Endangered species, etc. why Travis Co. opposes 2nd VHS road

Travis County TX (@TravisCountyTX) / Twitter

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

Leander ISD is taking formal legal action soon as part of its long pursuit to get a second access road to Vandegrift HS and Four Points MS.

In the next week or two, LISD’s legal counsel is filing a complaint against the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) due to the agencies’ failure and refusal to further process the application for a permit to design and construct the access road.  

But, as reported last month, the USFWS will not process LISD’s permit application unless the district obtains ownership or control over the proposed right-of-way, a portion which is owned by Travis County, who has opposed the project. 

Travis County opposes the 2nd access road to the VHS and FPMS campuses – 

which LISD says would address safety concerns for more than 4,000 students, teachers and staff.

After reaching out to Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner Precinct 2, her office shared why the county is against the road:

“The preserve land around Vandegrift High School was set aside as mitigation to allow the land Leander ISD bought to be developed. The mitigation land was added to the Balcones Canyonland Preserve (BCP) for protection. Travis County is obligated to manage the land as an endangered species preserve in perpetuity.

The BCP was created as part of the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP) to mitigate for the development of endangered species habitat in western Travis County. The preserve protects habitat for seven endangered species, 27 species of concern, the black-capped vireo, and the threatened Jollyville Plateau salamander. The BCP was made possible by a permit issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) jointly to Travis County and the City of Austin in 1996 after years of planning and public involvement.”

LISD shared that while the land surrounding the two schools has been designated preserve land, the district has sought permission to build the second road on an existing infrastructure corridor that contains several utility lines for the city of Austin and Lower Colorado River Authority creating a necessary access point, particularly for emergency vehicles. Currently, the schools can only be accessed from RM 2222 off McNeil Drive.

Steiner Ranch resident Madhu Shashanka is a local resident who reached out to Shea’s office since Precinct 2 covers the Four Points area.  

“I’m sure you’re well aware of the horrendous traffic issues our community faces during school hours – especially near Vandegrift High School,” Shashanka shared, asking Commissioner Shea how she can help. “​Could you please explain why Travis County opposes this vital necessary project? What are you doing to help the residents of your precinct?”

LISD has worked diligently with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to obtain an incidental take permit under section 10 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in connection with providing the second access point to those campuses. LISD voters approved some funding in the 2017 bond to permit and design the road.

From July 2016 until now, LISD and its environmental attorneys have engaged with USFWS and the Department of the Interior, including utilizing USFWS’s formal permit appeals process in an effort to move forward towards a resolution. 

During its regular meeting on December 16, the LISD Board of Trustees voted to instruct district administration to file the complaint against the U.S. Department of the Interior and USFWS in January 2022.

On January 25 the district said: “Legal action is still pending. The appropriate documents could be filed anytime in the next week or two, but we don’t have a firm date yet.”