Just weeks after the city reported sulfuric acid waste spilling from Austin's Samsung plant into a nearby creek, the tech giant that is in the process of a Central Texas expansion has reported millions more gallons of spillage.
More than 2 million gallons of stormwater mixed with wastewater spilled from Austin Samsung Semiconductor into a tributary north of the facility in late January.
The spill was followed by another just days later, with 5.9 million gallons that contained sulfates exceeding regulatory limits set in city code. Within the downstream segment, that spill remained below the state’s surface water quality limits.
According to a city memo from the environmental officer at the Watershed Protection Department, Samsung said the releases were necessary “to avoid catastrophic impacts to the structural integrity of the stormwater pond berm.”
Samsung and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality contacted the City of Austin to report the spills last week. On Sunday, the Watershed Protection Department visited the north tributary and found no environmental impacts in an assessment that involved collecting data and biological observations.
The city report released Thursday explains that the stormwater outfalls followed two rain events that took place from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.
The downpour hit the facility with seven inches of rain and a pond containing industrial wastewater filled up with an estimated 13 million gallons of stormwater. As designed for stormwater treatment, this inflow caused the pond to overflow to a second pond area on Samsung’s property.
This latest stormwater outfall stemmed from the same leak in which 763,000 gallons of sulfuric acid waste reached the stormwater pond at Samsung’s facility where uncontained portions then spilled into a tributary of Harris Branch Creek.
The fallout of that spill had a significant short-term impact on the ecology of the tributary and the Watershed Protection Department had found dead aquatic remains when visiting the site. Waste mixed with stormwater had spilled into that same stream in May 2021. Samsung did not face fines for that spill and the company told the Austin American-Statesman that it had “zero environmental impact.”
The drainage path of the latest spills has a different path. Discharges to the receiving tributary traveled about a mile before reaching the main stem of Harris Branch Creek.
The tributary passes construction for multi-family residential and commercial developments. Outside of rain events, the tributary usually holds intermittent pools and does not flow, the city memo says.
The stormwater and wastewater has been contained since Feb. 3. and is being pumped into the sanitary sewer for proper disposal with approval from Austin Water.
Samsung anticipates that all the water will be transferred Friday.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.