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Jet fuel farm, part of Austin airport expansion, draws concern from neighbors

A new fuel facility proposed at Austin’s airport has neighbors concerned about environmental impacts.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that the federal review of the planned facility included public engagement, but it did not. The process to approve the airport's master plan, however, did.

The proposed construction of a jet fuel facility has residents concerned in one neighborhood near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Airport leaders say the fuel facility, part of the airport’s master plan for growth approved by the Austin City Council in 2018, is needed to keep up with increasing airline and passenger demand.

The airport currently operates with up to three days’ worth of fuel – lower than the industry standard of up to seven days’ worth, airport spokesperson Sam Haynes told KVUE. Last month, during F1 racing, fuel capacity reached a critically low level, forcing three of a total 17 British Airways flights to divert to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in order to refuel.

When Austin’s airport opened in 1999, the existing fuel tanks were designed to hold enough fuel for about 11 million annual passengers. In 2019, the airport exceeded 17 million flyers. That number is expected to continue growing, potentially reaching 31 million by 2040.  

A new fuel farm would feature two above-ground tanks that store up to 1.5 million gallons each. Building plans show it would be built on the western edge of the airport, near US 183 between McCall Lane and Metropolis Drive. Haynes said the facility would have two fences, one for security and another to minimize the visual impacts.

Officials selected the location as the "best fit" on airport property because it doesn't conflict with future development plans, including a new terminal and additional runway, and because it would allow airport staff to continue using the existing facility, Haynes said. 

Haynes said while it would be built on airport property, the facility would be owned and operated by the airlines.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved the project in 2020, finding “no significant impact” following a federal review under the National Environmental Policy Act. That process did not include public engagement, but the process to approve the airport's master plan did.

But neighbors who live near the proposed site aren’t convinced that review was enough. Austin City Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes, who represents the area, is calling for more work to be done.

“Residents living near the airport were not aware of the proposed jet fuel site location, and so many of the concerns came about from not knowing what was going on, what that meant to have a jet fuel site located in the vicinity and [they] wanted to know about the environmental impacts,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes brought forward a resolution that the city council will consider Thursday. It would reopen the community engagement process to make sure neighbors are informed and also directs the city manager to conduct an independent City environmental study of the fuel farm. All the City work is expected to be completed by early March.

“The need for expanded capacity with our jet fuel is absolutely part of that expansion and part of us being able to meet the demand in the area. But we want to make sure, though, is that we have an appropriate time and an appropriate way in which we go about informing residents who live near the airport,” Fuentes said.

Haynes said the City process is not expected to impact the project’s timeline for construction.

“We are committed to working with District 2 council office, community members and our airline partners to develop a safe fuel facility that will meet our critical need for fuel supply to support the increasing growth in air service at AUS while ensuring environmental compliance,” airport leaders said in a statement.

Once construction starts, the facility is expected to be completed within two years.

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