Monday, October 29, 2012

Safety be damned!

Safety concerns regarding the proposed Central Texas Airport have been a recurring theme on this blog and elsewhere in the media. In addition, many of the comments responding to the CTA’s Permit Application to the USACE highlighted the inherent dangers of not only building an airport on the banks of the Colorado River but on top of that, constructing a permanent elevation pond only 1000 feet from the runway.

Well the Corps took our collective concern to heart. Items 14 and 15 of the October 25, 2011 meeting discussed safety and wildlife hazard issues related to the proposed Central Texas Airport. The Corps tried their best but encountered an immovable (and clueless) developer. Here’s a summary of the exchange:

[The Corps] explained that there needs to be a discussing [sic] on why the pond would not create a hazardous wildlife attractant. She explained that in our public interest review we need to address this issue. They need to explain why there is a need for a constant pool. Could do a small dry dam and eliminate the wildlife hazard.

The CTA’s response provides stunning insight into the arrogance and self-interest of the developer. The safety issue is something that can be conveniently side-stepped by avoiding FAA regulation (due to the CTA’s private funding status). This attitude will be no surprise to those familiar with the CTA issue but it’s still a shock to see it so bluntly stated:

CTA stated that the pool was for aesthetics and irrigation and that it should not be a concern because it is not an FAA project.

And there you have it. Aesthetics is their primary concern and safety be damned! How’s that for a shining moral compass?!

After that the Corps tried once more:

[The Corps] stated that we still have concerns because it is still a public safety issue. They should consider a dry detention basin.

The Hazardous Wildlife Attractants section on page 28 of the revised EID is a twisted sleight-of-hand response to the Corps well-founded concerns. Quack, quack provides a comprehensive analysis of that section. And the Detention Pond Layout included in Appendix A of the Compensatory Mitigation Plan can be seen in More quackery.

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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fly on the wall

A recently received FOIA document provides a very interesting fly-on-the-wall perspective of the interaction between the USACE and the developers of the proposed Central Texas Airport. The document in question is a summary of a telephone conference held October 25, 2011. The date of this meeting is confirmed on page 1 of the Compensatory Mitigation Plan of the revised Environmental Information Document (EID) submitted to the USACE by the Proposed Central Texas Airport in January 2012.

The meeting Agenda submitted by ACI consulting lists the attendees as Jim Carpenter, CTA, Walter Tacquard CTA, Steve Paulson, ACI, Lauren Dill, ACI and two Corps representatives whose names are redacted. It would be logical to assume they are Jennifer Walker, Chief of the Permits Section and Frederick Land, the Project Manager.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the deficiencies in the first EID (submitted by ACI in August 2011) that were detailed in response to the EID from the USACE on September 07, 2011. StopCTA submitted a FOIA for that letter a year ago. It was denied on December 05, 2011 and an appeal was posted on December 30, 2012. The document remains on appeal with the Army General Counsel in Washinton DC. Thanks to the meeting summary which lists 23 discussion items, we now have a pretty clear idea of what that withheld letter contains. Issues discussed at that meeting will be highlighted in separate posts.

The only other item to be noted here is that an additional attendee - Ronnie Moore, Bastrop County - was present at the conference call. The Corps confirmed that they did not extend the invitation so it would have had to come from someone on the CTA ‘team’. In light of other documents that StopCTA has acquired but not yet made public, that was no surprise to us. More on that later . . .

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A matter of facts

Just how important are ‘facts’ to an issue like the proposed Central Texas Airport? Those of us at StopCTA put factual accuracy at the top of the list. While errors occasionally slip through, we do our best to correct them ASAP.

