Friday, March 11, 2011
Here’s MUD in your eye
By Cyndi Wright
March 11, 2011
For Jim Carpenter, developer of the proposed Central Texas Airport, it seems like its been one stumbling block after another in his quest to establish a taxing district, or municipal utility district (MUD), to help pay for an airport, multi-renewable energy power plant and ‘green’ corporate center in western Bastrop County.
And now, because of Carpenter’s efforts to annex land in Bastrop County through an existing water control improvement district (WCID) 12 miles away in Travis County, Sens. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) and Kirk Watson (D-Austin) filed S.B. 1257 on Tuesday, March 8 – just four days before this Legislative session’s bill filing deadline – to try and tighten up the legal standard of existing Texas law that allows a district to annex other property.
In his press release, Hegar says S.B. 1257 stems from an ongoing issue in Bastrop and Travis counties, where “an entity is exploring the idea of annexing land in Bastrop County for development of the Central Texas Airport project, despite the fact that the entirety of the existing district is located in Travis County and an estimated 12 miles from the proposed annexed property.” The release goes on to say the bill was filed in an attempt to protect landowners from developments encroaching into a community without first seeking local input and support.
“There is absolutely no reason why a district should have the authority to develop land in another county before first working with surrounding landowners and the county to make certain that all of their concerns are addressed,” Senator Hegar said.
The district in question is Cottonwood Creek WCID No. 3 (CCWCID), created in 1985.
According to Carpenter and Associates spokesperson T.R. Reid, the company has not heard of the S.B. 1257.
“We are not familiar with that,” Reid said, but added, “We’ve never formally made that annexation request. We drafted proposed legislation. We have and are currently considering using that WCID to annex land.”
The MUDdy trail
Carpenter first tried to establish a MUD through CCWCID for the proposed airport project by having it introduced in and approved during the 2009 Legislative session. But when local residents found out about the plans through an article in the March 14, 2009 edition of The Bastrop Advertiser, the very vocal outrage that immediately ensued dissuaded Representative Tim Kleinschmidt from carrying the MUD into the session.
“There are still concerns existing with the city of Bastrop about the creation in its extra-territorial jurisdiction and concern on the part of the Bastrop Independent School District, mainly addressing information concerning future uses and noise imprint,” Kleinschmidt said.
Since then, people opposing the airport have organized into groups and ramped up the constant barrage of questions, freedom of information requests, workshops and have also taken advantage of every available minute of citizen’s comments at local governmental meetings.
According to Murray Altman-Kaough, chair of Groups United to Advocate Responsible Development, or GUARD, the fact that Carpenter will not submit to environmental studies speaks louder than any words.
“While the developer is selling the project as ‘green’, he is not willing to undertake any form of regulatory approval to bolster his claim,” Altman-Kaough wrote in a letter to the Advertiser. “We submit that otherwise, ‘green’ is nothing more than a marketing ploy. Airports are by nature highly polluting, as are manufacturing facilities. We have nothing but the developer’s word that the project is inherently benign.”
Some other concerns cited include traffic impact in the area and the proximity of the airport to the new high school and the Colorado River.
MUD through ETJ
Another way to get a MUD is to have it approved by the city that has jurisdiction over the extra-territorial area – in this case the City of Bastrop.
But after Carpenter’s associates presented the query to the Bastrop City Council in November 2010, city officials responded they would need a lot more information before approving such a deal – and Carpenter would have to pay for the city to do its due diligence.
In an article in the Feb. 26 edition of the Advertiser, City Manager Mike Talbot expressed his frustration at Carpenter’s lack of a response to the city’s request.
Talbot’s letter to Carpenter states, “The council and I have been disturbed to have heard complaints voiced, over the past several weeks, in various forums and directly by local citizens, to the effect that the City of Bastrop has been ‘non-responsive and /or obstructive’ to you and your team in your development of the project. In the City’s view, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Talbot also said in the letter that the city looked forward “to meeting with your team in a specially scheduled workshop session.” Talbot added the city cannot “perform a meaningful evaluation” of the airport project without such a meeting and better overall communication with Carpenter.
Since then, Talbot said, the developer has acknowledged receiving the city’s letter, but little else has resulted.
During this legislative session, Carpenter had asked Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) to carry his request for a MUD in, but according to Strama’s office staff, the drafted bill was turned over to Carpenter for review six weeks ago and there has been no response.
Hegar and Watson not only filed S.B. 1257, the new bill that would make it illegal for an existing district to annex property in another county without that county’s support, they sent a strongly-worded letter to Mark Reynolds, the treasurer of Cottonwood Creek WCID No. 3.
“It has been brought to our attention that the Cottonwood Creek WCID No. 3 is exploring the idea of annexing land in Bastrop County for development of the Central Texas Airport project. This despite the fact that the entirety of your District is located in Travis County and an estimated 15 miles from the proposed annexed property…There are significant safety and environmental issues that must be given serious consideration during your deliberations…It is of substantial importance that you work in conjunction with the Bastrop County Commissioners, the Bastrop City Council and the citizens of both communities to address any concerns they may have before moving forward with this proposal.”
The letter seemed to end with what could be considered a threat – or a promise: “In the event that the land annexation is confirmed … we fully expect that you will participate in all civil and county proceedings as they relate to the District … that you will take an active role in the community. Any lesser involvement will cause us to become much more involved in your deliberation as a District and as board members.”
Reynolds said the CCWCID board only meets on an as-needed basis and he was not that familiar with the plan for annexation.
“We have not met on that at all,” he said. “I received an e-mail on it two to three weeks ago that he (Carpenter) was thinking about it but we haven’t talked about it recently.”
The president of the CCWCID board seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of annexing the land in Bastrop County.
“We’ve not been asked to do anything yet,” Jon Pieratt said. “Hopefully we will. If the demand is there, we would be interested in serving those needs.”
Among those listed by TCEQ as an official or consultant for CCWCID is Janet Marsh, who lists her place of business as the legal firm of Armbrust & Brown LLP. However, a call to that office resulted in a staff member denying that Marsh works there. A call to the phone number listed for Marsh resulted in the call being answered by Carpenter and Associates office in Austin.
Marsh did not return a phone call by press time.
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