East Austin community’s long history of activism – including removing polluting tank farms or replacing the decommissioned Holly Power Plant with green spaces. For years, East Austin has been an exemplary model of community participation and improvement. We look forward to engaging with an increasing number of residents and businesses to continue this tradition.

As always, please feel free to contact me:

Oscar Garza
512-974-1893
email

Students take charge of revitalizing their campus courtyard

Community Supports Student-Designed Campus Projects

Submitted by Nicole Welling, Eastside Memorial High School at Johnston Campus, and Carolyn M. Appleton, EcoRise Youth Innovations

Thanks to a $3,000 grant from the City of Austin’s “Bright Green Future” program, English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher Nicole Welling and six students from Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus (EMHS) are revitalizing a campus courtyard with raised garden beds, a rainwater catchment system, and a new outdoor classroom.

The City grant aims to help Austin-area students, teachers, and parents envision a “bright green future” through a variety of hands-on learning projects. Welling asked her students to design an outdoor learning space that utilizes sustainable building practices, adds value to their campus, and positively impacts the community.

Students’ engagement and leadership in the project reflects the increased academic performance of EMHS students in recent years. Their design for the gardens and outdoor structure creates a place for students to learn in an outdoor environment and for community members to interact.

The project is a collaborative effort. Mentoring support has been shared, and will continue to be provided, by the Austin Permaculture Guild, Upcycle Organics, Keep Austin Beautiful, Austin Community College’s Building and Construction Department, and EcoRise Youth Innovations. Parents and members of the community will share their knowledge of gardening, building techniques, and more.

This campus project is a work in process. Please contact Nicole Welling at 512-569-0595 or writetonicole@gmail.com if you have questions or would like to support the project by donating supplies or volunteering.

Visit www.austintexas.gov/brightgreenfuture to learn more about the City’s Bright Green Future grants program and www.austintexas.gov/raingardens to learn about sustainable stormwater solutions.

Austin Enviro Mechanics Program

Austin Enviro Mechanics Program

The Austin Enviro Mechanics program (formerly known as the Austin Clean Water Partners Program), a cooperative effort between the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department and local auto repair businesses, promotes businesses’ efforts to prevent pollution and help protect good water quality in Austin’s creeks and river.

Local consumers prefer to support businesses that help protect our community’s beauty and natural resources. For more information or to become a participant in the program and an environmental leader in your industry, call Chris Miller at 512-974-2550, or visit the website www.austintexas.gov/AustinEnviroMechanics.

Austin Resource Recovery

Reclaiming East Austin

It’s no easy task to bring vacant, run-down, potentially contaminated properties back to productive use. Just ask Christine Whitney with the City of Austin’s Brownfields Division. Although she just stepped into the role in October, Whitney is no stranger to the legal and environmental challenges that come with the job. Before joining the City of Austin, Whitney spent more than a decade with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) overseeing similar responsibilities.

Brownfields are underused or abandoned properties that might be contaminated. These properties are often rundown “eyesores” that negatively impact communities by decreasing property values, increasing crime, creating safety hazards, and restricting economic opportunity. Redevelopment of these sites can improve public health and the environment, as well as attract investment to provide housing, jobs, recreational opportunities, open space, and public facilities. As the Brownfields Program manager, Whitney orchestrates environmental assessments and cleanups on brownfields to encourage property reuse and neighborhood revitalization. “This position is a natural fit,” Whitney said. “I get to combine my love of helping people with my passion for improving the community we live in.”

In 2013, the City of Austin assisted in the reclamation process of three brownfields in East Austin:

  • Plaza Saltillo: The City partnered with the TCEQ and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess a four-block area adjacent to the Plaza Saltillo Metro stop between 4th and 5th Streets. The transitoriented development will include residential and commercial space.
  • Guadalupe-Saldaña Subdivision: The City partnered with TCEQ to complete the assessment and cleanup of two properties, which enabled the construction of 90 affordable housing units at the intersection of Tillery Street and Goodwin Avenue.
  • Festival Beach Food Forest: The City started the assessment of Holly Shores, located east of I-35 and north of Lady Bird Lake, as part of the Holly Shores Master Plan. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department Urban Forestry Program, as well as Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens Program, are working together with the Festival Beach Food Forest team to determine if the area just south of the existing Festival Beach Community Garden is suitable for a “food forest” of fruit and nut trees.

Christine Whitney, City of Austin - Brownfields Division

Whitney looks forward to finding ways to preserve the character of East Austin, while expanding opportunities for its residents. As the sole employee overseeing the program, Whitney depends largely on feedback from area residents. If you are interested in learning more about the program, visit www.austintexas.gov/brownfields; if you would like to contact Whitney about a particular brownfield site, call 512-974-6085 or email Christine.Whitney@austintexas.gov.

Ready, Set, Plant!

Ready, Set, Plant!

Are you familiar with the full impact of trees on our community? Most of us are grateful for the shade they provide during our long, hot summers, but trees also provide many environmental and economic benefits, such as cleaning the air, holding soil in place, cooling streets and buildings, providing food, beautifying neighborhoods, and much, much more!

Austin’s drought has taken a significant toll on our beloved trees, and the population of urban trees continues to decline. Additionally, the tree population is under increasing pressure from drought, disease, and urban development spurred by Austin’s rapid growth.

The City and the community have taken steps to protect trees and the valuable services they provide. The City’s Urban Forestry Program and Watershed Protection Department partnered with local organization, TreeFolks, Inc., to create the Ready, Set, Plant! program to support the planting of thousands of seedling (young) trees and shrubs.

We’ve recently emerged from an exciting season of growing Austin’s urban forest. Central Texas’ tree planting season runs from October 1 – March 31, the best time for new trees to become established before being subjected to the stress of Texas’ high summer temperatures.

Ready, Set, Plant! engaged the help of more than 400 volunteers to plant more than 11,000 tree seedlings during the recent planting season.

Visit the Austin Forest Portal at www.austintexas.gov/treeportal for all your tree-related questions.

Get PAID to Recycle Your Old Refrigerator/Freezer - FREE Appliance Pick-up Included!

Your old, inefficient refrigerator or freezer is costing you extra money and should be put permanently in the deep freeze!

Older refrigerators and freezers use two to three times more energy than a newer, Energy Star® model. An older unit in the garage during the summer has a significant impact on your electric bill! By recycling your old refrigerator/freezer, you can receive $50 per appliance (for up to two appliances) from Austin Energy, plus save $100 - $200 a year on your electric bill!

The Austin Energy Refrigerator/Freezer Recycling Program provides FREE pick-up of older, working refrigerators and freezers for Austin Energy customers. Austin Energy’s contractor recycles 98% of the materials in the appliances and safely disposes the ozone-depleting refrigerants.

To participate:

  • You must be an Austin Energy electric utility customer.
  • Your refrigerator or freezer must be an older unit, in working condition (cooling), and between 14–27 cubic feet in size.

Austin Energy residential customers will receive $50 per appliance (paid by check, within four-six weeks of pick-up), for up to two refrigerators, freezers, or a combination of the two appliances. To schedule the pick-up of your refrigerator or freezer, call (toll-free) 1-800-452-8685, or visit www.austinenergy.com.

When you buy a new refrigerator or freezer, look for the ENERGY STAR® label for the greatest energy savings.

East Austin Environmental Initiative