Houston, throughout the past 100 years, has been one of those cities whose economic cycles seem to have sharper ups and downs than most other cities, largely because of its reliance on energy production. As oil went, so went the city.
As a result, this fourth largest city in the country has developed a resilient character that encourages economic growth and production. That growth-oriented attitude, however, hasn’t always been kind to the environment; witness its recent dubious distinction of having the dirtiest air of any city in the country.
It is these factors — growth orientation and environmental problems — that played major roles in how Intercontinental got through the many times frustrating processes required for a major project.
"People here want economic development," Vacar says. "They want things to happen, they have a very positive, can-do attitude. I think that factor lends itself immensely to what we were trying to do and how quickly we were trying to do it. I didn’t have a lot of resistance."
William Willkie, a consultant on the project from Leigh Fischer Associates in San Mateo, CA, agrees, explaining that Continental Airlines, the principal tenant at Bush, fully supported the project.
"There was little distraction and opposition," he says. "You had a combination that was considered beneficial to a lot of people and a commitment on the part of the major stakeholders to devote the resources to see it through. You had continuity and technically, the work was well done."
Noise, air quality, and wetlands mitigation were the major issues facing Vacar and his staff as they approached their task of getting the work done.
Because Bush is 22 miles north of downtown, development and population in the area is not dense, so noise didn’t arise as an issue of contention. In the future, as the area continues to develop, noise could become an issue and that is why Vacar has hired a dedicated Noise Officer. But for the purposes of getting the current work done at IAH, noise was a non-issue.
How Bush executives and their consultants dealt with the remaining issues —- air quality and wetlands mitigation —- is the crux of what is considered a success story at the airport.
AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT
— Part of the Upgrade
Terminal A part of $11 million upgrade at IAH
The new Terminal A North Food Court at George Bush
Intercontinental Airport will open with a blend of national brands
and regional partnerships, part of concessionaire CA One Services
$11 million investment in the airport’s food and beverage areas.
National brands in the Terminal A North Food Court include: McDonald’s, The Coffee Beanery, Pizzeria Uno Express, and Smoothie King. Regional partnerships consist of those with El Paseo Café, The Grove, and Suki Hana Japan.
CA One Services has a ten-year contract to manage existing and new food and beverage facilities at Bush Intercontinental. The on-going $11 million construction project, initiated in 1999, will incorporate the upgrading or building of more than 40 food and beverage operations.
CA One Services is a subsidiary of Delaware North Companies and is headquartered in Buffalo, NY.
Environmental regulations in Texas are
the concern of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, or
TNRCC. The agency is the arbiter of what can and cannot be done regarding
the environment. During the recent presidential campaign, TNRCC was under
tremendous pressure to take steps towards doing something about air quality
because the agency’s boss, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush, was
getting hammered by his presidential opponent, Al Gore, on environmental
The TNRCC has established an objective of reducing NOX (nitrous oxide) emissions from airline ground service equipment by 90 percent. The airlines, particularly the three Texas-based airlines (Continental, American, Southwest) said it was not technically feasible to reduce them by more than 75 percent. Neither side was willing to budge. It came to a head with the Air Transport Association (ATA) suing the TNRCC over the issue at DFW.
Kent McLemore, assistant director for planning with HAS and the one most intimately involved with dealing with environmental issues, explains that TNRCC reports directly to the governor, who would issue the air quality certification that the airport needed to get FAA approval.
"Until the governor issued the certification on air quality," McLemore says, "we could not receive our record of decision (ROD). Finally, our director stepped in. The difference between 75 percent and 90 percent (reduction) is about 1.8 tons per day of NOX emissions. Our director said we (airport) would make up the difference somehow. That broke the logjam and got the process moving. We were just trying to make a good business decision and prove that you can do good business and be green at the same time
"It came down to a final meeting at which the FAA, the airlines, the airport, and the TNRCC were present.... They (TNRCC) thought about it and decided their goal was to reduce NOX emissions by 90 percent and if we reduce them by some other method than GSE equipment, that was the goal."
How the airport gets its 15 percent reduction is still in process but among contributors will be the consolidation of the car rental facility, which will reduce bus movements by an estimated 100 trips per day. There are plans to consolidate employee parking, and the airport is investigating fuel cell technology that will facilitate the use of electric vehicles.
Additionally, Vacar is going to push for city regulations that require that airport vendors will have to contribute to emission reduction. "We won’t do it overnight," Vacar says, "we’ll give notice. For example, hotel shuttles; these bus operators, when we do an RFP here shortly for super shuttle-type service, we’re going to be looking in those proposals for ’What are you going to be doing for me on air quality?’ If we do it with taxi cabs, if we do it with these shuttle buses, we’ll have the whole city benefit as well as the airport."
The Houston Airport System is nearing completion on a Bush Intercontinental Airport Master plan, which details airport expansion plans through 2025.
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