Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Exposing the hype

Ever since the developer first pitched the Central Texas Airport project at a public meeting of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court on April 13, 2009 and to the Bastrop City Council on April 14, 2009, a fog of hype has swirled around the project. Over time, the hype continued at a fever pitch but the players and configuration of the project never stayed the same for long. So exactly what is the proposed Central Texas Airport/Green Corporate Center project?

At the October 25, 2011 meeting, the Corps attempted to clarify the scope of the project with the very first item up for discussion:

1. Scope of the single and complete project including details on other planned phases and their status relative to independent utility. Elements to be detailed include any commercial, industrial, or energy production element, hotel, infrastructure, and other development features.

[The Corps] explained that the scope of the project needed to include the larger plan of development for any reasonably foreseeable phases, roads, infrastructure. etc. That the applicant should give themselves credit for work they had done for energy and “green elements”. That the maps provided where [sic] insufficient and that we are having a difficult time even figuring out what the scope of the project is. Specifically the written descriptions do not match the plans. When asked about the buildings (what they were) on the east side of the runway, we were informed that they were just aesthetic drawings, not any particular buildings.

The Corps felt that defining the scope of the project was important enough to close the meeting with a continuation of the discussion:

23. Provide current detailed plans and profiles including all infrastructures and other site development related to the project. Currently, detailed site plans are provided for one segment of the project site plan while no profiles are provided.

[the Corps] went over in detail that we needed better maps.

CTA stated that the maps provided where [sic] artist renditions; that the project was design-build and no such data (engineering drawings) are available at this time.

[The Corps] stated that although detailed engineering drawings are not required, reasonably accurate maps, with all reasonably foreseeable phases an elements, are needed to permit the project.

It’s clear that the Corps wasn’t buying into any of the developer’s hype that was so short on specifics. (If only the County had proceeded with such due diligence . . . sigh.) The Corps’ persistence in requesting details was cleverly side-stepped in the revised EID. StopCTA pretty much connected these dots last spring in What Eco-merge?. Looks like we were right on target.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Making a difference

The lack of transparency and disregard for public input regarding the County’s decision to give its blessing to the proposed Central Texas Airport has proven to be a colossal miscalculation. Citizens were rightfully outraged that they had been given no voice in a project that could so negatively impact personal lives, public safety and environmental quality. Would the public ever have a say?

The first significant opportunity came when the USACE posted a Public Notice on March 25, 2011 which requested public comments regarding the Permit Application for the CTA. The initial comment period was for 30 days and then extended until May 9. This section of the Public Notice provided some encouragement to those who were overlooked in the County’s decision-making process:

PUBLIC INTEREST REVIEW FACTORS: This application will be reviewed in accordance with 33 CFR 320-331, the Regulatory Program of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and other pertinent laws, regulations, and executive orders. Our evaluation will also follow the guidelines published by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to Section 404 (b)(1) of the CWA. The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impact, including cumulative impact, of the proposed activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concerns for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefits which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposal must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the proposal will be considered, including its cumulative effects. Among the factors addressed are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shore erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, considerations of property ownership, and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people.

The USACE is soliciting comments from the public; federal, state, and local agencies and officials; Indian Tribes; and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity. Any comments received will be considered by the USACE in determining whether to issue, issue with modifications, or conditions, or deny a permit for this proposal. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and the other public interest factors listed above. Comments are used in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment and/or an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.

The most recently obtained document summarizing the October 25 meeting between the developers of the CTA, their consultants and the Corps confirms that the above paragraphs were not just empty window-dressing.

. . . an airport project is very different from a housing development and the public interest review is also different; that this project had more public interest than any project in recent district history with 60 comments and 50 plus requests for a public hearing; and that the EID/EA would need to [be] commensurate with the public interest review.

Preparing comments is not an easy task; one for which not many have the time or inclination. But the citizens of Bastrop County took the opportunity and it paid off.

Let this be a lesson that citizens CAN make a difference. Let the lesson for the County be that transparency and due diligence should be the highest priority in evaluating any future projects of this magnitude. Government should work for and consider its citizens first and not give priority to developers’ pipe-dreams.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The good of the one

Star Trek buffs are familiar with the Vulcan edict that “good of the many outweighs the good of the one”. That principle is valid not only on Vulcan but as a cornerstone of any civil society . . . in theory. But this is corporate America where the “good of the one outweighs the good of the many” anytime there is a chance that money can be made.

This map of the proposed Central Texas Airport’s flight patterns accompanied Cyndi Wright’s June 6 article “Developer misses deadline” in the print edition of the Bastrop Advertiser. It brings home just how many people are going to be impacted by the CTA should it ever be built. How could the county have even considered this? Oh yes . . . the illusory pot of gold at the end of the runway.

Gaze long and hard at it folks . . . through your tears.

CTA flight patterns

Saturday, April 21, 2012


A passenger on a flight taking off from JFK last Thursday recorded a birdstrike event that destroyed one engine as it happened. This plane made it back to safety. But a smaller plane might not have been so lucky. Build that 26 acre ‘duck pond’ 900′ from the runway at the proposed CTA and this could be happening right here in Bastrop County over McKinney Roughs, the Hyatt and the Cedar Creek High School. And we might not be as lucky.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The sound of money

A recent issue of Aviation Week reported that NASA has demonstrated a break-through in the design of aircraft that may allow overland supersonic flights of both passenger and business jets.

“The tests involved scale models of small supersonic airliners designed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin and are aimed at entry into service about 2025. Although the measured shock waves signatures are at the high end of what would be publicly acceptable, they proved the design tools could produce a supersonic business jet capable of unrestricted overland flight,” says Peter Coen, NASA’s Supersonic Fixed Wing project manager.

The article continues with the information that “NASA’s original goal (of noise production) was 65 PNLdB (Perceived Noise Level); 70 PNLdB is widely regarded as the threshold for public acceptance of routine overland supersonic flight,” and that “Boeing and Lockheed are now working under Phase 2 contracts to refine the off-track shock wave signatures of their designs to reduce sonic boom over the full 60-mile wide “carpet.”

Those of us living in south Austin in the 1950’s and ‘60’s remember the continual sonic booms from the military jets at Bergstrom AFB, and the damage it did to our windows, and the community controversy that it created. This was the era of the “Cold War,” and the complaints were continually brushed off by the Air Force justifying the noise by the mantra that “this is the Sound of Freedom.”

This “Sound of Freedom” was taken to court by the citizens of Oklahoma City in 1964 after “Operation Bongo II” subjected citizens to six months of continuous sonic booms, and the Air Force was forced to pay damages.

The citizens of Bastrop County may have a similar situation if the Central Texas Airport is constructed and operated with the potential of trans-sonic business aircraft using this facility and the surrounding air space. Imagine, not only the continual din of hundreds of aircraft at low altitude over Elgin and Cedar Creek, but also the sonic booms as they accelerate to cruising speed.

And remember, the “carpet” of the sonic boom is 60 miles wide.

This isn’t the reassuring “Sound of Freedom.”

It’s the destructive “Sound of Money.”

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