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Airport Advisory Commission wants another look at landfill expansion proposal

Thursday, March 12, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

The Airport Advisory Commission created a subcommittee Tuesday night to look into the potential expansion of the landfill near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and how it might affect the safety of aircraft flying in and out of the airport.

Commissioners heard testimony from the Texas Campaign for the Environment, received additional photographic evidence and agreed to form a subcommittee to more closely scrutinize the expansion.

“We are pleased that the Airport Advisory Commission is looking further into this matter,” said TCE spokesperson Jeffrey Jacoby. “We continue to be disappointed that aviation staff has not fully taken into account the overwhelming evidence that this landfill is problematic.”

The landfill in question is located about 3,000 feet from the airport runway. Advocates, including TCE, have said the landfill attracts birds, including vultures and other large birds of prey, which they say are a known hazard to air travel as well as a potential violation of FAA rules for trash facilities near airports.

An Austin-Bergstrom communications officer, however, said the airport has no objection to the proposed expansion and does not anticipate any related safety concerns.

But as the commission heard Tuesday, the landfill is currently not in compliance with its promise to keep its trash mounds covered so as to deter birds and other animals. Photographs taken from a helicopter show that the mounds are not being adequately covered.

Resolutions urging rejection of the expansion have also been circulated at the Animal Advisory and Zero Waste commissions. Zero Waste passed the resolution, and the Animal Advisory resolution passed with one abstention on Dec. 9.

The resolution, noting that Austin is responsible for “minimizing deadly and unnecessary conflict(s) between native wildlife, city and county residents, and city and county visitors,” asks that City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court “formally and firmly oppose this, and any future landfill expansion efforts” in the area.

“The results of this proposed expansion could subsequently raise the chances of a catastrophic aviation accident at Austin Bergstrom International Airport due to increased bird activity,” the resolution reads. “Landfill usage within close proximity to airports can prove extremely hazardous to aviation on takeoff and landing approaches given their propensity to attract small mammals and birds, which in turn attract larger birds of prey.”

The Airport Advisory Commission reconvenes on April 14.

This story has been changed since publication to correct a statement that said the photos were taken by drones, they were taken from helicopters. In addition the Zero Waste Advisory Commission passed a resolution opposing the expansion. Photo of the landfill, taken September, courtesy of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

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