AUSTIN (KXAN) — A proposed resolution by Austin City Council to delay approval of a new jet fuel storage facility for the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) could backlog the project’s construction timeline by 2.5 years and cost $11.4 billion in lost payroll and output revenues, officials said Tuesday.
Council Member Vanessa Fuentes brought the item forward for further deliberations prior to a vote on Thursday, after constituents in her district expressed concerns over potential environmental impacts and the facility’s proximity to residential homes.
Currently, the planned location is situated south of the Barbara Jordan Terminal and north of State Highway 183. The project would add two additional fuel tanks to AUS’ current two-tank supply, doubling the amount of fuel available for facility operations.
The project was expected to start this spring and will take roughly two years to complete. However, airport officials said if council opts to go through a new site selection process, it’ll delay the project between 58-61 months:
- Design: 12 months
- Permitting: 12 months
- National Environmental Policy Act assessment: 6-7 months
- Construction: 28-30 months
Fuel demands have been a central concern for AUS in recent years, as Austin’s growth and increased air traffic demand has strained available resources. Currently, AUS keeps a two-to-three-day supply of fuel on site each day. By comparison, the average airport supplies between five-to-seven days’ worth of fuel on-site for daily operations.
“We have had a really, really strong demand for air travel pretty consistently since about last spring,” Sam Haynes, AUS’ acting public information and marketing officer, told KXAN March 29. “Due to that really, just like, pent up demand for leisure travel, we’re starting to see business travelers come back. And so a new fuel storage facility is really critical and really needed for us to be able to just meet the demands and the needs of today.”
As part of Fuentes’ resolution, the item reads that “the affected community was not meaningfully engaged before the [environmental analysis] was prepared for the proposed relocation of the fuel farm.”
There are 21 residential properties identified within 2,000 feet of the site, per AUS documents:
- 0 residential sites estimated within 500 feet of storage tanks
- 1 residential site estimated within 700 feet of storage tanks
- 4 residential sites estimated within 1,000 feet of storage tanks
- 16 residential sites estimated within 2,000 feet of storage tanks
In a work session discussion Tuesday, Austin’s aviation department executive director Jacqueline Yaft said the Federal Aviation Administration does not have regulations in place for location standards when building a jet fuel storage facility. Therefore, residential proximity to a proposed jet fuel site doesn’t make or break a location’s eligibility.
Some of the environmental concerns related to the planned facility date back to historic environmental injustices in east Austin, notably petroleum tanks constructed on a 52-acre site back in 1948. The facility, which was built as closely as four-to-five-feet from residential homes, leaked into and contaminated soil surrounding the site, ultimately leading to its shutdown in 1991.
During her presentation, Yaft addressed noted differences in the proposed jet fuel storage facility, which is proposed on a 10.5-acre site and has regular inspections from the city, Austin Fire Department and third-party consultants planned.
Compared to gasoline, Yaft said jet fuel is not flammable to the extent gas is, adding the facility is staffed around the clock and will sit on a containment pool to help prevent possible fuel spills into the ground.
When evaluating possible fuel storage locations, Yaft said the aviation team considered 12 sites suggested by community members that were then evaluated by a third-party firm. Specific criteria the aviation team considered include future airport development plans, fuel delivery access, transfer line accessibility to current fuel tanks and floodplains. The criteria, Yaft noted, did not include proximity to residential spaces due to the lack of FAA requirements.
Based on these stipulations, Yaft said the current proposed site was selected as most ideal and was approved by the FAA, the National Environmental Policy Act and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Several council members floated the idea of potential buyout options for area homeowners who might be impacted by the facility’s construction. Yaft said the airport is currently unable to offer buyouts due to AUS not being able to be reimbursed by the FAA for them. She added airlines have also opposed the buyout options due to the project’s lack of significant environmental impacts on area residential sites.
Mayor Pro-Tem Alison Alter, regarding airlines’ opposition to buyouts, said she wants all of Austin’s commercial partners — including airlines — to both be a part of the community and invest in it.
Fuentes thanked airport staff for their presentation and analysis, adding council still had important considerations to weigh out prior to Thursday’s vote. She added while the timeline delays and related costs are notable and important to consider, so, too are possible effects on residents.
“When we have situations like this come up and we know that residents being within 500 feet were not considered as part of the site selection criteria, this is when we have to make tough decisions as policymakers,” Fuentes said. “And I know that what we heard today was a pretty outstanding impact, economic impact this would have to our airport expansion and operations, but equally as important is the human impact.”