The long saga of decommissioning East Austin’s controversial Holly Street Power Plant shifts into a new gear this month, only a short 14 years after the facility’s 2007 closure. The plant generated electricity for 47 years at the eastern shore of Lady Bird Lake in the Holly neighborhood, but ceased operations after years of protest by nearby residents over its environmental impact — now, after more than a decade of planning efforts, the site hosted a groundbreaking event last weekend commemorating the start of phase one improvements to the shoreline in this area. For a project that’s often made us feel like the whole city’s moving in slow motion, it’s a good start:
The Holly Street Power Plant operated for 47 years, and thanks to years of community involvement and action, operation ceased in 2007. This weekend, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the Holly Trail and converting the area to parkland. pic.twitter.com/yvTaaEFNcu
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Like all groundbreakings, last weekend’s ceremony was a largely symbolic event, but this particular observance holds a lot more significance to the history of East Austin — the gathering really celebrated the community figures involved in the Holly Plant’s Decommissioning Committee that finally got the job done
Constructed in 1958, the Holly Street Power Plant operated for 47 years at this site. After years of community involvement and action, operation ceased in 2007. In 2009, City Council tasked the Parks and Recreation Department with developing a vision for Festival Beach, Fiesta Gardens, and Holly Shores. Demolition began in 2011. In 2010, Austin Energy funded the Holly Shores/Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach Vision Plan, which was adopted by Austin City Council in 2014. The official decommissioning of the plant occurred in 2017.
The Holly neighborhood was historically the cultural and family home to generations of Mexican families. Since the 1980s, the Holly Power Plant Decommissioning Committee’s countless hours of activism, community participation, and vigils ultimately led to the plant closure in 2007. The outcries of these brave Committee members served as a public voice for the neighborhood. The Committee members are Elisa Rendon Montoya, Marcos Delon, Frances Martinez, Robert Donley, Paul Hernandez, Edward Rendon Sr., Susana Almanza, Jessie Segovia, Gavino Fernandez, Bertha Rendon Delgado, Joventina Martinez, and Nancy Guerrero.
Though the timeline of the larger vision plan for the parkland at Holly Shores and Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach remains an open question, these first phase improvements from the Parks and Recreation Department and the Trail Foundation represent a dramatic adjustment to the basic connectivity of the Hike-and-Bike Trail in the neighborhood — due to the power plant’s site against the water, the stretch of trail in this region meanders pretty far from the shoreline, requiring crossings at Holly and Riverview Streets and winding through the Central Austin Youth League ballfields at Edward Rendon Sr. Park before finally getting back to the lake at the southern tip of the peninsula known as Holly Point.
In the image above, you can see we’ve stuck some site plan drawings together alongside a map of the current trail route to give you a fairly good idea of the changes — although the scale’s not perfect, so don’t put it in your manifesto or anything. This first phase of work will relocate the trail along the shoreline through the section of decommissioned plant closest to the water, avoiding those street crossings and creating more direct access to the upcoming “wishbone” bridge planned near Longhorn Dam to the east of the site, not to mention the rest of the trail.
Other improvements mentioned by the city as part of this first phase include upgrades to the playscape, pool, and restrooms at the nearby Martin Neighborhood Park, along with a new picnic area for Festival Beach, a fixed-up Johnny Degollado event pavilion, and landscaping work at the Fiesta Gardens site. It’s less clear how soon we’ll see the realization of the Trail Foundation’s plans for a fishing pier and other waterfront park space in this area, but the rerouting of the trail will literally pave the way to these upcoming amenities — anyway, after more than a decade of this site sitting mostly unused beyond Austin Energy’s remaining electrical substation, making the land do something useful represents a nice change of pace.