Factoids

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Time to wake up

These days only a handful people in Bastrop county have a clue about what’s happening with the proposed Central Texas Airport. The issue seems to have disappeared from our collective consciousness and life has gone on for most everyone. That complacency and denial could come to haunt us.

Some comments that have recently come our way illustrate just how woefully uninformed the public is.

One rumor floating around is that if the developer doesn’t meet an end-of the-year deadline, the project would lose funding. NOT TRUE! The first deadline isn’t until June 30, 2012 seven months from now. The specific requirements that the developer must meet can be found in “Section 9 Company Performance” of the 381 Agreement.

Another rumor is that the US Army Corps of Engineers has granted the permit for work on the airport. WRONG AGAIN! The Corps has requested and is awaiting additional information from the developer based on the comments submitted during the Public Comment period which ended May 9 and and an “Environmental Information Document” submitted by the developer in August. After the requested information is received and processed, the Corps may even hold a public hearing before making a final decision.

Then there is the more general consensus that the airport annoyance has just faded away. This conclusion is a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Just because it’s not in the news, does not mean it’s not inching forward.

It’s time to wake up, folks. Unless of course, the prospect of 737s rumbling overhead and chemicals polluting the Colorado River seems like a welcome addition to the ambiance of our county.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Aftermath

These comments were presented during Citizens’ Comments at the Bastrop County Commissioners Court on September 12.

I’d like to begin by expressing a sincere appreciation for everyone in this county who has stepped up and delivered this past week. You’ve all done an outstanding job. A huge thank you also goes to KXAN for broadcasting the very informative press conferences.

Considering the challenges ahead, the proposed Central Texas Airport is not likely to be a priority item on any agenda for some time to come. So after nearly a year of talking to this Court every second and fourth Monday, I have decided to get out of your way for a little while so you can take care of more pressing business.

I’ll leave you with these thoughts . . .

The Union Chapel fire in western Bastrop County gave those of us living nearby a taste of what life might be like in proximity to the proposed Central Texas Airport. There is no doubt in my mind that if the CTA is built, the area to the west of Highway 21 - some of the most beautiful and thoughtfully developed in the county - will be no longer be suitable for the type of residential or recreational activity that currently exists there. That will be a tremendous loss to those who will be displaced as well as to the quality of life in the county as a whole.

Then I imagined what a fire the magnitude of the one recently experienced would do to an airport and industrial complex on the banks of the Colorado river. I envisioned planes and fuel tanks exploding and unknown toxins filling the air and running downhill towards the river. Such an environmental disaster is too painful to contemplate for long.

Even with the distraction of rebuilding this county, I hope that this Court will remain vigilant regarding the proposed Central Texas Airport and not let anything slip in under the radar while your attention is focused elsewhere.

Finally, I hope that a lesson has been learned in light of the recent destruction that will temper future decisions regarding development. Less is always more.

We all want to keep Bastrop beautiful, liveable and safe and can do just that if priorities are chosen carefully.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mythbusting

These comments were presented during the citizen’s comment period at the August 8 Commissioners Court session.

Today there’s going to be some respectful mythbusting!

There is still lingering confusion about the role that Rep. Mark Strama played in the failed bill that would have annexed land under the jurisdiction of the proposed Central Texas Airport to the Cottonwood Creek WCID #3 in Travis County.

Since the beginning of the Legislative session, Strama’s staff has explained that creation of the bill was facilitated through his office as a ‘courtesy’ that would be offered to anyone requesting assistance in drafting possible legislation. Somehow this legislative ’service’ was misinterpreted as pro-active support and a myth quickly surfaced that the Representative was going to sponsor the bill.

In reality, Rep. Strama never took a position. In part because legislators are reluctant to meddle in another district’s business . . . especially concerning a contentious issue. In part because staff research quickly revealed substantial deficiencies in the project.

There was a collective sigh of relief when the Legislative session ended and no one had stepped forward to sponsor the bill. This gave rise to the myth that the issue is dead until the next legislative session. NOT SO! While the legislative approach is the easiest and therefore most desirable to developers, it is not the only way to create a MUD or WCID.

Last week I talked to the TCEQ to learn a little more about the process. Title 30: Chapter 293 of the Texas Administrative Code describes the TCEQ’s role in the formation of water districts. Texas Statutes: Chapter 51 details requirements for WCIDs and Texas Statutes: Chapter 54 details those for MUDs. Generally, the application process seems to require filing a petition to appropriate agencies and entities, a timely Public Notice in the local paper and consent from local entities including the affected county and/or city. Be prepared. This is not easy reading.

