East Austin Residents Speak Out against Airport's Jet-A Location Ahead of Vote

April 8, 2022

Apr. 7—Austin City Council convened the morning of Thursday, April 7, and the fieriest item on the agenda was No. 43. A resolution to direct the city manager to find an alternative to the proposed location for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport's Jet-A fuel expansion site.

Jet-A, which will initially add two 1.5-million-gallon tanks of fuel, is set to eventually have capacity for 6 million gallons of fuel. The issue, first raised last fall by District 2 representative Vanessa Fuentes, is that the tanks will be located within 500 feet of some East Austin homes, many of which belong to a small Latino community.

A local homeowner named Amanda spoke out, reaching the verge of tears as she described the harm she feels Jet-A will cause to her and her neighbors.

"Our community is thriving and diverse. I actually know my neighbors," she said. "We're very proud of our community. To propose jet fuel tanks be built that uncomfortably close to our homes — just a few hundred feet from our property line — the health consequences could easily be devastating."

She pointed to the Holly Street Power Plant, which was decommissioned in 2007 after multiple chemical spills and ongoing noise pollution, as an example. She also said that the airport and the airlines thrust Jet-A upon the East Austin community without providing an environmental impact statement.

"Nobody knew. Please say no to these jet fuel farms," she begged. "Please."

Roy Whaley, chair of the conservation committee for the Austin regional group of the Sierra Club, called for more environmental studies, noting that it was "easy to do the right thing." He also said that the Sierra Club is familiar with endangered species.

"And who is more endangered in Austin, Texas, right now than the black and brown and poor community?" Whaley said. "This is another example of environmental injustice."

Representatives from American and United Airlines, two airlines served by ABIA, spoke out against moving Jet-A, which will be paid for by the airlines themselves. Opponents of the item, including the airport itself, have said that another environmental assessment would cause at least a 30-month delay to construction, restrict ABIA from adding more flights after 2023, and lead to a $4.6 billion loss in payroll.

"As introduced, we are opposed to item 43 as it would create unwarranted and unnecessary delay to a critical project at the Austin airport," said Billy Glunz, director of government affairs at American. "The fuel capacity project, as it stands today, has received all of the necessary permits and approvals at the federal, state, and local level."

"Liars!" screamed someone in gallery. Chants of "people over profit!" could be heard as the airlines' reps spoke.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler offered a compromise that, among other things, would allow for the first phase of Jet-A to proceed as planned, with two 1.5-million-gallon tanks, but to call for a new environmental assessment before the other two are constructed in phase two. The memo also contains a call to create an Airport Green Team composed of community volunteers, business partners, and city officials to evaluate all environmental concerns as they related to the ongoing ABIA expansion.

The vote comes on the heels of a chaotic few weeks at ABIA. At the end of March, ABIA issued a fuel-shortage alert that lasted from March 28 into March 30.

The news was shocking. It revealed this was not the first time ABIA had gotten below the threshold — less than one day's worth of fuel supply — that necessitated an alert. Residents also learned that Austin's airport has a capacity issue, with the ability to keep between two and three days' worth on hand, which is less than half the amount kept by airports of similar size.

An airport spokesperson explained to MySA that when ABIA was constructed in 1999, that was the industry standard. ABIA acting public information officer and marketing manager Sam Haynes also said that the fuel shortage alert didn't cause cancellations or delays, but that they were possible going forward.

"However, one of the last fuel shortage alerts that was issued was back in October, and three commercial flights did have to divert to fuel up before arriving in Austin," Haynes said. "It's possible as we experience the strong demand for air travel, with all these increased flights and new flights, that could happen. Passengers could experience diversions."

City Council noted that item 43 would be revisited late this afternoon.


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