Fitzhugh Music Venue EAPP
Submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ):
February 9, 2023
SBCA Statement on the Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan for the Fitzhugh Music Venue, submitted by Blizexas LLC
Save Barton Creek Association, founded in 1979, is one of the oldest citizens’ environmental groups in Texas. For more than four decades, we have worked to preserve the natural beauty of Barton Creek. We are writing to state our total opposition to the proposal from California-based developer Blizexas LLC to built a 1,823-vehicle parking lot, along with a 5,000-person amphitheater and 22 acres of impervious cover, on a property located 150 feet uphill Barton Creek and just a few thousand linear feet from the stream. The so-called Fitzhugh Music Venue development would be located within the Edwards Aquifer Contributing Zone, and approximately 15 miles upstream (along Barton Creek) from the Recharge Zone.
Blizexas has previously applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a permit for the onsite disposal of its wastewater by using land application. SBCA has already stated our opposition to that permit request, because of the known problems with wastewater pollution from other land application facilities in the immediate area. Blizexas has now submitted an Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan (EAPP) for its proposed parking lot and associated facilities. The site map and the impervious cover analysis in the EAPP show that stormwater pollution from the Blizexas development will likely cause even more harm to Barton Creek and the Edwards Aquifer than wastewater pollution. For these reasons, SBCA respectfully asks TCEQ to reject this ill-conceived and inappropriate plan from Blizexas.
SBCA is especially alarmed by the Blizexas proposal because Barton Creek is one of the last pristine streams in Texas. That’s not just a descriptive term. Barton Creek was one of only 22 classified stream segments in the state that would have been protected under the scientific criteria in the Pristine Streams Petition, which SBCA and other Hill Country conservation groups filed with TCEQ last year. While the petition focused on protecting these creeks and rivers from the discharge of treated wastewater, it also served the purpose of identifying the last truly pure streams in the state. Although TCEQ’s commissioners denied the petition, they directed the agency’s staff to explore other ways to protect these streams.
We want to be clear that SBCA is not opposed to Blizexas’ proposal to build a giant parking lot with an attached amphitheater. We’re only opposed to its plan to build this development on a location so close to the banks of Barton Creek, and on top of the Edwards Contributing Zone. The music industry is a vital economic sector in the Austin area. Other outdoor amphitheaters have been built here before, but in much more sensible locations. Southpark Meadows, the first major amphitheater to open in the Austin area, accommodated up to 35,000 concertgoers during its operation on a mostly flat 200-acre tract next to the multiple lanes of Interstate 35. Circuit of The Americas, which currently includes the largest outdoor music venue in the area, sprawls over 1,500 gently rolling acres southeast of Austin and next to the multiple lanes of SH 71. By contrast, Blizexas plans to build its parking lot and associated amphitheater on a hilly location next to a pair of winding two-lane roads.
SBCA wants to emphasize that the Blizexas project should be identified by its largest feature, the 1,823- vehicle parking lot, which will occupy 52% of the property. For context, the Blizexas parking lot will be four-fifths the size of the 2,261-vehicle underground parking garage in the new Capitol Mall in downtown Austin. For further comparison, Blizexas plans to build 55 parking spaces per acre, compared to the ratio of 16 spaces per acre at Circuit of The Americas (ratios based on total facility acreage).When rain falls on impervious parking lots, it produces runoff pollution. Large lots, such as the one that Blizexas is proposing, produce more pollution. SBCA is a member of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, and we endorse the analysis of the stormwater pollution risks that GEAA has outlined in its letter to TCEQ on the Blizexas EAPP. The surfaces of parking lots accumulate leaks from parked vehicles, including gasoline, engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid. The asphalt and tar-based sealants that will likely be used for some vehicle lanes at the Blizexas site will also add to the runoff pollution. Most of these pollutants will be washed off by the first inch of rainfall, which scientists and engineers refer to as the “first flush.” Several studies have shown that the first flush of runoff can be just polluted as raw sewage.
Blizexas proposes to include two relatively small detention ponds to hold stormwater onsite before allowing it to flow offsite. It’s important to note that detention ponds are built primarily to reduce flooding, not pollution. They can be effective for removing solids, but are much less effective at removing other pollutants, which are usually carried away by runoff and onto adjoining properties. Detention ponds also have to be regularly maintained in order to ensure that solid pollutants (such as trash and other floatable debris from concerts at the Blizexas amphitheater) aren’t carried offsite by runoff.
With this in mind, the following warning in GEAA's letter is especially important: “During the past 18 years, we have seen numerous stormwater detention plans that were never fully implemented or that failed to function properly, coupled with a failure on the part of TCEQ staff to make sure that approved plans were adhered to and kept functional through follow-up inspections. Given the budgetary and staff shortages of TCEQ, we urge caution in approving high-maintenance plans such as this one.”
SBCA has already submitted a letter opposing Blizexas’ application for a Texas Land Application Permit (TLAP) to dispose of its wastewater by irrigating it onto fields located on the property. We’ve repeatedly seen that treated wastewater can overflow from irrigation fields that can’t absorb more water. This can happen when the soil is saturated from heavy rainfall, or when it has iced over from low temperatures. Fields can also become oversaturated when irrigation equipment is inadequately maintained.
When TLAP facilities (such as the Blizexas facility) are located near streams (such as Barton Creek), wastewater runoff from saturated fields will flow into that stream. Wastewater that’s been treated still contains phosphorus and nitrogen, which are key ingredients in many of the fertilizers commonly used for lawns, gardens, and farms. In streams, added phosphorus and nitrogen can fertilize the excessive and non- seasonal growth of another plant — algae
Wastewater overflow from TLAP facilities is not a hypothetical problem. TCEQ has previously cited Dripping Springs for wastewater overflow from one of the city’s TLAP fields next to Onion Creek. According to the commission, 26,000 gallons of Dripping Springs’s treated wastewater flowed onto adjacent properties and into an Onion Creek tributary in a single incident in 2016. Wastewater overflow has also been documented for the TLAP facilities in Belterra, Barton Creek West, and West Cypress Hills.
The risks from stormwater and wastewater pollution are partly why most jurisdictions around the Blizexas development have strict limits on impervious cover. As GEAA has noted in its letter, the Blizexas property is located less than a mile (in different directions) from the extraterritorial jurisdictions (ETJs) of Austin and Dripping Springs. Austin’s ETJ has a 20% impervious cover limit in the Edwards Contributing Zone, while Dripping Springs has an ETJ impervious cover limit of 35% for the Contributing Zone. We can’t help but wonder whether Blizexas strategically selected a property in the jurisdiction of Hays County, which has an impervious cover limit of 65%.
Regardless of whether Hays County’s rules would allow Blizexas to build more impervious cover, SBCA asks that TCEQ recognize the wisdom in the Dripping Springs and Austin rules. The development that Blizexas has proposed is extremely inappropriate for a location above the Edwards Contributing Zone and next to Barton Creek. TCEQ must reject the developer's Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan.
For more information, please contact Brian Zabcik, SBCA Advocacy Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org