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Group raises environmental concerns about Tesla gigafactory's grand opening party

The party is scheduled for Thursday, April 7, at the factory's site.

AUSTIN, Texas — Tesla is revving up for Thursday's Cyber Rodeo. But some local environmentalists have raised concerns about the Austin Gigafactory's grand opening party, according to a Bloomberg report.

At a March 22 Travis County Commissioners Court public hearing, advocates with PODER, an environmental justice group, said Tesla is not doing enough to interact with its neighbors.

"This grand opening is not a substitute for real community engagement," said Paul DiFiore, a representative of the Colorado River Conservancy and PODER. "I urge you to consider rejecting this permit and forcing Tesla to delay their celebration until they start treating the community in eastern Travis County as more than a workforce for Elon Musk, but rather as neighbors and partners."

According to Bloomberg, DiFiore cited blocked roads, dust from construction, noise and water pollution as issues.

At that meeting, commissioners said Tesla could do more to boost communication and outreach with the community. However, they still approved the event permit for the party.

Another environmental issue DiFiore stated due to the Tesla facility is water supply and quality.

"They lay down almost 100 acres of concrete on what used to be vegetation and ponds, and when you do that, you cause a lot more stormwater runoff to potentially be entering our watersheds. They will have a system in place to manage that, but the question is how will that hold up in a big rain event," said DiFiore.

According to DiFiore, that's one of many questions with an answer Tesla hasn't made public yet. The environmental expert said the company does have a plan, or at least a concept of a plan in place, for what they call ecological uplift on the site. But those details haven't been made public yet.

In an economic development agreement between Travis County and Colorado River Project LLC, which is the entity Tesla has used to buy land in Travis County, it's stated the Tesla facility will help environmental impact by using reclaimed water and solar technology for energy needs.

DiFiore said since production started two years ago, local experts are wanting an opportunity to work with Tesla to bring in local input.

"We think it'd be great if they got broader public input as well, from the neighborhoods around there, that's not required, but we think it's something that you should do as part of being a good neighbor and being a good member of society," said DiFiore. 

The Cyber Rodeo will be held on Thursday, April 7, from 3 p.m. to 11:29 p.m. at the Gigafactory site, County documents show. It will accommodate up to 15,000 guests. The event "will encompass interactive tours accompanied by food and various live entertainment."

The 4.3 million-square-foot Gigafactory site was first announced in July 2020, after Travis County and the Del Valle school district approved more than $60 million in combined tax breaks for Tesla. According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Tesla will be hiring for 5,000 jobs with annual wages starting at $35,000.

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