During an Austin City Council meeting Thursday, leaders heard from concerned residents and airline executives before taking a vote.
AUSTIN, Texas — A controversial jet fuel storage facility at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will move forward after a split vote by the Austin City Council Thursday.
The council’s decision means a new facility for two 1.5-million-gallon fuel storage tanks will be built on the western edge of the airport property, near US 183 and across the highway from a neighborhood.
Council voted 5-5 on the measure, and without majority, it did not move forward. Council member Natasha Harper-Madison was off the dais for the vote.
Construction was supposed to start in March, Austin Airport CEO Jacqueline Yaft told the council Thursday. If the measure was approved and construction was delayed, it would have taken at least 2.5 years for design and approval of a new facility.
After the vote, Austin’s airport issued the following statement:
“The Department of Aviation is grateful to the community and our surrounding neighbors for their willingness to engage with us and share their experiences. Understanding our community’s legacy of environmental injustice in East Austin is crucial to making equitable and sound decisions for today and the future.
“We also recognize the importance of investing in community relationships and providing timely information to the public. We look forward to launching our Airport Green Team, which will guide our environmental stewardship through continued engagement with the community as we work to modernize the airport and build the infrastructure needed to support our growing city.
“We remain committed to working together with our community, City Council, and airport business partners to achieve a world-class airport that is safe and environmentally sound for all.”
The Austin Chamber of Commerce also issued a statement following the vote:
“The Austin Chamber of Commerce thanks the Austin City Council and the staff of the Aviation Department for their diligent work on this issue.
We are excited that we can move forward. As we have experienced lately, the demand for air service at AUS is growing substantially, and we need the airport to grow with that demand.
The process of expanding our airport is far from over. The Austin Chamber is committed to working with the City of Austin, airlines, businesses, and residents to ensure that the expansion of AUS moves forward while ensuring all parties are informed and can participate in directing the future of the airfield. We appreciate the public and our City Council for taking the time to understand the issues.
The airport is a vital part of the engine that drives our economy. We must be prepared to continue the conversation and work around expanding AUS.”
City leaders heard from several worried neighbors and airline executives during Thursday’s meeting.
Richard Fletcher, who can see the airport property from his driveway and has lived on McCall Lane since 1975, didn’t want fuel tanks as his new neighbors.
“There are some safety issues with them putting their tank farm right over here across the fence from me,” he said.
Ruben Torrez has lived in the neighborhood across from the airport for 22 years.
“As far as the air pollution to contamination in the water, you know, and that’s my concern and people getting sick,” he said. “My age … it’s kind of hard to stay healthy and take our medication and have to worry about something else on top of that.”
Some have compared the new jet fuel storage tanks to the old East Austin tanks that emitted gasoline fumes and had known pollution violations. Airport officials say the new facility would be a fifth of the size of that old, structurally compromised facility and it would be regularly inspected by the City, fire department and outside firms.
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“The proposed jet fuel tanks would be built uncomfortably close to our homes, just a few hundred feet from our property line. The health consequences could easily be devastating,” Amanda Carrillo told the council.
Meanwhile, airline executives spoke on the potential impact to air service and operations in the Capital City.
“A delay in this project will have negative implications to existing air service at Austin, and a delay in the project will also put pressure on any future growth at the Austin airport,” said Billy Glunz, director of government affairs for American Airlines.
American serves 42 nonstop destinations from AUS and has plans to continue growing.
Airline and airport executives contend the facility is desperately needed to keep up with growing demand for flights in Central Texas and a lack of current fuel capacity.
“The current availability and reliability of fuel at Austin is untenable and is creating operational issues for our airline and our customers,” said Darrin Hall, United Airlines’ director of state and local government affairs.
The airport operates with up to three days’ worth of fuel supply while the industry standard is up to seven days’ worth of fuel.
Airport leaders have issued 16 fuel shortage alerts since 2019, 11 of them last year. The alert is triggered when the current fuel supply drops below one day’s worth.
After Thursday’s council action, airport staff will coordinate with the airlines for next steps on the lease and notice to proceed.
A start to construction has not been set, but a spokesperson for the airport said that, when timelines are more defined, the community will be updated on the project website.
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