Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Airport fallout

Airport fallout: critics blast county leaders
By Davis McAuley
October 25th, 2010

Bastrop, Tx–A dozen-odd angry Bastrop County residents spent most of an hour Monday berating county commissioners and the judge for encouraging the development of a private general aviation airport and associated industrial projects on more than 1,000 acres west of Bastrop.

One after another they took the podium at a regular meeting of commissioners during a “citizens comment” section of the agenda. Some said they felt betrayed by the county signing a development pact for the project with veteran developer James Carpenter of Carpenter & Associates who has publicly pushed his plans for more than 18 months.

Others accused commissioners of “selling out” to developer interests. Many called for a public hearing on the airport and associated development projects. Some called for the development agreement to be scrapped outright.

Monday’s outpouring of anger was prompted in part by an announcement by Carpenter in Austin on Oct. 19 that four business ventures, including the conglomerate Toshiba,have made agreements to locate new facilities near the proposed airport.

In April 2009 Carpenter first laid out the project at a public meeting before commissioners and a hostile crowd which packed the meeting room. At the time County Judge Ronnie McDonald said residents would be able to pose questions about the plans at a future public session.

But no such session took place before commissioners approved a development agreement with Carpenter earlier this year, to the consternation of some critics. A key provision of the pact calls for Carpenter to invest a minimum of $150 million before the project is eligible for a rebate of 75 percent of county property taxes on the site and improvements for 30 years. Property taxes assessed by school districts and other taxing jurisdictions are not affected.

Commissioners did not respond to the critics during Monday’s meeting, nor did they offer any defense of the project or the deal with Carpenter.

Outside the meeting, however, some of them questioned whether Carpenter will be able to meet the $150 million investment threshold. At the Oct. 19 announcement in Austin, Carpenter said he hopes to begin construction later this year.

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