Thursday, September 5, 2013

What’s with ‘Mythbusting’?

StopCTA participated in every Commissioners Court public comment period for nearly a year. We only stepped back when the Big Fire became the County’s number one priority. One of the last comments presented by StopCTA on August 8, 2011was titled ‘Mythbusting’.

‘Mythbusting’ outlined some details about Jim Carpenter’s second failed attempt to create a MUD during the 2011 legislative session - the first try was in 2009 - and discussed Rep. Mark Strama’s involvement with the proposed bill. Then the process of how a MUD could be created without involvement of the legislature was presented. But perhaps most importantly, acquisition of the Falcon Seaboard property (located just across the river from the proposed CTA site) by airport interests (Meck-CTA, LLC) was publicly announced for the first time.

On August 9, the day after those comments were presented to the Court and posted to the Factoids blog, County Engineer Ronnie Moore shared ‘Mythbusting’ by email with Jim Carpenter. Mr. Moore stated more than once that he kept up with what StopCTA was posting. But we’re curious as to just what in that post made it worthy of sending to the developer. Maybe someday we’ll have an answer . . .

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

No more excuses

A few days before the 381 Agreement for the proposed Central Texas Airport was approved, Cyndi Wright, editor of the Advertiser emailed Jim Carpenter this request:

“it looks like the possibility of approving a 381 agreement is on the agenda for Monday’s commissioner court meeting. Would you like to make a statement for the pre-meeting story?”

Within minutes, the developer emailed Geoff Connor and County Engineer Ronnie Moore for advice about what would be “best for the project’s success from both the County’s perspective as well as ours”. By the end of the day, Moore had taken charge and emailed a three paragraph blurb to both the Advertiser and separately (with an explanatory preface) to Jim Carpenter and Goeff Connor.

The first two paragraphs explain some basics about the 381 Agreement. But the third describes actions outside the 381 Agreement that “CTA must take in order to begin construction of the airport.”:

“CTA must still secure all necessary financing to purchase the land and obtain approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for modifications to the FEMA-designated flood plain. The project must also comply with the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) requirements as implemented and monitored byt the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”

Mr. Moore may have been confused as to WHY the CTA needed a permit from the Corps - FEMA handles flood plain issues, the Corps domain is Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. But he was correct that approval from the Corps would be required.

So there you have it. We now know what Jim Carpenter knew and when he knew it. He was on notice BEFORE the 381 Agreement was in place that the Corps needed to be involved with the project. He ignored Ronnie Moore’s advice. If concerned citizens had not brought the project to the Corps’ attention would the developer have ever contacted the Corps? Or would airport construction have started without a permit in place? That seems like a real possibility. And what a mess that would have been!

So please Mr. Carpenter . . . no more whining about delays and no more excuses. You have no one to blame but yourself.

The whining wingman

Several months after Jim Carpenter’s letter to Greg Hill, Ronnie Moore followed up with a letter to Stephen Brooks on November 30, 2011. The stated purpose of the letter is to provide ‘accurate information’ regarding ETJ authority related to the ‘CTA Green Corporate Center project’ but it quickly declines into blatant cheerleading for the project.

There is subtle guilt-tripping:

. . . if this project does not come to fruition as a result of inaccurate informaion, the biggest potential loser is Bastrop County and Elgin ISD; i.e. students in the Elgin School District”.

and a dig at the USACE for their thorough but time-consuming handling of the permitting process:

It is my understanding that the standard of practice for the USACE review of these types of permit applications is: the level of review of the project will be “commensurate to the level of impact to waters of the U.S.”. The permit application is to fill a small man-made stock pond . . .”

Then after a regurgitation of the promotional passages in the 381 Agreement, Mr. Moore plays the ‘wildfire disaster’ card:

“In order to assist in the recovery from this disaster, we should all be doing what we can to boost the ad valorem tax base of our County, and to create additional job opportunities for the residents of Bastrop County.

Projects that have a potential of creating job opportunities and adding value to the ad valorem tax base, create an opportunity for Bastrop County to recover economically from the recent wildfire disaster. Please keep that in mind as you consider any project, in Bastrop County, that comes before you for review and permitting.”

But all that is not the real story of this letter. It was sent not only to Mr. Brooks but copied to eleven other individuals including the those at the FAA (who had just denied the CTA’s request for an extension of the reservation of airspace), the TCEQ, Sen. Kirk Watson, Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, Rep. Glen Hegar in the Texas Legislature and in Washington D.C.,Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Rep. Michael McCaul and the mysterious Greg Hill who appears to be Rep.McCaul’s Chief of Staff. The cozy relationship that the developer seems to have with Greg Hill is disconcerting. Especially so considering that Rep. McCaul has received generous contributions from aviation related industries. In politics, just follow the money . . .

While it’s easy to fault Mr. Moore for this letter it does have one saving grace. If the project fails and the developer decides to extract revenge on Bastrop County, this letter would defend the County’s fulfillment of the Mutual Assistance requirement of the 381 Agreement.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Whine me up

The latest documents received from Bastrop County offer some rather interesting behind-the-scenes insight and reactions to the USACE’s handling of the permitting process. In his own words, Jim Carpenter predictably plays the victim and whines in frustration when things don’t go his way.

