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!.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Where is he now?

On March 9, 2012 there was an article in the Bastrop Advertiser titled “McDonald chooses Congress”. It has been dormant for several months until this comment was posted on September 27:

Can we have an update on Ronnie McDonald? I cannot find anything current on the web. Thanks.

Stop CTA responded with a comment similar to the following on September 28 but once again it remains “awaiting moderation”:

When StopCTA was checking out Ronnie McDonald’s campaign contributions filed with the Federal Election Committee (FEC), we discovered where he landed after resigning.

On page 7 (of 25) of the JULY QUARTERLY report filed on 07/15/2012, there are two entries where McDonald contributed funds to his campaign totaling just over $53,000. On that form, his employer is listed as McCreary, Vaselka, Bragg and Allen, PC (MBVA) and his occupation as Government Liaison. If MBVA sounds familiar it’s because the firm handles the tax sales for Bastrop as well as other counties in Texas. McDonald’s campaign contribution reports can be accessed from here.

What’s with the Advertiser deciding what facts get out to the community . . . AGAIN?!

Happy to report that the comment was FINALLY released from moderation. However, it is so buried it’s unlikely that anyone will find it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Is Tiga toast?

A year and a half ago, StopCTA provided some insight to the genesis of Tiga Energy Services, a company with which the Central Texas Airport signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) on April 24, 2010 (note there are some redactions). While doing some maintenance to the StopCTA website, the links in Paper Tiga were checked for accuracy which led to this little discovery:

On August 08, 2012, Michael Hathaway, President of Tiga Energy Services, Inc filed for:


Someone named Michael answered the phone when a quick call was made to their Austin office. He said they have suspended reporting but would not say whether they were going private or going out of business. The final word was, “I can’t say any more because that’s all we have disclosed.”

If Tiga is toast, what does that mean for the future of the proposed Central Texas Airport and the very ephemeral Eco-Merge project? It looks to us like yet another wheel has fallen off . . .

Monday, September 10, 2012

Courting Elgin

Last year when the fires were raging, Jim Carpenter paid a visit to Bastrop County. Not to offer to help. Not to suggest a reduction in the obscene tax benefits bestowed by the 381 Agreement. Nope. As we discovered from the ‘lost’ documents featured in Pants on fire!, he came to wheel and deal with the Elgin Economic Development Corporation. The correspondence is sparse and there still seem to be gaps in the ‘land of the lost’. What we have of the story so far is collected in three ‘clumps’ of emails.

The first email ‘clump’ starts with this from Joe Newman, director of the Elgin EDC to David Glass, the president of the EEDC on September 20, 2011:

“I had a meeting this morning with some Central Texas Airport reps and they want our support of that project and another development that I had worked on while I was in Bastrop.

“They gave me a 3-page Confidentiality Agreement to sign and I plan to let our attorney look at it at tonight’s council meeting. They would also like you to sign it and attend a meeting with them where they will show us their business plan, financials, investors, etc.

“I know we need to handle this carefully since a lot of folks are against the project and specifically Jim Carpenter.”

To which David Glass responded the same day:

“I will be happy to meet with them. Your [sic] right about needing to handle it carefully. However, I feel we need to stay close to the developers just in case they can pull it off.”

Then a few days later on the 22 Joe Newman follows up with:

“I had our attorney look at the confidentiality agreement that the developer asked me to sign. They would also like you to be in the meeting and ask that you sign the document also. Would that be OK? This is much more than just the airport project. . . .”

This little exchange speaks volumes about the modus operandi of the development community - confidentiality agreements, deals behind closed doors, disdain (and fear) of public scrutiny and always ready to jump on the next enticing project.

Then about a week later on September 30 in the second flurry of emails, this pops up from Joe Newman to Jim Carpenter with a cc to David Glass:

“. . . I spoke with David Glass, Pres. of Elgin EDC board, last night and he said that he was very sorry to have missed your presentation yesterday and offered to meet you in Austin or wherever you prefer.

I’m going to cc David so you two can communicate directly if you like. . . .”

Here’s an excerpt from Jim Carpenter’s predictable response to Joe Newman and David Glass later that day:

“. . . I think it is very important the we assemble a group of trusted leaders in Elgin that are willing to work with us in a mutually beneficial manner. Some of the best and most loyal support that our project has received in Bastrop County has come from Elgin and we want to return the favor to those who have helped us. We are attempting to provide valuable advance information but only to certain individuals in Elgin that we can trust to maintain our critically important confidentiality until we make the announcement in concert with the respective businesses and their executives… “

If there was a meeting on September 29, there is no indication of it in the documents we have received from the ORR to the City of Elgin. Where was it held? Who was present? Did it even happen? The gap in the flow of correspondence seems rather suspect.

After a few days, the final emails include this from Paul Grabowski to Joe Newman and David Glass on October 3:

“Sorry we were unable to meet last week at Joe Newman office. We would like to schedule a meeting for this Thursday morning at 9am to discuss the Central Texas Airport project and two other major projects within the same area. Is that a good time for you? Please advise… The meeting will be in Joe Newman office conference room.

“We have also invited the following, Ronnie Moore, Bastrop County Engineer, Keith Snowden, Donna Jordan and Ed Rivers may attend .

