If there was one thing Dallas City Hall would have been wise to take away from the fracking debate, it's that you shouldn't mess with Raymond Crawford. He's the slight, balding, professional needlepointing David to your Goliath.
City Hall, however, isn't so good with lessons, which is why Crawford has another stone in his sling.
The issue this time around is Dallas Executive Airport, the small, city-owned airfield in the Red Bird area of Southwest Dallas. For the past three years, the city has been drawing up a new master plan for the airport and is set to begin a runway renovation and expansion.
Crawford, who lives a few blocks away, first became aware of the project when The Dallas Morning News reported on the runway expansion in February. He grew concerned, then angry, that neighbors hadn't been consulted and began doing what he does best: obsessively researching the issue and pelting city aviation officials and City Council members with questions.
He finagled an April 3 public meeting with Dallas aviation director Mark Duebner but left unsatisfied by the city's apparent doublespeak.
Councilman Tennell Atkins has repeatedly described the runway expansion, to 7,000 feet, as a game changer that will accommodate larger, heavier corporate jets and compete for business with other regional airports like Addison's. And according to a draft of the airport master plan, the goal is to upgrade the airport from an ARC D-II airport, which accommodates mid-sized aircraft like the Gulfstream IV, to an ARC D-III airport, which can accommodate Boeing 737s.
Contrast that with Duebner's assurances to neighbors that the primary purpose of the runway reconstruction and extension is to serve the jets that already use the runway, some of which are ARC D-III.
"This project, by in large, has been a reconstruction of the runway, and so we didn't really feel like there was any controversy," Duebner told WFAA's Brett Shipp last night. Public hearings on the runway expansion, set to begin this summer, come later.
Crawford and his allies, though, searched out FAA rules mandating that airports mulling significant improvements like a runway expansion have extensive public outreach efforts. He details the requirements in a letter he sent to Duebner yesterday (embedded below), but they essentially say the public should be involved in the beginning of the process. The draft of the master plan says as much.
"To ensure the Master Plan reflects the concerns of the public, the local communities, airport tenants, airport users, and businesses throughout the region, the Master Plan process will include an active public outreach program to solicit comments and suggestions which will then be included in the final Master Plan."
There was one public meeting, on July 19, 2012, but it took place more than a year after a Planning Advisory Committee comprised of DEA tenants and City Hall insiders began meeting and wasn't announced publicly -- at least not publicly enough for neighbors to know the meeting was taking place.
If City Hall isn't trying to be secretive and the lack of public involvement was an oversight by bureaucrats who honestly thought neighbors wouldn't care, Crawford wonders why the draft master plan has its own website -- dallasexec.airportstudy.com -- that's cloaked so as to be invisible to Google searches. Neighbors only learned of it when Duebner gave them the URL at the April 3 meeting.
Try it. Type in "Dallas Executive master plan" and you'll be directed to the one developed in 1997 for when it was still called Redbird Airport.
DEA neighbors are calling for a halt to the runway-expansion plans until the city has a legitimate public hearing process.
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"It's my opinion that they want to extend the runway and make it available for the big businesses to come in, and they want to spur development," Crawford says. "We aren't against development, but we are against development if the public isn't invited to be part of it from the beginning."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.