So we are anything but free and clear until 2013. Vigilance is especially warranted now that airport interests have acquired the Falcon Seaboard property. Either a MUD or WCID spearheaded at that location would not bode well for the county’s future.

Judge McDonald, you have stated publicly that any MUD-related activity would “require a public meeting”. Should one of these non-legislative options arise, the citizens of this county are going to hold you to your word and we will expect this Court to do more than rubberstamp such a proposal.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Performance evaluation

These comments were presented during the citizen’s comment period of the July 25th Commissioners Court session.

At the last Court session, I mentioned several reasons why more people aren’t coming on Monday mornings to voice their opposition to the proposed Central Texas Airport. But one very important item was omitted from that list. One that doesn’t stem from personal circumstances but rather from a perception that local government is indifferent to the voice of ‘the people’.

Here’s a court-appropriate version of what some of your constituents have had to say regarding the effectiveness of engaging local officials about the proposed airport. Consider this an ear-to-the-ground performance evaluation and please take note:

“They won’t listen so why bother? The Commissioners have sold out. The good ol’ boys are running the show and they don’t care. It would be a waste of time.”

That sense of hopelessness and lack of confidence that local government is working for ‘the people’ should trouble you. I know it troubles me. But although their sense frustration is understandable, is inaction an appropriate response? I think not. if ‘we the people’ don’t step up to try to right the ship, who will?

The citizens’ comments are usually prefaced with an explanation from you, Judge McDonald, that although the Court won’t respond to our comments or questions at that time, the Court does listen and take everything we say into account.

If indeed you ARE listening, there has not been much evidence of it. You have yet to engage the public in an open forum or acknowledge in any way the facts and positions that have been presented to you week after week. Instead, the county’s most notable response to date has been damage control.

The local press has been all too willing to regurgitate ad nauseum the County’s well-worn positions, chapter and verse. And last December, after months of very public criticism a rather Orwellian Mission Statement appeared in the lobby outside this very courtroom. Oh . . . and then there was the impromptu gathering also outside this courtroom last December to explain the circumstances under which the County WOULD hold a public forum.

So all in all, it seems the lack of confidence in this Court is not unfounded. And the divide will only increase if the Court continues its impassive status quo. How will you regain the trust of those who have been alienated by the County’s unilateral decisions regarding the Central Texas Airport? Or are those who feel disconnected and abandoned just not politically relevant enough for you to bother? That would be so very sad.

Monday, June 27, 2011

CTA support MIA

These comments were presented during the citizen’s comment period of the June 27th Commissioners Court session. The material is a rework of the post immediately below. Please note that this was Vivian Dildy’s first appearance since her appointment to the vacated Precinct 4 Commissioners seat. Welcome on board!

The comments that were submitted to the Army Corps in response to the March 25 Public Notice were requested by a FOIA on May 11. They finally arrived last week. Here are some interesting stats about them.

There were a total of 60 comments. Of those, 4 were from official entities - LCRA, TPWD, City of Bastrop and Bastrop County. There were 2 from environmental organizations - Environmental Stewardship and Sierra Club. Of the remaining comments, 52 were from concerned citizens. With a total of 35, Cedar Creek residents posted twice as many as Elgin residents who provided 17. Only 2 comments supported the project and neither of them dealt with issues germane to the permit on which the Army Corps will be ruling.

The first of the two, received April 25, consists of one sentence scribbled at the bottom of a letter that ECO-Merge appears to have sent to its supporters on March 24 in an attempt to generate positive input to the Public Notice. It took a good while to decipher the handwriting which simply says “I strongly support the Ecomerge project”. The signature is pretty illegible but might be D. or Don Hill.

Interestingly, the ECO-Merge call-to-action is dated the day BEFORE the Public Notice was posted on March 25th. Most likely it was blasted to anyone who ever expressed support for the project. Please note that the Army Corps contact addresses are different than those in the Public Notice. Are improperly addressed comments even valid?

The second letter, received May 9 and also improperly addressed, came from Bill Graves, the Superintendent of the Elgin ISD. It’s all about money and how there is ‘no downside in this project’. It’s sad that this ‘educator’ hasn’t done his homework and considered the collateral damage. There is none so blind as he who dreams of a windfall . . .

So it seems that ECO-Merge’s pre-notification plea for support was pretty much of a bust. Is there ANY credible public support for this project? In contrast, submissions from the official entities, environmental organizations and well-informed citizens provided responsive, detailed comments. A selection of the more original and informative submissions have been scanned and posted to the StopCTA website.

The people have spoken loudly and clearly: THIS PROJECT IS A VERY BAD IDEA AND NEEDS TO BE STOPPED NOW!! But will our voices be heard?

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