Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) have stated they are unaware of any attempts by the agency to request funding from the legislature to lengthen the runways at Odessa’s Schlemeyer Airport, and that DPS currently has no plans for the airport.
This stands in stark contrast to an explanation State Rep Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) gave to Ector County officials, who requested Landgraf to address them after they discovered the amendment had been passed at the last minute by the Texas Legislature without their knowledge.
Landgraf stood before a room full of airport and county officials at a meeting of the Ector County Airport Board on the morning of Wednesday, June 16 telling the officials that while he had nothing to do with seeking the passage of the amendment, he happened to know the amendment came about at the request of DPS via another member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Landgraf detailed how the amendment was to lengthen the runways to accommodate high altitude border security planes that DPS would be operating from Schlemeyer as part of a major border security operation.
After the meeting, Landgraf told Odessa Headlines that the representative DPS worked through to obtain the amendment was Appropriations Committee Chairman Greg Bonnen (R-Angleton).
Bonnen’s office declined to comment on whether their office had anything to do with the amendment.
A public information request submitted to Landgraf’s office revealed an email from the head of government relations at DPS, Kevin Cooper, on the afternoon of the same day Landgraf addressed the Ector County Airport Board.
In the email, the DPS official asks Landgraf’s chief of staff for help regarding the airport amendment, saying they’ve received questions about it and its relationship with DPS and “we are unaware of its impact in our agency.”
When Odessa Headlines contacted Cooper regarding the issue and asked about the email, Cooper recommended another official to speak to for a statement and said, “That’s all I know.”
Odessa Headlines then contacted Suzy Whittenton, the Chief Financial Officer for DPS, who responded pointing out the airport funding was appropriated to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), not DPS, and went on to say she was unaware of any request made by DPS for the funding and that this is not a DPS project.
“I am unaware of any request made by DPS for this funding. Since this is not DPS’s funding or project, I would refer you to TxDOT” Whittenton wrote.
Odessa Headlines then reached back out to Landgraf, asking if he could say where he learned the amendment was requested by DPS, and if he had any new information regarding what member of the legislature brought the amendment forward.
DPS’s statement also negates another statement Landgraf made, claiming that the funds would be paid for out of an over $1 billion border security appropriation the legislature made this session.
As of publication, Landgraf has not responded.
Meanwhile, the Kerrville Daily Times has reported that the rider amendment is already jeopardizing their local airport, with officials saying the amendment has “imperiled” funding for the Kerr County Airport, and that an official with TxDOT told Kerr County officials about the $15 million in funding that “went to Odessa for border security-related measures.”
Multiple airport repair projects at county and municipal airports mainly across West Texas are expected to be canceled because of the rider amendment.
Ector County officials, including Commissioner Mike Gardner, are also concerned about other impacts the amendment would cause if implemented, included unfunded mandates that could result in increased tax burdens on Ector County taxpayers.
The origin of the amendment and who requested the legislature to pass it continues to remain unverified.