Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oh, so green

Eco-merge may have been unmasked but ‘green’ hype is still very much a part of the proposed Central Texas Airport’s marketing strategy.

In the previous post, Exposing the hype, we learned that the Corps suggested that the applicant should give themselves credit for work they had done for energy and “green elements. ” Item 13 of the October 25, 2011 conference call also addressed the “green” aspects of the project:

13. Energy requirement and conservation potential, including information on the “green” elements of the proposed project.

Steve Paulson [aci] asked what we meant by this.

[The Corps] explained that they discuss “green” aspects of the project in their EID and website but never say what they are. For example, are they using solar arrays? If so state it in the EID.

In response to these suggestions, three sections of the revised EID touch on green aspects of the project. The most extensive presentation begins on page 43. It is brimming with lots of ideas and generalizations but the specifics still seem to be missing:

4.18 Natural Resources, Energy Supply, and Sustainable Design

Executive Order 13123, Greening the Government Through Efficiency Management (64 FR 30851, June 8, 1999) encourages federal agencies to expand the use of renewable energy within their facilities and activities and requires a reduction of petroleum use, total energy use, air emissions, and water consumption by federal agencies in their facilities. It is also the policy of the FAA to encourage the development of facilities that exemplify the highest standards of design including principles of sustainability.

The proposed CTA is designed to be a green airport demonstration project, conceived and developed to achieve balance between technology and nature. The proposed CTA is designed to provide a privately owned and operated business facility and environment that recruits third-party businesses to demonstrate new and emerging technologies in alternative renewable energies; patent-pending energy management and communications applications; and integrated environmental design and development standards. The proposed CTA is designed to provide convenient, safe, and efficient general aviation accessibility to the Central Texas region.

The proposed CTA plans to implement unique environmentally compatible design features, and utilize demonstrations by other parties with renewable energy generations and management capabilities and scalable smart grid communications infrastructure.

The smart grid network proposes to provide secure and efficient infrastructure connectivity for the airport buildings and businesses, offering real-time, point-source energy consumption data collection and management capabilities for individual buildings or the entire airport.

A local Bastrop County company has been recruited to utilize the roof surface areas of the hangars and other structures on the airport for rainwater collection and harvesting for commercial reuse and bottling. Airports such as the proposed CTA do not have high water requirements so utilizing gray water systems for irrigation and other uses offer a potential model for sustainability.

Landscape planners propose utilization of certain trees, plants, and grasses for carbon mitigation and deterrents to undesirable bird species. CTA will consider these proposals and may implement testing areas to determine the effectiveness of these practices. Many airports utilize vegetation and mowing practices that attract wildlife species that are not suitable for airport environments. CTA is not bound by governmental guidelines or practices for such activities and plans to utilize best management practices.

The “green” aspect of the airport is mentioned briefly in two other places in the revised EID - one on page 53 under 4.21.21 Natural Resources, Energy Supply, and Sustainable Designand the other on page 1 of the Compensatory Mitigation Plan.

Private ownership and freedom from regulation are the pillars on which this project is built. The CTA has made it very clear that their private funding status exempts them from FAA regulation and that they are NOT an FAA project yet here an FAA policy comes in very handy.

Renewable energy is a good thing but weren’t the “patent-pending energy management and communications applications” and “smart grid network” connected to Tiga Energy Services? On August 08, 2012, eight months after the revised EID was submitted, Tiga Energy Services filed for “Securities registration termination” with the SEC. What does that mean for the project’s master energy plan? Is Tiga toast?

Rainwater collection is also a good thing but would you want to pay a premium for bottled water that was collected in a toxic airport environment? How green is that?

And finally the idea of deterring ‘undesirable bird species’ with vegetation while constructing a permanent level pond that will be a wildlife attractant is just plain ludicrous.

All this ‘green’ talk seems like just a lot of hot air to us.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Exposing the hype

Ever since the developer first pitched the Central Texas Airport project at a public meeting of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court on April 13, 2009 and to the Bastrop City Council on April 14, 2009, a fog of hype has swirled around the project. Over time, the hype continued at a fever pitch but the players and configuration of the project never stayed the same for long. So exactly what is the proposed Central Texas Airport/Green Corporate Center project?

At the October 25, 2011 meeting, the Corps attempted to clarify the scope of the project with the very first item up for discussion:

1. Scope of the single and complete project including details on other planned phases and their status relative to independent utility. Elements to be detailed include any commercial, industrial, or energy production element, hotel, infrastructure, and other development features.

[The Corps] explained that the scope of the project needed to include the larger plan of development for any reasonably foreseeable phases, roads, infrastructure. etc. That the applicant should give themselves credit for work they had done for energy and “green elements”. That the maps provided where [sic] insufficient and that we are having a difficult time even figuring out what the scope of the project is. Specifically the written descriptions do not match the plans. When asked about the buildings (what they were) on the east side of the runway, we were informed that they were just aesthetic drawings, not any particular buildings.

The Corps felt that defining the scope of the project was important enough to close the meeting with a continuation of the discussion:

23. Provide current detailed plans and profiles including all infrastructures and other site development related to the project. Currently, detailed site plans are provided for one segment of the project site plan while no profiles are provided.

[the Corps] went over in detail that we needed better maps.

CTA stated that the maps provided where [sic] artist renditions; that the project was design-build and no such data (engineering drawings) are available at this time.

[The Corps] stated that although detailed engineering drawings are not required, reasonably accurate maps, with all reasonably foreseeable phases an elements, are needed to permit the project.

It’s clear that the Corps wasn’t buying into any of the developer’s hype that was so short on specifics. (If only the County had proceeded with such due diligence . . . sigh.) The Corps’ persistence in requesting details was cleverly side-stepped in the revised EID. StopCTA pretty much connected these dots last spring in What Eco-merge?. Looks like we were right on target.

Tuesday, October 30, 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.

Monday, October 29, 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 . . .

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