Unfortunately, even the most well-intentioned opposition to the project has occasionally offered questionable information regarding the CTA. Here are a few of the blunders that have been circulated around Bastrop:

1. The CTA permit application to the US Army Corps of Engineers produced more than its share of confusion. An EID (Environmental Impact Document) was submitted to the Corps on behalf of the CTA but more than once and publicly it has been erroneously identified as an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). An EIS is a much more rigorous evaluation than an EID (or EA Environmental Assessment). The NEPA requirement process is detailed here. StopCTA was also disheartened to see the number of times ‘Corps’ was misspelled as ‘Corp’ in many different circumstances.

2. Then there was a misstep concerning the number of passengers that would be allowable per flight at the airport. An email sent to a political candidate and others stated that aircraft would be limited to “less than 16 seats”. A quick look at page 2 of the 381 Agreement provides the correct information:

“[The airport] . . . at no time will serve any scheduled passenger-carrying operations of an air carrier designed for more than 9 passenger seats or unscheduled passenger-carrying operations of an air carrier operating aircraft designed for 31 or more passenger seats.”

There was more outrage that StopCTA had seen the email than there was about the ‘fact’ that so missed the mark.

3. Before the much-anticipated June 30 deadline when the CTA was required to begin construction, this whopper appeared briefly online:

“With only a couple of months left before they have to break ground and have $150M in the bank . . .

Again the very first page of Resolution approving the 381 Agreement has the correct information:

“WHEREAS, pursuant to the proposed Agreement (i) CTA will not be entitled to receive any grant payments unless and until CTA has completed construction of the first phase of the project which is estimated to cost $150,000,000 . . .”

The deadline for completing Phase I is June 30, 2014 - two years away. There is nothing in the 381 Agreement about the CTA having to have that money in the bank by the June 30, 2012 deadline for the commencement of the construction phase.

4. Finally, just a few days ago this popped up from a well-meaning citizen who discovered this statement posted online:

“Developers in Central Texas are planning to construct a private, general aviation airport and industrial park on the banks of the environmentally sensitive Colorado river at the intersection of FM 969 and FM 1704.”

An email with this correction was sent to the web guy:

“The proposed CTA would not be a PRIVATE general aviation airport. It would be a PRIVATELY-FUNDED general aviation airport. Huge difference.”

Instead of something like, “OMG how did we miss that! It will get fixed right away”, the following defensive posture should give anyone who cares about ‘facts’ pause. The concerned citizen was advised as follows:

“. . . take your own money and time and build something educational for the public on the matter to keep everyone so properly informed since you’re so concerned about the public and their inability to understand what the broad and commonly used phrase “private airport” means. Or you could continue to send me more comments that focus on some completely insignificant minutiae and act like such trivialities are some huge problem . . .”

Minutiae? Trivialities? What can be said but WOW!.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Farce Majeure

A few days ago, an attempt to get answers to the questions raised in a previous post - Magic hammer - was submitted to selected county officials. A response came from Ronnie Moore, Director of Planning and Project Management:

StopCTA: I am aware of the current discussion regarding the developer’s default of the 381 Agreement and Force Majeure.

I would like an answer to this question, please.

According to Section 9 (b) (i) (B), the Completion phase of the Airport is subject to Force Majeure.

However, according to Section 9 (b) (i) (A), the Commencement phase of the Airport makes no mention of it being subject to Force Majeure.

So why is Force Majeure even under discussion?

Thank you for clarifying.

Ronnie Moore: Read the Force Majeure clause, Force Majeure is applicable to the entire agreement.

Okay but . . .

StopCTA: If that were the case, why bother to set those specific parameters in Section 9? Couldn’t it be argued that the Section 9 language supersedes the general Force Majeure definition in Section 15 (o)?

Ronnie Moore: Read the Force Majeure clause, Force Majeure is applicable to the entire agreement.

It’s looking like this is going to be a dead end. But just to be sure . . .

StopCTA: OK. So I’ll rephrase . . .

Why specify conditions in one Section only to nullify them later in the document? Where’s the logic in that!?


End of the line. Questions still unanswered. This has been pretty much how the public debate with the County has gone from day one . . .

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