“Jim Carpenter of Central Texas Airport. Robert Leffingwell and I will be presenters at the meeting.”

Yet another meeting involving several previously unmentioned players. Note that some recipients of this email were redacted. Now there are two other major projects? Are they related to the airport? Joe Newman was out of town and unable to attend the meeting but who else participated? Or did it even happen?

Two names on the list of invitees might have caught your attention - Ed Rivers, President of the Elgin Chamber now running for Bastrop County Judge and Ronnie Moore, Bastrop County Engineer. Is Ronnie Moore’s involvement with the EEDC and specifically the CTA project a conflict of interest with his position as Bastrop County Engineer? Other documents in StopCTA’s possession offer some insight.

Nowhere in these documents is there a description of what Carpenter was selling or what the other projects were. A call to Joe Newman was marginally informative. He claims that the specifics of Carpenter’s deal were never unveiled, that the Confidentiality Agreement was never signed and that Jim Carpenter has been MIA since then. Readers will have to come to their own conclusions about the veracity of that information.

And remember all this was happening while Bastrop was burning. That just feels soooo wrong . . .

There are still more questions than answers about what went down in Elgin and StopCTA is working very hard to answer each and every one.

A few answers . . .

StopCTA has learned (hopefully reliably) that the October 6 meeting did happen and that Ronnie Moore was not in attendance. Still no clue about the other independent but ‘airport related’ projects that were pitched at the same time. Mention of this meeting seems to trigger amnesia!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

No fly zone

Since 2007, the FAA has issued three approvals of airspace for the proposed Central Texas Airport project.

The first was issued for the Colorado Riverland Ranch Airport on September 18, 2007. The second came on January 02, 2009 when the name was changed to the Central Texas Airport. These first two were processed by Ben Guttery. The third approval dated May 12, 2010 came after a restructuring within the FAA and was handled by Glenn Boles. The format of this third document provided more detailed information than the previous two . . . a fact which did not please Mr. Carpenter:

“While this information may be beneficial for some purposes, it is not helpful or useful for our needs which is to simply demonstrate that our private development does not adversely impact Austin airspace. If a new letter could be issued that limits its scope . . . it would be of great assistance.”

- - Jim Carpenter to the FAA, November 07, 2011

On the second page of that detailed FAA document, there is a very interesting and previously unnoticed deadline - just the kind of information which Mr. Carpenter might not want to have available to the public:

“In order to avoid placing any unfair restrictions on users of the navigable airspace, this determination is valid until November 12, 2011. Should the facility not be operational by this date, an extension of the determination must be obtained by 30 days prior to the expiration date of this letter.”

- - FAA to Jim Carpenter, May 12, 2010

At the 11th hour with a deadline looming, Mr. Carpenter contacted the FAA on November 07, 2011 - just 5 days before the expiration date - to request assistance in extending the reservation of airspace for the CTA.

He was politely told:

“Regarding airspace determination, it looks like you need to formally request an additional extension to the determination. That will have to take place by contacting Glenn Boles.”

- - Mike Nicely to Jim Carpenter, November 07, 2011.

Someone on the CTA ‘team’ contacted Mr. Boles and then relayed the information to Jim Carpenter who summarized it as follows:

“. . . it is my understanding that for the FAA to continue to reserve the airspace (for Central Texas Airport) [the FAA] was going to need a copy of our Airport Business Plan with specific timelines and funding information to be sure this was a real project.”

- - Jim Carpenter to the FAA, November 09, 2011

Anyone who’s followed this project understands that the chances of Mr. Carpenter giving up that proprietary information is about nil. He tries to side-step the required documentation with this gambit:

“We believe that the Bastrop County Commissioners have already established the validity of the Central Texas Airport project and Section 9 of the Agreement establishes the timelines and performance requirements [the FAA] may be looking for. This is a publicly available document”.

- - Jim Carpenter to the FAA, November 09, 2011

Well, that didn’t fly too well with the FAA. He was politely advised:

“. . . to continue to extend an airspace determination for a proposed airport, the FAA needs some assurance the proponent is continuing to work toward developing the proposed airport. The airspace for the Central Texas Airport is being reserved and as a result, handicaps nearby property owners from establishing a landing area should they so desire. Reserving the airspace also has an impact on other property owners who may want to establish a tall structure. As a result the FAA is very sensitive to extending airspace determinations because those extensions have impacts on other property owner’s rights.”

- - Mike Nicely to Jim Carpenter, November 10, 2011

Later that day, Jim Carpenter submitted a formal request to Glenn Boles for the extension.

There was no further mention of Mr. Carpenter’s request within these recently obtained documents (which were responsive to a FOIA submitted in April 2012). So a call was made to Mr. Boles to get an update on the status of the request. We were told that Mr. Carpenter contacted the FAA last spring (2012) to inquire about the extension. In response the FAA issued a letter specifying the documentation that would be required. To date, the FAA has not had a response from Mr. Carpenter.

Just what documentation did the FAA require for an extension to the reserved airspace? A FOIA has been submitted for that exchange but we may not have a response for some time considering that the last FOIA took about 4 months.

In the meantime we can be thankful that the project is currently grounded with a ‘no fly zone’.

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