AUSTIN (KXAN) - Controversy surrounding a new aquarium planned for North Austin has led to the end of a promising educational partnership with a University of Texas-based research center.
That's just the latest setback for what's dubbed as a family-friendly attraction slated to open in just a few months.
On Aug. 21, owner Vince Covino told KXAN the multi-million dollar project in a former Lack’s furniture store was ‘on track.’
“It's a hefty investment. It's a long term investment. It's a place you plan to be for decades,” he said.
But Tuesday a deal with UT's Texas Advanced Computing Center appeared dead:
“We ... remain interested in activities that promote science and technology education. However, in light of the recent news, we are no longer in preliminary discussions with the Austin Aquarium to help design an outreach exhibit,” TACC spokesperson Faith Singer-Villalobos said in an email.
The change of heart comes after hurdles from city hall. City code compliance officials confirmed to KXAN:
- There is now a site plan submitted that would allow for the large water tanks already on the property.
- A temporary certificate of occupancy is still lacking. That's meant the immediate removal of all animals and fish stocked on site. It’s not clear how many animals that is or where they are being kept.
Beyond the red tape, the Oregon Humane Society continues to investigate Covino's Portland Aquarium after someone leaked a death log of 200 animals. Some allegedly starved and others died due to improper quarantining over a three-month period.
Covino told KXAN last week no fish died of starvation, saying it would not be financially responsible to buy an animal for $500, spend another $800, flying it to an aquarium, then not spend the 8 cents to properly feed it.
KXAN's sister station in Portland, Ore., KOIN, was recently invited inside the Covino's facility where workers showed the quarantine tanks and said they take their jobs very seriously.
Still, a former Portland Aquarium worker says there was an unwillingness to take care of the animals.
"It seemed like the bottom line for the business was to make as much money as possible rather than spending that money and investing that money to make sure the facility was adequate enough to care for the animals,” said Lisa Van Etten a marine biologist.
Then there are legal issues. Co-owner Ammon Covino recently pleaded guilty in Florida to illegally buying marine animals for their aquariums in Boise, Idaho and Portland.
KXAN reached out to Vince Covino Tuesday to ask if he's still planning to open later this year. Covino said he would be back in Austin Sept. 10 and answer questions then.
You may be wondering if Covino is still selling passes. The austinaquarium.com site is still advertising online and the company has sent out Valpak flyers, touting it will open 'this winter.'
Meantime, a Facebook site KXAN first showed you last week: 'Boycott the Austin Aquarium' now has more than 1,000 likes.
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