Goliad Airpark Coalition to sue the Navy

Dec. 28, 2010 at 6:28 a.m.

GOLIAD - The Goliad Airpark Coalition announced it will sue the U.S. Navy, claiming violations of the National Environmental Policy Act in the Navy's pursuit to re-acquire the Goliad Industrial Airpark.

"The community and the coalition, we just can't sit back and let this happen. We have got to fight it," said the coalition's chair, Serena Edwards.

The Goliad County Commissioner's Court unanimously voted to support the coalition's lawsuit, but the county will not fund it, Edwards said.

"This is a privately-funded lawsuit," she said, calling the match-up a "David and Goliath" battle. "We're raising funds right now."

The coalition has retained attorney R. Gaines Griffin, of San Antonio, whose law firm is experienced in dealing with federal defense-related departments, Edwards said. Griffin is out of the country until the new year, at which time he will file the suit in the Victoria Federal District Court, his secretary said.

Griffin will also file an injunction preventing the Navy from condemning the property, which it hoped to be able to use by 2012.

The Navy announced in November it would acquire the airpark through eminent domain after the Goliad County Commissioner's Court repeatedly rejected its offers to purchase the property.

The Navy said it was "disappointed" the county didn't accept their $2.6 million offer but that, "the Navy still has a mission to perform, and we remain committed to being good neighbors," according to a news release published in November.

Citizens cited noise and air pollution, loss of property value and loss of tourism among their reasons for opposing the purchase at various court meetings this year.

But the Navy's Environmental Assessment, executed as part of the NEPA, resulted in a "Finding of No Significant Impact" should the Navy acquire the airpark. Such a finding ends the NEPA process, meaning the Navy did not have to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, which is more thorough.

The Navy intends to use the airpark for touch-and-go flight training on a new T-6 aircraft.

Similar training on T-34 aircraft is currently done in Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi Mayor Joe Adame said the new planes require different landing areas and that the move fits into the Navy's plan for the future.

"It's a tremendous boost for the entire South Texas economy, and we need to do everything we can to help support the Navy," he said.

The Environmental Assessment published by the Navy acknowledged a possible increase in air pollution in Goliad, roughly 130,000 tons per year, but called the impact "less than significant."

The assessment also acknowledged what it called "moderate" noise levels that would occur in 475 acres of "undeveloped and agricultural lands" surrounding the airpark and called the impact "minor."

The Navy would use the airpark to conduct about 185,000 touch-and-go training flights a year, or a little more than 500 a day, according to the assessment.

The airpark coalition contends the Navy was negligent in not conducting a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement and not holding public hearings on the issue.

The assessment concluded the proposed takeover would not "generate significant controversy."

The coalition also says the assessment was "seriously deficient" in describing the usage of land surrounding the airpark by property owners, lessees and tourists.

One nearby landowner, John Barnhart, participates in what he calls "nature tourism," and his ranch attracts visitors from around the world to the area's unique ecology.

"We think (nature tourism) would come to a crashing halt with 500 airplanes three miles from us, touching and going and buzzing around us," Barnhart said. "So, we feel very threatened."

The coalition also aims to bring attention to the Navy's apparent disregard for the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

BRAC closed the airfield in 1991, and the Navy sold the property to Goliad County for $1 in 2000.

"In my mind, it's a double sin. On the one hand, the Navy trivializes BRAC, and on the other, it's a misuse of judicial power," Barnhart said of the acquisition.

Since it's owned the property, the county has had little luck utilizing the airpark for economic development, as noted in the Navy's November press release.

But for Edwards and the coalition, it's not about the money.

"I'm just going to fight this till the end," she said. "And I believe that everybody in Goliad County and the surrounding counties should fight for this."

Phone calls to the Navy were not returned Tuesday.



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