The FAA released an environmental assessment on Thursday projecting that the planned expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport would pose little significant impact to the environment or nearby residents.
The 205-page report, which is a minimum requirement for approving federally-funded infrastructure projects, comes nearly two years after a May 2021 announcement of the expansion, which would include an extension of the runway and a new terminal, additional surface parking and a parking garage in East Haven.
The expansion, the share of the benefits, and the environmental costs have stirred significant opposition to the plan from the surrounding neighbors, a minor rift between New Haven and East Haven, and calls for a full environmental impact statement from the influential environmental nonprofit, Save The Sound, as well as East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora, and various state lawmakers and environmentalists.
In a press release, Carfora said he was disappointed that FAA did not immediately call for a more thorough environmental impact statement following Thursday’s release, and said that he aimed to ensure the expansion was “fully and fairly considered.”
Carfora said that he had directed his team of town officials and outside experts to review the report and prepare a detailed response.
In a Thursday phone call with CT Examiner, Roger Reynolds, senior legal counsel for Save The Sound, also said the organization was reviewing the Environmental Assessment, and would continue to call for a fuller environmental review.
“We’re going to take a long, hard look at the Environmental Assessment to see if we think it’s sufficient,” Reynolds said. “Our position will continue to be that this really merits a full Environmental Impact Statement ultimately.”
The report, prepared by officials from the FAA, engineering firm McFarland-Johnson, engineering consultant FHI Studio and environmental planner HMMH, predicted little impact on noise, air quality, traffic, or wetlands – issues raised by neighbors and environmentalists – aside from an increase of NO emissions due the use of newer model 737-800 airplanes.
But the report outlined possible steps to mitigate any harm, including an ongoing sound insulation program for nearby homes, and funding for environmental nonprofits for work on nearby wetlands.
Tweed Airport Executive Director Tom Rafter said he couldn’t yet put a price tag on those plans.
“It is too early to estimate the costs of mitigation,” said Rafter in a Thursday email to CT Examiner. “This is more appropriate during the design phase.”
In an attached press release from Tweed Airport, Rafter said officials remained committed to ensuring that the expansion is executed in “an environmentally sustainable manner.”
Before the project can move forward, the report will face a formal 45-day public comment period which concludes April 16. Airport officials also announced that they will hold a public information workshop and hearing on April 1 at East Haven High School.
After public comment, FAA will issue either a finding of no significant impact, known as a FONSI, or require a deeper environmental impact statement. In a previous interview with CT Examiner, Executive Director Rafter said that if FAA felt comfortable moving forward with the expansion without an Environmental Impact Statement, he would as well.
“It’s a very well-defined federal process that is used across the country – and not just airports, but highways and all types of modes of transportation,” Rafter said. “If they say it’s a FONSI, [then] it’s a FONSI, and we move forward.”
But Lorena Venegas, a local activist opposing the airport expansion, told CT Examiner that potential impacts on East Haven, an environmental justice community, warranted additional investigation and mitigation beyond the environmental assessment.
“East Haven as an environmental justice town deserves an Environmental Impact Statement to [assess] the damage and burdens of expansion including effects on asthma, cardiac health, stress and human health,” Venegas said. “The community benefits plan presented to East Haven are inadequate to address the physical damage to homes that include cracked foundations, walls and jet fuel residue on public streets and residential backyards.”
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said the office was unable to provide a statement prior to publication.