Thursday, November 18, 2010

Airport hits turbulence

Airport proposal hits turbulence
By Charles Wood
Elgin Courier
November 17, 2010

An ambitious plan to bring a corporate airport and green technology park to Bastrop County ran into a serious obstacle last week.

Developers of the proposed Eco-Merge development were unable to convince the city of Bastrop to approve an important cooperation agreement at the Nov. 9 council meeting. The project also faces stiff opposition from a group of citizens known as GUARD (Groups United to Advocate Responsible Development).

Carpenter & Associates wanted Bastrop’s consent to create special districts on 1,064 acres needed for the Central Texas Airport (CTA) that would have to be approved by the Texas Legislature. Though it is located within the Elgin school district, the project is also inside the Bastrop extra-territorial jurisdiction.

The Bastrop council unanimously rejected the request, citing a need for more information. T.R. Reid spoke on behalf of developer James Carpenter, asking for consent to create special districts to finance the project; support for legislation that would allow creation of the districts; approving annexation of land developed under county rules and regulations; and accepting payments for professional services rendered by the city, periodically and for the duration of the agreement (i.e. 50 years).

The council rejected the proposal after executive session. Council member Julie Hart said the council wanted more input and would need a negotiating team if it was to support the project. She also said reaching an agreement would take much longer than the 30-day time period the developers wanted.

The developers entered a “381” agreement with Bastrop County in June, stating that the county would refund 75 percent of county property taxes over the next 30 years. However, Pct. 4 Bastrop County Commissioner Lee Dildy said the agreement was not sufficient to make the project a reality; the developers were eventually going to have to deal with the city of Bastrop. “The 381 Agreement in and of itself was just a portion of a bigger picture,” he said. “The project is currently in the Bastrop ETJ. Getting a consent agreement is a major part of completing this project.”

GUARD, which is made up of residents who mostly hail from the countryside around Elgin and Cedar Creek, was active in the past and was recently resurrected. The group’s first incarnation was aimed at stopping a trailer home subdivision that was planned in the area.

GUARD members met Thursday, Nov. 11 at the Lil’ Mexican Restaurant on FM 969 to discuss their concerns about the proposed Eco-Merge project, which include worries about the flight path location and the potential for pollution to the Colorado River.

GUARD Chairperson Murray Altman-Kaough said her main concern is that “the project is kind of flying under the radar. Because it’s private, there’s no state or federal regulatory agency monitoring it except for the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. The FAA only determines if the airspace is free. I think it’s disingenuous for them to say it’s privately funded when they are seeking taxpayer funds on the back end for infrastructure improvements.”

She believes the green industries could potentially be highly-polluting and wants to see an independent environmental study performed before the project moves forward. “You can spray paint a pig green, but it’s still a pig.”

“The airport is dangerously sited because of the bird habitat surrounding it subjects it to bird strikes and crashes,” said GUARD member Tom Thompson. “The 381 agreement prohibits Carpenter and Associates from building an airport that is safe.” He believes the developers’ prediction that the development could attract 10,000 jobs “is part of a disinformation campaign to get people on board.”

Kathleen Wolfington said she lives close to the end of the proposed CTA runway. She worried about the “potential for pollution and runoff, not just from the airport, but from any corporate manufacturing processes, into the Colorado River.”


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