Toll road agency and tech company face off in court
Wednesday October 5th, 2022 by Jo Clifton
At the end of a lengthy hearing on Tuesday, Travis County Law No. 2 Court Judge Eric Shepperd told attorneys for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the tech company suing the agency that he would return with a decision as soon as possible on whether the Toll Roads Administration should fix the drainage issues related to the construction of the U.S. Highway 183 toll road.
Tech 3443, which is transforming the former Motorola campus in East Austin into a mixed-use innovation district, seeks to force the CTRMA to address a serious water pollution problem the agency says is caused by improper careless planning and use of construction techniques.
After the hearing, Tech 3443 CEO Adam Zarafshani told the austin monitor, “The CTRMA should stop delaying and poisoning our environment and just end the project.” He added: “I think the court listened to what we had to say and I can’t wait to understand what’s next.”
He told the Monitor that the group wants to continue its development, repair the road and “treat the dirty water from the expansion of 183”.
The argument centers on a detention pond on the east side of US 183, about a mile south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. According to documents from the tech firm, CTRMA dug the pond in 2016 to capture highway runoff during heavy storms. Unfortunately for Tech 3443, one side of the pond is land that runs under the company road, Semiconductor Drive. The company complains that the toll agency did nothing to fortify or reinforce the terrain, “essentially treating it like a dirt wall on the side of a bathtub”.
“Understandably, the wall began to erode as heavy rains filled the pond, soon taking Semiconductor Road with it,” according to a statement from the technology company.
Quoting one of CTRMA’s engineering experts, Tech 3443 said the pond water “will eventually collapse this road.” When asked at the hearing, the Tech 3443 expert said there was no way of knowing when this might happen.
Charlotte Gilpin, an engineer with K. Friese & Associates, said the mobility authority was complying with all state and federal laws and that the runoff problem was created when the road was built, not when it was built. addition of the retention basin.
Engineer Bill Loftus, testifying on behalf of Tech 3443, told the court, “The CTRMA has absolutely butchered the management of this project.” During the construction of the detention pond, he said, they felled trees and regraded the site. They also added “concrete low-flow channels…but they didn’t build the fourth side of the tub. … We have a three-sided pond that does not hold water. He said the site drains harmful pollutants into Walnut Creek, which empties into the Colorado River.
The company said in a court filing: “CTRMA’s ill-conceived plans included the use of (Tech 3443) Private Internal Road (Semiconductor Drive) embankment. Not only was the drive itself already eroding by the time the CTRMA prepared its plans, but the drive and its supporting embankment were never built or intended as a dam.
“The CTRMA was well aware of its technical shortcomings from the start of the design phase. Because of these failures, and because of the complexities necessary to correct them, the defendant (Tech 3443) and the CTRMA finally reached an agreement to correct these defects after years of negotiations. Yet, despite the parties’ agreement, and in the face of these well-known engineering flaws, the CTRMA announced that it would disregard its agreement with the defendant.
At Tuesday’s hearing, attorney Sue Ayers of Jackson Walker, who is representing CTRMA in the case, sought to disqualify documents showing an agreement between the parties to settle the dispute and resolve environmental and road issues.
Tech 3443 attorney Michael O’Toole argued vigorously against the exclusion of the documents, which include a long chain of emails about the consolidation of the detention basin and the protection of the roadway. The judge’s decision whether or not to allow these emails and other documents showing an agreement between the parties will likely have a significant impact on the eventual outcome of the case.
Talk with the Monitor after the hearing, Zarafshani pointed to discrimination as one of the reasons the agency failed to act to reduce pollution and eliminate the possibility of catastrophic flooding. “Do you think that would happen (during the construction of) Southwest Parkway?” He asked.
The CTRMA did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
Video taken from Tuesday’s hearing.
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Posted in: Courts, District 1
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