Photo by Texas Campaign for the Environment
Thursday, June 11, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

Airport Advisory Commission attaches strict conditions to landfill expansion proposal

Late last month, the Airport Advisory Commission voted to oppose Texas Regional Landfill Company’s request for a permit to expand its landfill near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, unless the company promises to remediate the landfill conditions that could attract wildlife and agrees to several other conditions.

The decision came after complaints from Texas Campaign for the Environment, which said that the landfill attracts birds that are a known hazard to air travel. That conflicted with the city Aviation Department’s recommendation that the permit go forward.

“United States Congress has found that collisions between aircraft and birds have resulted in fatal accidents,” the Airport Advisory Commission recommendation reads. “The future expansion of the aviation safety and airport funding depends on proper land use of the area close to active runways at the airport and the absolute wildlife hazard control of the users.”

In addition to ensuring remediation of landfill conditions, the commission also asks Texas Regional Landfill Company to perform a Wildlife Hazard Survey and submit a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan within six months and have it approved by Austin-Bergstrom and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Once approved, that plan will become a condition of the permit. The company will also be required to show TCEQ and Austin-Bergstrom that the site is being operated in such a way that it will not pose a bird hazard to nearby aircraft.

The operator will also have to agree to provide the Airport Wildlife Hazard Management Team unrestricted access to the facility, designate an employee to be trained on wildlife hazard management and provide an employee to participate as a team member in investigating bird strike accidents.

On June 5, Jacqueline Yaft, executive director of the Aviation Department, sent a memo to the mayor and City Council with regard to Aviation Department inspections of the landfill. She notes that staffers conduct inspections on a routine basis.

“These site visits consist of identifying species, quantities and behavior of birds in the immediate vicinity of the landfill, as well as making general observations of contents on the ground,” Yaft wrote. “Periodically, Airside Operations personnel will discharge pyrotechnics to disperse larger birds.”

Those findings are then communicated to the site manager. If there are more “significant” findings, the Southern Region Engineering Manager for Waste Connections is informed. The department also works with a USDA biologist through the Texas Wildlife Services program. Each month, the biologist accompanies aviation staff to make observations of the airport and the surrounding area, including the landfill, so they can record similar observations.

In November, TCEQ held a public hearing and public comment period for the proposed expansion. The Aviation Department submitted a comment requesting that a new requirement be added in the Landfill Operators permit. That new provision would have required that the landfill operator update and replace its Wildlife Control Plan and create a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan for the landfill within one year of the issued permit. That permit should be audited annually.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport: Run by the city, the Austin–Bergstrom International Airport is located on the old site of Bergstrom Air Force Base it opened to to the public on May 23, 1999.

Aviation Department: The city's Aviation Department runs Austin's airport, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

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