Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday hearing

Davis McAuley’s report on Jim Carpenter’s initial presentation to the Commissioners Court on Monday, April 13, 2009 is very informative and well worth a read.

Monday airport hearing yields high drama
By Davis McAuley
April 14th, 2009

Bastop, Tx - Monday’s 7 p.m. hearing before Bastrop County commissioners was a sterling example of how exciting local political theater can be in these parts. The issue was whether the county should endorse a private general aviation airport proposal put forward by James Carpenter of Austin-based Carpenter & Associates. The proposed site is north of the Colorado River across from the new Cedar Creek High School and the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa.

For building dramatic tension and emotion-releasing resolution, I don’t recall such a riveting show in years, though we’ve seen some pretty good dust-ups in that time. Even the famous Austin City Council marathon hearings have seldom matched the intensity and clarity of Monday’s impromptu theater in Bastrop. And it took less than two hours from start to finish.

The protagonist, of course, was Carpenter himself with his ample silvery hair. It’s not clear yet, however, whether he was the hero caught in an unexpected ambush or merely acting bravely in the face of looming disaster. Think, perhaps, of George Armstrong Custer with his flowing locks at the Little Big Horn River. I must stop short, I think, of comparing Bluebonnet General Manager Mark Rose to Crazy Horse or some other Sioux war leader, but by the end of the evening Monday he certainly counted coup on Carpenter.

Here’s the deal. Carpenter & Associates wants the Texas Legislature to created a special municipal utility district (MUD), perhaps with enhanced powers, to aid the creation of the private airport and associated business/industrial park proposed for a 2,000-acre site between the Colorado River and the intersection of FM 969 and FM 1704 southwest of Elgin.

But State Sen. Glen Hegar and Rep. Tim Klienschmidt won’t carry this water in the Lege without the express backing of county commissioners and the Bastrop City Council. Bastrop City Manager Mike Talbot is worried by some of what he’s hearing about the deal, and Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald won’t call for a vote by commissioners without public input and airing some relevant issues.

Residents of a nearby upscale subdivision have already complained to the city council about potential deleterious effects on their rural tranquility, personal safety and property values. Hyatt officials aren’t entirely pleased either, evidently, and a Bastrop school trustee has written a critical letter to the editor of the local newspaper.

Hence Monday’s hearing. Carpenter was forced to face a skeptical public or pack up his tent and ride off over the hill, at least until the next session of the Texas Legislature. A similar hearing is set for 6:45 p.m. April 14 before the Bastrop City Council.

McDonald was expecting a testy crowd and engaged the services of a public meeting manager to keep the proceedings civilized. The room was packed when the meeting convened, the atmosphere was tense and largely hostile to the airport cause.

Carpenter, backed by a team of consultants, associates and aides, was fluent in arguing that the airport is a money-maker, does not involve public funding, and will boost the local property tax base as well as attract additional jobs and businesses. It will be safe and won’t bother anyone at the Hyatt or the new high school, he said. And future high-dollar development will be attracted to the area because the airport will cater to affluent customers, he added.

Questions from the crowd were typically tinged with hostility. Some were answered by repeating earlier points in Carpenter’s presentation, some were dodged, and some were answered frankly. (Yes, Carpenter went through bankruptcy in the late 1980s. “FAA approval” of the proposed airport means only that its flight patterns won’t interfere with activities at other nearby airports.)

Judge McDonald assured the audience they will have a chance to voice their opinions (not just ask questions) at a later session, but before he closed the session he allowed brief remarks by Bastrop school trustee (and former county commissioner) Johnny Sanders who called for commissioners to consult with the school board before acting on the Carpenter request.

Of course, Sanders also works for Rose, and McDonald allowed the general manager to offer his own comments. And Rose blew the roof off.

In accusatory terms he declared that Hyatt officials are alarmed by the airport prospect and that Carpenter tried to sneak his propposed MUD bill through the Legislature without first consulting local officials. Rose also thundered that the proposed MUD law is no ordinary local matter because it would grant developers “enormous powers” (including eminent domain) and would authorize “a super MUD” beyond the control of local governments. “(If approved) it will forever change the character (of the Bastrop area),” Rose said. The proposal “is outrageous at best,” he added, to a tumult of applause from the crowd.

Carpenter did not attempt to reply before McDonald gaveled the session to an end.


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