Austin F1 track planners get a green light on land grading

Travis County commissioners voted Tuesday to grant a permitting variance that is likely to allow promoters of the proposed Formula One racetrack to begin grading work on the site southeast of Austin as soon as the end of the year. Organizers have said they need to break ground by then to have the facility ready for the inaugural 2012 race.

Because portions of the 900-acre site lie within a flood plain, grading work normally requires review by the Federal Emergency Management Agency before dirt can be moved. The agency typically takes as long as six months to weigh in.

The variance, which passed on a 4-1 vote at the recommendation of county planners, allows track developers to proceed before the county receives FEMA's comments. County officials said they anticipate no significant objections from FEMA.

The approval represented the biggest hurdle remaining in Formula One United States Grand Prix's grading permit application, which, according to county planners, could receive final approval within weeks.

According to the terms of the variance, the local F1 organizers will post a $921,000 bond. If the federal agency doesn't sign off on the permit, the county would use the money to reverse any work already done, restoring the landscape and vegetation to its previous condition.

Commissioners also heard a report on the F1 group's plans for traffic management to and from the site on race days.

County planners have said the facility will require road improvements costing more than $6 million — a bill they say F1 should pay. When asked about that at the meeting, attorney Richard Suttle, who is representing the organizers, said they would be discussing the issue with county officials. The Statesman

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