LISD files plan with U.S. Fish & Wildlife for new Vandegrift HS access, Road could cost $12 million


Last week consultants for Leander ISD filed a draft Habitat Conservation Plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in hopes of one day getting a new Vandegrift HS and Four Points MS access road.

If all goes well, LISD hopes to have an Endangered Species Act permit in place by the end of 2015. The project will still require other approvals, as well as identification of funding, and preliminary cost estimates exceed $12 million. However, LISD and parent stakeholders believe that obtaining a second point of access is critical to the efficient functioning of the two schools at the Vandegrift/Four Points campus and is also needed to enhance safety.LISD_access_road_04 LISD_access_road_02

Filing of this plan on October 16 was the first step in a lengthy process towards actually obtaining an Endangered Species Act permit. Once USFWS has reviewed the plan, there will likely be several months of discussions and refinements until USFWS determines that the plan is ready for public review. At that time, LISD will file a formal application with USFWS and then USFWS will publish a notice in the Federal Register soliciting public comment.

LISD originally sought permission from the City of Austin and Travis County, which oversee the Balcones Canyonlands, for the access road, but faced significant opposition and elected instead to seek its own authorization directly from USFWS.

LISD and the Four Points Traffic Committee have been working together for this common goal for another road to VHS and FPMS. LISD and Four Points Traffic Committee are advocating that the roadway be built along an existing infrastructure corridor that borders the Canyonlands and maintains that it was set aside for this type of purpose.

The permit is needed because the proposed path of the ‘Road to Vandegrift’ would sit on a portion of the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan.

LISD hired Attorney Alan Glen to work on the Road to Vandegrift.

LISD hired Attorney Alan Glen to work on the Road to Vandegrift.

“Because our proposed road does touch habitat for the Golden Cheeked Warbler and is near habitat for the Jollyville Salamander, we feel it’s prudent to pursue an application,” The FPTC’s attorney, Alan Glen, who works at Sedgwick LLP.

Habitat Conservation Plan

The district’s consultant had been preparing for several weeks and worked together with Glen on the habitat conservation plan, which LISD submitted last week.

It includes a plan to build the road in a way that will not harm endangered species, as well as a survey of the endangered wildlife habitat that may be on the tract, Glen said.

The initial draft plan considers several listed species, including cave invertebrates, the golden-cheeked warbler, the black-capped vireo, and the Jollyville Plateau salamander. The plan proposes to provide mitigation for potential impacts to the two birds and the salamander and is expected to avoid impacts to the cave species.

Now the habitat conservation plan is submitted, the USFWS will need 30-45 days to review it.

“That really is just the beginning of a fairly lengthy process,” Glen said. “They haven’t had an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dig into this proposal. We need to give them an opportunity to do that.”

Following the initial review, USFWS and Four Points Traffic Committee and LISD will begin an informal dialogue process to address any questions or concerns within the conservation plan. That could last for another couple months, Glen said.

Once the parties are fairly agreed on the form of conservation plan being sufficient for the application, FPTC and/or LISD will formally file for the Incidental Take Permit, which will trigger a public notice to allow for a 60-90 day public comment period. That should happen in the spring.

“We will have done very well if by this time next year we have a permit,” Glen said. “I know everybody wants a solution but it does take time and it is complicated.”

He said in the meantime, FPTC will continue working with regional partners including the Texas Department of Transportation and Travis County to address infrastructure needs in front of the schools, such as at the McNeil Drive and RM 2222 interchange.

“There’s a very collaborative, regional effort to improve infrastructure in the area,” he said. “That will continue to go on.”

“As a parent and a trustee, my sole reason for wanting this road into VHS and FPMS is safety,” Waggoner said earlier in July. “While I feel we have an adequate evacuation plan in case of an emergency, it could only be improved by having a second escape route. It is without question this road is needed and should be built. In fact the BCCP covenants allow for this kind of progress.”