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.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Highway to the sky

Anyone who’s given the proposed Central Texas Airport a second thought has wondered just how FM 969 and FM 1704 could handle the traffic that would be generated by such a large project. Well, the revised Environmental Information Document (EID), likely at the USACE’s request, FINALLY addresses ground transportation issues:

“The construction of the CTA general aviation airport will generate additional traffic on FM 969. This may include, but not be limited to: construction personnel commuting to and from work and the delivery of construction equipment and materials intermittently.”

Note the careful wording that limits this assessment to the ‘construction phase’ of the project. No mention of what impact the ‘operational phase’ would have. In any case, the additional traffic will not only slow things down. It’s going to be downright DANGEROUS!

To alleviate congestion near the site, road ‘improvements’ are in the works. So not only will there be more traffic but short-term construction to deal with as well:

“In coordination with TxDOT, CTA will be making initial improvement to FM 969 and FM 1704 in the immediate vicinity of the proposed project during the Phase 1 construction activities. Expected improvements include controlled intersections and additional turn lanes.”

More long range traffic solutions mention the CAMPO 2035 Plan which includes upgrading FM 969 to a four-lane divided arterial from US 183 to Webberville and a Bastrop County Comprehensive Transportation Plan which would do the same for FM 969 and FM 1704. These projects are a loooong way off. But inquiring minds will wonder just where the money is coming from to implement these grandiose plans.

Yup, according to the EID, taxpayers are on tap to foot the bill. Please note the conditional tense in the last sentence:

“All Bastrop County taxpayers, including the CTA, pay a Road and Bridge Tax. The funds collected by the County are distributed to each County Precinct according to the amount of roadways and bridges within the Precinct. With the expected increase in real property tax value, and the economic growth associated with the CTA, Bastrop County and the affected Bastrop County Precinct should realize an increase in Road and Bridge Tax funds.”

So if Road and Bridge Tax revenue is inadequate, what other options are there? Maybe yet another toll road? Or a municipal bond to cover the cost?

A similar situation is currently playing out in Travis County with the developer of the F1 project. This statement from an April 5 article in the AAS - Circuit of the Americas seeks assistance from Travis County for roadwork - should give taxpayers pause:

“In his application for the development incentive, circuit President Steve Sexton wrote, “While we are asking for road incentives, you may still decide that the value of our proposal to county citizens is worthy of an abatement or rebate also.”"

Ah . . . developers LOVE those three magic words - incentives, abatement, rebate. If the CTA project moves forward, Bastrop County will likely be hearing a lot of them. Hold on to your wallets . . .

Sunday, April 1, 2012

TCEQ says ‘no’ too

Like the USACE, the TCEQ has decided there will be no public hearing on the permitting for the proposed CTA. Here’s the kicker from a letter dated March 29, 2012:

“In response to your request for a public meeting regarding 401 certification, the executive director has determined that the 401 issues raised do not warrant a public meeting. Therefore, no public meeting will be held.”


But sadly predictable . . .

2014 all entries
2013 all entries
2012 all entries
2011 all entries
2010 all entries