Invading University I Our Invading University The University of Texas at Home and Abroad BY SCOTT HENSON AND TOM PHILPOTT Austin EACH DAY 27 million gallons of water flow up through the Edwards Aquifer through the Balcones fault and into a natural limestone swimming pool less than three miles from the Capitol. Barton Springs, and the Barton Springs swimming pool, are located at the end of Barton Creek, less than two miles from where it empties into Town Lake in downtown Austin. The creek itself wanders for 41 miles through the Hill Country southwest of Austin. Until now, development along the creek has come in increments. and 10 years ago it became evident that the Austin pool where Roy Bedichek and J. Frank Dobie gathered with friends on summer afternoons was in real jeopardy. Freeport McMoRan and ClubCorp., both multinational Fortune 500 companies, jointly own the property, where they want to build more than 2,500 luxury homes, 1,900 apartment units, three golf courses, 3.3 million square feet of industrial development, and several private parks. The development would threaten or, as some environmentalists, including former Austin Mayor Frank Cooksey contend, destroy Barton Creek -and with it, Austin’s beloved Barton Springs pool. Also, the proposed development would sit upstream from the point where the creek drops through the Balcones fault into the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies about 20,000 Austinites with drinking water. On June 7, the developers appeared in person to petition the Austin City Council to approve 19 variances to city ordinances including nine environmental waivers. Hundreds of Austin citizens packed the council chamber in protest and more than 900 people signed up to speak. In what surely marked one of the great outpourings of people-power in the city’s history. Austinites took turns addressing the council from about 6:00 p.m. Thursday until nearly 6:00 a.m. Friday. An overwhelming majority of the speakers demanded that the council deny the developers’ requests. Finally, after some failed last-min- Henson and Philpott are editors of The Polemicist, an alternative newspaper at the University of Texas. Kathy Mitchell and Li: Henry provided research assistance on this article. Barton Springs ute attempts at a compromise by outgoing Councilmember Sally Shipman, the plan was voted down unanimously. The developers are left with two options. They can try to incorporate the area under a recently passed state law -i,e., with support from a sufficient number of people who live in the area, they can declare it a separate town and thus avoid Austin’s extra-territorial jurisdiction and water-quality restrictions: or they can go before the newly elected city council and try again. The fate of Barton Creek therefore remains unclear. What is clear, however, is the depth and intensity of the community’s opposition to the development. In that context, it’s curious that University of Texas at Austin President William Cunningham, the head of a public university, would support the project. He has even lobbied city council members on behalf of the development. What would cause such a figure to take a stand that so demeans his position in the local. community? CUNNINGHAM’S ROLE as a developer’s advocate is best under: stood in the context of his and his university’s vested interests in supporting the two companies who own the 4,000 acres in question. Cunningham himself sits on the board of Freeport McMoRan, a multinational natural resources and precious metals firm. for which he was paid at least $48,000 in 1989, according to the company’s proxy statement. He is also a paid member of the Policy Committee of the ClubCorp,-owned Barton Creek Country Club. Cunningham, then, sits on the boards of both entities trying to develop the land along the creek, Members of the Barton Creek Country Club Policy Committee acted as lobbyists for the deal, and Cunningham personally lobbied at least one council member, Robert Barnstone, on the day of the marathon council meeting. When the story concerning Cunningham’s positions with the two companies broke, UT vice president for administration Ed Sharpe told The Daily Texan, the UT student newspaper, that “Dr. Cunningham serves on the board as an individual. and that’s net related to his position at the university.” But the university’s ties with the two companies don’t end with Cunningham. Both Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett and ClubCorp’s Robert Dedman are major donors to the university. Moffett is a member of the UT-System Chancellor’s Council, the UT-Austin Development hoard, and the UTAustin. President’s A ssociates After Moffett donated $3 million to his alma mater this April, Cunningham even offered to request that the regents name a building after Moffett and his wife. And Texas Highway Commission Chairman Redman, whose agency gives THE TEXAS OBSERVER -5
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