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Eco-Merge GCC to Bring Smart, Substantial Development to Central Texas

April 30, 2011

The following opinion article was published in the April 30, 2011, edition of the Bastrop Advertiser, a publication in Bastrop County, Texas, the home of the planned Eco-Merge Green Corporate Centers project, including Central Texas Airport:

The economic transformation of Central Texas over the past 30 years has been remarkable.  From a base of mostly state government, the University of Texas, and farming and ranching, the region has been enhanced by diversification and growth from information technology, including semiconductors, personal computing, software and wireless innovation.

The resulting social and economic effects are unmistakable.  Williamson County, one of the fastest growing counties in the United States, had average household incomes exceeding $69,000 in 2009—nearly 40 percent higher than the U.S. average.  Households in Travis County average more than $53,000, which is above both national and state averages.

Bastrop County, however, has largely missed the region’s evolution into newer industries.  That is why, in part, the same survey showed county household incomes below $44,000—about 10 percent less than the rate for all of Texas.  Why more than 70 percent of Elgin ISD students are from economically disadvantaged families.  And why the county’s high-school graduates must move elsewhere to find jobs with livable incomes.

The Eco-Merge Green Corporate Center (GCC), including Central Texas Airport, will begin to steer benefits from regional economic growth, including new jobs and tax revenue, to Bastrop County.  The project is being developed as a center for creating, producing and demonstrating advanced green technologies, wrapped around an airport that fills a longtime gap in general-aviation capacity.

Over the past two years we have participated in more than 60 meetings with city and county governments, civic organizations, businesses and business groups, school-district officials, state legislators and news reporters.  People at those meetings have mostly been supportive of the project.

There have been exceptions, though too often those conclusions and assertions have been based on, at best, misunderstanding.  So as we’ve talked to people about GCC, we have emphasized key facts about the project:

1. This is Real, Not Conceptual

  • The green-technology element of GCC is more than an idea.  For instance, Tiga Energy Services recently announced a joint venture to privately fund, deploy and operate highly competitive renewable-energy operations—the first one of them in Bastrop County.
  • Four technology partners have committed to locate at GCC; others are expected to follow soon.

2. We Are Committed to Responsible Development

  • GCC and CTA, and initially the public-use infrastructure they require, will be paid for privately.  However, the project is not exempt from regulatory oversight of environmental, aviation, or other planning or operating standards.
  • The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has already approved use of the airspace around CTA, calling CTA’s placement and traffic pattern relative to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport “ideal.”  Aircraft operating at CTA will be under the same type of traffic control as other airports.
  • More than 25 entitlements have been obtained for GCC, including extensive environmental certifications.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, has already approved modifications of the project’s floodplain.  Development also requires reviews by a wide range of regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Historical Commission and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
  • Our possible use of a utility district to finance approved public-use water, wastewater and drainage infrastructure is not unusual.  While portions of the GCC site are within the City of Bastrop’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, the nearest city utilities are many miles away, with no known plan for near-term extension of infrastructure.

3. Smart Airport Planning is Good for All

  • Central Texas Airport (CTA) is being developed to address the needs of corporate, charter and private aircraft—among the safest, quietest and most environmentally advanced in the air—that are not sufficiently being met regionally today.  ABIA’s master plan acknowledges it cannot adequately expand general-aviation services; Austin Executive Airport, near Manor, won’t be suitable for many of the high-performance corporate aircraft expected to use CTA.
  • By agreement with Bastrop County, CTA cannot be used for scheduled passenger service.  Trying to compete with ABIA for air-cargo services would be foolish, but is beside the point.  We do not want freight traffic, and the length and placement of CTA’s single runway deliberately impose limits on the type of aircraft that will regularly use the airport.  At 7,200 feet, the runway is not optimal for commercial passenger or freight carriers—and the runway cannot be lengthened.
  • About 180 taxable aircraft are expected to be registered at CTA initially, with near-term growth to about 250.  However, the charter and business aircraft targeted for CTA are typically away from their home airport for extended periods, so the number of takeoffs and landings at CTA will be smaller than base numbers suggest.  In any case, no matter where those registered aircraft are on a given day, they will be generating revenue for Bastrop County and other taxing entities.
  • About 85 percent of all takeoffs and landings at CTA are expected to be to the south.  More than $1 million has been spent on project modifications so that air traffic is compatible with Bastrop ISD’s Cedar Creek High School, the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
  • To better understand potential sound levels at CTA, an evaluation was made of the Wiley Post general-aviation airport in Oklahoma City.  That airport has more takeoffs and landings than are planned for—and certain types of traffic that will not be permitted at —CTA.  Even with those differences, the study suggests that sound at or above the FAA standard of 65 DNL—or about the same as normal conversation—will be contained within the boundaries of CTA.
  • Airport sound is important to us, too, since we are recruiting leading businesses to set up operations in GCC, which surrounds CTA.

4. Private Development Provides Public Advantages

  • Under the economic-development agreement, Bastrop County will have no obligation to build or operate any part of the project, or any associated risk.  GCC will share only in newly generated property and sales-tax revenue from within project boundaries.  No public money is being diverted from other initiatives and no new taxes will be levied on individuals or businesses outside of GCC.
  • Building CTA with private funds provides more control over airport operations.  For example, CTA is being developed without accommodations for tax-exempt private and recreational aircraft, pilot-training activities or experimental aircraft.  Those activities and types of aircraft typically generate more takeoffs and landings and increased noise.
  • Community benefits from GCC should begin to accrue relatively quickly.  An initial study suggests project construction could result in more than 3,000 full- and part-time jobs.  With CTA and the alternative-energy project as the first economic engines, GCC will generate new tax revenue for the county, school districts and other taxing entities beginning Jan. 1 after the start of airport operations.
  • Even after sharing in new tax revenue, GCC is expected to be the county’s largest taxpayer.

The objective of most of the county residents we talk to is challenging, but attainable:  to maintain and enhance the overall rural character of Bastrop County, while encouraging growth that is sustainable and environmentally sound.  GCC will help broaden the county’s economy to include leadership and education in advanced green technologies, renewable energy, communications and transportation.  As it matures, our project is expected to generate tens of thousands of new permanent jobs in Central Texas, billions of dollars in new annual spending, and hundreds of millions in new tax revenue.

No economic-development project of any significance gains universal support.  However, our thorough planning and analysis has repeatedly shown this to be—and we are determined to deliver—a project that will bring great benefit to the 75,000 people who live in Bastrop County.  By doing so, we believe the Eco-Merge Green Corporate Center, including Central Texas Airport, will distinguish this area as a place for smart, substantial development.

T.R. Reid
Eco-Merge Green Corporate Centers and Central Texas Airport

Posted by Stephen Carpenter at 3:12 PM
Filed in: Aviation, Central Texas Airport, Green Corporate Centers

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Comments:

Virginia Macklin
May 09, 2011 at 4:15 PM

I personally would like to see this Airport come into our area. I own a small business that is located around 1 1/2 to 2 miles away from the proposed location. I believe that the growth in the area would be beneficial for the small businesses that are in the area from the small restaurant to my small daycare to the convenience store right down the road. I am backing you guys in all that you do.

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