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Fuel site for airport expansion put on hold to allow for more community input

Monday, December 13, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The city has stepped in to address the concerns of residents who live close to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and directed city staff to conduct a deeper analysis of the possible effects of a fuel tank farm proposed as part of the airport’s expansion plans.

As part of the consent agenda, City Council approved on Thursday a resolution that calls for a series of public information sessions to give residents near the proposed site on the western edge of the airport a chance to discuss the possible impacts of having 1.5 million gallons of jet fuel stored above ground near their homes.

The resolution calls for those sessions to take place early next year, with a report on the discussions due by Feb. 7.

The city manager is also directed to compile a report related to the proposed storage site including governmental compliance steps, environmental review processes, and an assessment of air pollutants and other air quality factors for the site, with a due date of March 9.

Airport and industry leaders have called for increased fuel storage capacity at the facility to keep up with strong growth in all forms of air travel.

The 2018 master plan for the airport outlined the steps of a multibillion-dollar expansion that will take place in phases through 2040.

A recent story by the Austin American-Statesman details the concern residents of the largely Spanish-speaking community in the area, who claim they were unaware of the review and approval process for the fuel tank site that began in 2017 and 2018. The two-year construction project is expected to begin this spring.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, whose district includes the airport and affected residents, said the city needs to use as many communication channels as necessary to notify the community of the new feedback sessions.

“Through the process of adopting the airport expansion plan there were a series of community outreach meetings conducted. But what I’ve learned is that residents living the near the airport were not notified, or didn’t have an opportunity to engage on the matter,” she said. “This resolution calls for us to reopen the community outreach process to make sure we leave no stone unturned. It really hones in on how that communication is done because for many of us who live southeast there is a significant digital divide and we can’t just rely on online communications.”

From the dais, Fuentes said staff and airport leaders will also need to look at the feasibility of possible alternative sites for the fuel storage facility, and proposed actions to mitigate the negative effects to the area where it is eventually constructed.

She also called for the Aviation Department to report back to Council within 90 days of the feedback sessions to provide an update on all matters related to the fuel site.

Council Member Greg Casar praised leaders at the airport for reopening the process for evaluating the fuel site while also moving forward with the many other needs related to expanding the airport.

“Taking a pause and looking at alternative places is exactly what we need to do. Finding a better place for this is something that I think is in everyone’s best interest, if at all possible. That will take everyone putting their heads together and doing the hard work to see if there’s a way to move with this plan,” he said. “We share the goal of seeing how it is that we can successfully expand the airport while taking care of these residents and addressing the air quality issues and safety concerns around the facility.”

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