The city-owned Dallas Executive Airport has a new website. It's slick, a vast leap forward from the static, text-heavy site that seemed a relic from the dial-up era. Just in time, too, since the airport is on the cusp of a major expansion. There, amidst bold-faced promises of Dallas' "world-class shopping" and "five-star entertainment," in apparent response to pretty well substantiated concerns that neighbors were shut out of the planning process, is a tab headlined "Being a Good Neighbor." It is topped, somewhat puzzlingly, with a photo of Klyde Warren Park but goes on to tout the public outreach that's being done in the area that actually surrounds the airport, some 10 miles to the southwest.
Head over to the DEAneighbors.com, local gadfly Raymond Crawford's agitprop watchdog website, and you'll find documents (e.g. sign-in sheets from key Planning Advisory Committee meetings composed entirely of city staffers and people who do business at DEA) and jeremiads detailing how the public was left out despite the promises and Federal Aviation Administration rules to the contrary.
Two months ago, the city sheepishly apologized and, according to the documents posted by Crawford, then-interim Assistant City Manager Theresa O'Donnell and aviation director Mark Duebner promised to reboot the public-input process so neighbors could have a meaningful say.
That's how the neighbors understood it anyway, because that's what city officials told them. Here's an excerpt from a June 23 Dallas Morning News article on the subject:
A committee, including airport-area residents, will be created to draft a master plan for the airport in the Red Bird area. Consultants prepared such a plan two years ago after meetings with airport tenants and government representatives.
"We're going to go back through the same process we did before," Mark Duebner, the city's aviation director, said Monday. "We're just going to expand the public advisory community."
That process began with an initial meeting at the airport last Thursday with DEA Manager Darrell Philips and a second meeting last night led by Mike Dmyterko, a principal with Kansas City-based Coffman Associates, the airport consulting firm handling the master plan.
On the plus side, residents say, the meeting provided an opportunity to ask questions and get straight answers about the project. The bad news was, it quickly became clear that they weren't going to change much or anything that was already in the master plan.
"Our expectations going in last week was that it was basically going to be a redo of the master-plan process," says Sean Mahoney, one of the eight or so community members who attended this week's meeting. "And then when we went into the orientation last week, it sounded more like they only want us to review the document."
The issue that most concerned the neighbors, the extension and reconstruction of the runways, which would allow them to accommodate heavier -- and, they fear, noisier -- aircraft, was clearly off the table.
Dmyterko says this afternoon that Mahoney's takeaway is largely correct. The master plan has been written for two years. Redoing the entire process would be prohibitively expensive and rely on uncertain FAA and Texas Department of Transportation funding. The pavement on the runways is "truly falling apart." Just to accommodate the current fleet, the pavement needs to have its strength increased to bear 75,000 pounds, up from 60,000. The city wanted to push it up to 90,000, he says, which is what's in the draft master plan, but 15,000 pounds won't make much of a difference to neighbors.
"A lot of people have some fear that -- it's almost conspiratorial -- if we let them put more pavement in, they're gonna bring in 747s and [they're going to] hear them all night long. I'm not saying they're crazy or anything. I understand their concerns." But any heavier planes at Dallas Executive Airport, Dmyterko says, will likely be modern business jets, which are relatively quiet.
The basic truth, though, is that neither the city of Dallas nor Coffman has to listen to the community during the development of an airport master plan, Dmyterko says. There's an FAA advisory strongly recommending it (a point DEA-area residents have highlighted), and it's certainly a best practice, but "the reality is a master plan has no absolute requirement for any public participation."
Crawford and his allies maintain otherwise. In a complaint submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General, embedded below, he asks for an investigation of the lack of public participation in the master-plan process.
Coffman typically strives to include the public. The Planning Advisory Committee for Arlington's airport, for instance, includes representatives from four homeowners associations. The reason neighbors weren't invited Dallas Executive's master plan was being drafted in 2011 was that "we generally allow the sponsor (i.e. the city of Dallas) to give us recommendations for who's going to sit on a ...Planning Advisory Committee."
Darrell Phillips, Dallas Executive's airport manager, puts the onus on the neighbors: "They didn't attend."
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The airport, though, has learned the error of its ways. Some version of the group that met with Dmyterko will be established as a permanent "airport advisory committee." The plan is for them to meet quarterly to make recommendations or air concerns about "anything going on at the airport."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.