In a candid email to Greg Hill dated August 19, 2011, Jim Carpenter complains about the Corps’ delays, the very effective activist opposition and the City of Bastrop’s misrepresentation of their ETJ authority with regard to the proposed CTA.

Ronnie Moore, then Bastrop County Engineer, figures prominently in this little tirade as the person ready, willing and able to clarify the misunderstandings and move things along. This is not the first time that Mr. Moore has been presented as an apologist for the CTA project. He appears to have been the developer’s in-house ‘wingman’ on more than one occasion.

It was interesting to learn that at one time, the Corps was actually considering a public hearing - an idea which did not please the developer:

“In my personal 45-minute long telephone conversation with Stephen Brooks I was disturbed by his complaint to me about our team not providing his staff with suggested locations to conduct “the public hearing” on our Individual Permit application.

. . . I explained to him [Stephen Brooks] that the Corps was failing to understand the adverse impact of an unwarranted public hearing that would result in a media circus for activists that have been unable to stop this private development or to dissuade the unanimous support for this project by the Bastrop County Commissioners Court.”

Eventually, the Corps decided a hearing was not needed. Just how was that decision reached? We’d sure like to know what went down behind the scenes. We’ll keep digging . . .

Phrases like ‘unreasonable delay’, ‘unwarranted time delay’, ‘unnecessary delay’ etc. in this email also set the stage for the claim of force majeure, which was submitted to the County just prior to the June 30, 2012 deadline for commencement of the project on which the developer defaulted. Over a year later, the developer has failed to provide evidence to the Bastrop County County Commissioners Court to support the claim of force majeure.

Complaints of a perceived USACE delay surfaced again when the developer attempted to extend the FAA reservation of airspace which was due to expire on November 12, 2011. In an email to the FAA on November 10, 2011 he writes:

“The USACE permit has caused a year delay in this critically important economic development activity because they came back last year with a completely unexpected jurisdictional water finding on a manmade stockpond.”

Note that as of July 2013 no extension has been granted because the developer has failed to comply with the FAA’s request for more detailed information about the CTA project.

The issue of delay culminated in a letter from Mr. Carpenter to Stephen Brooks on April 12, 2012. Mr. Brooks’ response on April 19, 2012 thoroughly debunks the accusations made against the Corps with a detailed timeline of events.

Another document included in the latest ORR finally settles once and for all the issue of delay and who failed to start the USACE permitting process in a timely manner. Gottcha!
So just who is Greg Hill? Read on . . .

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Permit particulars

The Corps has confirmed that the Permit for the proposed Central Texas Airport issued on June 21 follows a standard template. The only unique additions are the project specific data and the five Special Conditions attached at the end of the document. The cover letter also appears to be pro forma. Several passages in both the standard form and project specific material caught our attention.

The most interesting paragraph of the cover letter advises the developer:

“To use this permit the person responsible for the project must ensure that the work is conducted in accordance with the terms and conditions of the permit. We caution you to submit revised drawings to us for approval prior to construction should any changes be found necessary in either the location or plans for the work. Approval of revised plans may be granted if they are found not contrary to the public interest.”

We questioned the Corps about the ‘plans’ required by the Corps. Remember that to date no formal construction plans have been submitted to the County. The Corps responded that the 8.5 x 11 drawings submitted by the developer’s consultants, aci, were sufficient for their permitting process. Keep in mind that only plan changes affecting waters of the US would be reconsidered not plan changes in upland areas outside the permitted area.

Moving on to the the permit itself, General Condition 1 sets the time limit for completing the work authorized by the Corps as December 31, 2018. However, General Condition 6 states that “the Corps will normally give favorable consideration to a request for an extension of this time limit”. Be aware that this deadline is only for the work specifically authorized by the Corps. The June 30, 2014 date for completion of the CTA outlined in the County’s 381 Agreement is independent of the deadline for work permitted by the Corps.

Item 4, under Further Information states the following:

Reliance on Applicant’s Data: The determination of this office that issuance of this permit is not contrary to the public interest was made in reliance on the information you provided.”

This is followed by a section describing circumstances under which the Corps might reevaluate a decision including failure to comply with conditions of the permit, submission of ‘false, incomplete or inaccurate information’ and ’significant new information’ which was not considered in the original public interest decision.

The wording of these passages reminds us that the Corps has a mandate to consider the effects of a project on the public interest. The Public Interest Review section of the supporting documents (Environmental Assessment etc.) which includes the Corps’ responses to issues raised in comments submitted by the public and stakeholder agencies during the Public Notice comment period, provides some very interesting reading. More on that later.

The first item of the Special Conditions states that the mitigation plan must be implemented before “commencing any ground-disturbing activity within the waters of the United States”. Since the credits from the Wilbarger Creek Mitigation Bank have already been purchased, work can begin at any time.

If your next thought is that the developer can’t start because he doesn’t even own the land yet, think again. According to USACE Federal rules, a developer does not need to own land before commencing a project. The 381 Agreement however, requires ownership to benefit from the tax rebate.

Those of you living north of the river should be paying special attention for any activity at the proposed site now that the Corps has opened the way for work to begin.

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