FAA facing lawsuit surrounding new AUS jet fuel facility

Local residents and activists are taking legal action against the FAA after a failed attempt to stop the construction of a new jet fuel tank farm at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

SANAR, Southeast Austin Residents and Neighbors organized for Environmental Justice, along with PODER, People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources, filed a petition for review against the FAA on May 27.  They told FOX 7 they plan to file an injunction to halt construction as soon as Friday, June 10.

In April, the city council failed to approve a resolution, sponsored by District 2 council member Vanessa Fuentes, that would have stopped construction at the chosen site.

This came after months of pushback from local residents concerned about effects on health and other potential consequences.

"We all love Austin and we all know that Austin is growing, but it has to be done in a responsible way that also doesn’t put profits ahead of people," said Blythe Randolph, a board member with SANAR.

Almost exactly two years prior to the council decision, the FAA found "no significant impact" of the proposed tank farm when reviewing the environmental assessment. The petition for review asks "the D.C. Circuit Court to set aside the FAA’s approval as arbitrary and capricious because the environmental review is contrary to the National Environmental Policy act (NEPA)."

"We’re saying their finding of ‘no significant impact’ was not done appropriately, and their environmental assessment was not done appropriately," said Susana Almanza, director of PODER.

PODER also led efforts to dismantle the East Austin tank farm. She said it’s another example of "how environmental racism has played a part in putting unwanted industries in low-income and communities of color."

There are also long-term concerns among those in opposition. 

"You’re saying, well it’s just one or two, but your Phase Two says another two and as the airport grows, another will be another two and another two," said Almanza.

Those fears are echoed by many nearby residents.

"We’ve been here for generations and that one airport project is just an easy set-up for being removed from our homes within probably the next 5 to 10 years," said Vanessa Jimenez, a local resident and SANAR board member. 

2019 was ABIA’s busiest year with over 17 million passengers flying out of the airport. That number is expected to grow significantly. 

An ABIA spokesperson told FOX 7 in January that the airport currently had a 2-3 day supply of fuel on hand. Most airports have an average of 5-7 days worth of fuel. 

The two 1.5 million gallon jet fuel tanks are part of the airport’s 2040 Master Plan.

The location was chosen in part because of its proximity to an existing tank. The two facilities will be connected via an underground transfer line. 

"In preparation for the new fuel facility, AUS, the airlines and a team of consultants conducted an environmental review and submitted their review to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA issued a finding of no significant impact on April 8, 2020," said an ABIA spokesperson in a statement to FOX 7. "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."

An FAA spokesperson provided a statement to FOX 7 saying, "We don’t comment on litigation, nor do we select fuel tank locations."

More information on the jet fuel facility can be found here.