By Kathi Bliss
What many locals have come to see as one of the biggest boondoggles of the SH-130 construction might soon become someone else’s problem.
The Lockhart City Council discussed on Tuesday evening the possibility of a joint meeting with the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court, with the intention of receiving information about turning maintenance of the wetlands reclamation site known as “HT Wright Memorial Park” over to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Trust.
The facility, on the north shore of Plum Creek immediately off of SH130, was required during the construction of the toll road as a wetlands reclamation site, to replace the 265 acres of wetlands that were damaged or destroyed by the original construction. Although the initial intent was not for the facility to be built as a park, negotiations with Caldwell County and the City of Lockhart eventually turned the area into a nature preserve of sorts, intended with nature trails and other opportunities for bird-watching and outdoor recreation.
However, stalls in the process, including the failed planting of required tree life in the area, have delayed the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) transfer of the property to the City and the County. While City Manager Vance Rodgers noted his conversations with Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn have yielded an agreed requirement that the facility be improved before the City and County take possession, he also said he has growing concerns about maintaining the facility to the required standards for a wetlands reclamation site.
“The city will be responsible for the ‘amenities area,’ and the County would be responsible for the ‘natural area,’” he said, drawing the delineation between the five acres or so near the front of the facility that include restrooms and parking structures. “I don’t have any concerns about the city being able to financially maintain the amenities area, but I do have some concerns about maintaining the conservation aspects.”
Rodgers said the property carries with it a “conservation easement,” and though both the City and the County will be granted $200,000 each along with the transfer of the property, those funds won’t go far after the required maintenance actions are taken.
Instead, Rodgers suggested, the Council and the County Commissioners should consider turning the property over to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Trust, an offshoot of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) that has been put in place to take care of wetlands areas.
“They actually have a special fund to maintain facilities like this, and they have the expertise to do so,” Rodgers said. “If we consider this, we can make sure that they keep the facility open for public access, and their presentation will discuss the grants and other funding options they have available.”
The Council chose to set a joint meeting with the Caldwell County Commissioners Court on June 17, 2014, to further discuss the proposal.
In other business, the Council held their first meeting in the newly-renovated council chambers on the third floor of the Masonic Annex to the Dr. Eugene Clark Library Complex.
Renovations on the Library Complex are ongoing, as crews work now on the first floor of the Masonic Annex to renovate the children’s and teen areas. Additionally, the Council accepted a bid for $34,650 from Steve Dodson, of Lockhart, for the structural steel work on the connector that will join the Masonic Annex with the Dr. Eugene Clark Library and Lyceum.
Rodgers said construction crews realize that there are still adjustments that need to be made to the project, but hope to have the first-floor renovations completed by August.
The Council also discussed the State Highway 183 Widening Project, which is expected to begin in earnest later this year.
Currently, crews are installing sleeves for the underground utilities, a project which Rodgers said he understands is an inconvenience for some drivers.
“Unfortunately, you have to install the sleeve, and then later, go back in and relocate the other utilities,” he said. “You can’t do it all at once.”
As the utility construction arm of the project moves forward, Rodgers said drivers could expect street closures between Pecan and Hickory Streets, and also from Blackjack Street southward, at various times over the next 120 days. After three months, he said, he hoped the utility relocation would be in place for the impending widening project.
The Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. Meetings will now be held in the Lockhart City Council Chambers, on the third floor of the Masonic Annex on South Main Street. The meetings are also televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.