NEWS

Agreement Between Westlake Fire Department and City of Austin Generates Lawsuit to Protect Property Owners in Rollingwood and West Lake Areas

December 8, 2008 | Press Release, Randy Howry

For Immediate Release

When word got out to Rollingwood and West Lake residents that an Interlocal Agreement between Emergency Service Department (ESD) #9, with three stations in the Westlake area, and the City of Austin, was in negotiation, immediate questions and concerns were raised about how the area’s firefighting service would be compromised. The Interlocal Agreement is an Agreement for Automatic Aid Assistance to be provided to the City of Austin by ESD #9.

In response, a lawsuit has been filed by Rollingwood business owner Robert Brooks against the Board of Directors of ESD #9, stating that the Agreement would jeopardize the level of service to businesses and residences within the current 18 square-mile service area of ESD #9.

“The Agreement that is in negotiation allows the City of Austin to proceed with the annexation of the unincorporated area known as the Westlake Peninsula to the City,” explains Randy Howry, attorney for Robert Brooks. “The ESD #9 Board entered into the contract knowing that the Agreement would allow it to violate Chapter 143 and other provisions of the Texas Local Government Code that requires the City to employ and use civil service firefighters within its municipal limits, thus making the agreement illegal and void because the firefighters in ESD #9 are non-civil service employees and have no interest in becoming civil service employees. Also, there is a 120-day cancellation clause which would allow the city at any time to take over the service completely with substantially inferior response times (4.5 minutes vs. 8.0 plus minutes), and allow changes in current responses by dropping responses to priority four and five calls which puts residents at added risk in an extremely dry tinder, volatile area.”

“What happens to our existing firefighters if the City of Austin exercises its 120-day contract cancellation clause and puts them all out on the street?” asks Robert Brooks, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Additional problems with the agreement include a failure of proper notification of the affected residents by the ESD Boards about their desire to pursue this Agreement, and the compensation to be paid to ESD #9 per the Agreement. It is our belief that this Agreement should be legally void because residents were never properly notified about the Agreement, now signed and executed. In addition, the compensation to be paid to ESD #9 per the Agreement is unfair, and in violation of Section 791.01(d) of the Texas Local Government Code due to compensation caps contained in the agreement,” explains Mr. Brooks.

“Additionally, much research and thought went into the location of our three fire stations in Rollingwood which have been designed to service the needs of the existing 18 square-mile area west of the City of Austin and not into other areas within Austin. Our firefighters already have more than they can handle with the increased density of homes and businesses in the Rollingwood and West Lake areas. Average response times now by our firefighters is under five minutes. What happens to response times if ESD #9 is busy on the other side of Austin which is required by the Agreement and has to fight traffic to get back to our neighborhood for a Priority One fire?” questions Mr. Brooks.

An additional major concern of residents of Rollingwood, West Lake and travelers who use Red Bud Trail is the burden and stress the ESD #9 fire trucks and first responder vehicles will put on the Emmett Shelton Bridge when called to respond to emergencies in Austin. The Shelton Bridge is the low water crossing on Red Bud Trail. A thorough report published in 1996 by Faulkner Engineering states, because of visible signs of cracking and corrosion, in addition to visible signs of deterioration, the City of Austin became concerned about the bridges capabilities, capacities, and the structural integrity. The 1996 report concludes, under the analysis, the fatigue cycles that the structure has experienced and has already accumulated, has a very limited remaining life and that the structure has no remaining fatigue life. “The problem is that since that report, nothing of substance has been done to reinforce the bridge, and allowing heavy vehicles to use this right of way freely is a huge danger to our communities and the people who travel over the bridge every day,” comments Mr. Brooks. “This Agreement between ESD #9 and the City of Austin is creating insult to injury in a very dangerous way and jeopardizing the lives of our fine firefighters and equipment.”

In addition to the lawsuit filed against the ESD # 9 Board of Directors in the State District Court of Travis County, Mr. Brooks has petitioned for Declaratory Relief in Travis County District Court for himself and all of the residents in ESD #9s 18 square-mile area, including those of Lost Creek, the City of West Lake Hills, Rollingwood, Woods at Westlake, Woods of Westlake Renaissance, West Rim, St. Tropez, The Summit, Las Cimas, Cielo Office Park and the west shoreline area of Lake Austin.

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