Sunday, July 1, 2012

Into a pumpkin

It’s been two long, stress-filled years since the 381 Agreement for the proposed Central Texas Airport was approved by the Bastrop County Commissioners Court. Finally a few hours ago at the stroke of midnight on June 30, 2012, the deadline for the commencement phase of the CTA expired . . . not with a bang but a whimper. Hopefully, the developer’s failure to deliver will be the beginning of the end of this project.

Other than the 381 Agreement in which former County Judge Ronnie McDonald and the late Precinct 4 Commissioner Lee Dildy played a major part, this project received little support and encountered a series of insurmountable obstacles.

A year before the 381 Agreement was signed, the developer attempted to introduce a bill into the 2009 Legislative session that would have allowed annexation of airport land to the Cottonwood Creek WCID#3 in Travis County in order to create a Municipal Utility District at the airport site. Thankfully, the bill garnered little support and was never even introduced for consideration.

In conjunction with the proposed legislation, a pitch for the project was presented at a Special Session of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court in April of 2009. At that event, public opposition to the project became quite clear even though interaction with outraged citizens was limited. Thankfully, the Commissioners opted not to actively support the proposed legislation.

The following day the Bastrop City Council heard the same from the developer. The COB was as uncooperative as the legislature and pro-actively voted to draft a resolution of non-support for the project.

Despite the failures with the legislature and the COB, negotiations for the 381 Agreement with Bastrop County under the guidance of judge McDonald and Commissioner Dildy quietly - and without any public input - began in the fall of 2009 culminating with its approval in June of 2010.

With the 381 Agreement in hand, the developer sought to gain wider support and entice additional investors in the fall of 2010 at an invitation only media opportunity at the Bob Bullock Museum that unveiled plans for a new element of the project - Eco-Merge. Both Judge McDonald and Commissioner Dildy conspicuously attended that event. We now know that Eco-Merge is no longer part of the airport equation due to lack of funding.

The Bullock event also marked the beginning of a second attempt to introduce legislation for the Cottonwood Creek WCID#3 at the upcoming 2011 Legislative session. As in 2009, the Cottonwood bill was a non-issue and the City of Bastrop once again failed to offer support support for the project.

It was about this time that the USACE became involved with the proposed CTA. But the contact was NOT initiated by the developer. An April 19, 2012 letter from Stephen Brooks to the developer summarizes the circumstances:

“In mid to late October 2010, my office began receiving numerous phone calls from concerned citizens regarding a proposed airport to be located in Bastrop County. In an effort to determine if the project would require a Section 404 permit, my staff located CTA’s website and on October 29, 2010 contacted the CTA to invite them to consider requesting a pre-application meeting to discuss their proposal.”

This resulted in a Notice of the Permit Application requesting public comments on March 25, 2011. An Environmental Information Document (EID) which was requested in the fall of 2010 was finally submitted in August 2011. The Corps found the EID lacking and requested additional issues be addressed. A second EID was submitted in January of 2012 but the mitigation section was still found found to be inadequate. To date no additional documentation has been submitted and therefore no permits issued. But that is certainly not the Corps fault.

It appears that this project is on life support. But is the nightmare really over? Unfortunately, not quite as there are still unanswered questions. Is the developer’s failure to meet the requirements of the 381 Agreement an automatic ‘pink slip’? What is the mechanism to deliver the news to the developer? And how long will it take?

So while the CTA/Eco-Merge project seems to have turned into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, there’s no telling when (or if) the County will serve the citizens of this county a celebratory pie.

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