EAST HAVEN – Numerous East Haven officials, first responders and residents denounced a recent FAA study at a hearing on Saturday that projected minimal harm from the proposed Tweed New Haven Airport expansion. The environmental assessment was co-signed by New Haven city staff who embraced the economic benefits of the plan.
More than 70 people signed up to speak at the public hearing hosted by the Tweed Airport Authority to comment on the 205-page environmental assessment, including East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora, State Rep. Joe Zullo, R-East Haven, as well as East Haven police and fire chiefs.
Officials from FAA and Tweed listened as residents from New Haven, Branford and East Haven cheered and waved signs.
Ear splitting noise
Disease,” one sign read.
For the first time since the March 3 release of the study, Carfora named specific deficiencies he found in the environmental assessment, including what he said were inconsistent cost estimates, a failure to address the impacts of expansion on flooding and a disregard for the increased burden to East Haven.
“We believe that the EA is legally deficient and that it lacks essential substance,” Carfora said. “So much so that the FAA should remedy deficiencies by either requiring a new EA or beginning the much more rigorous environmental impact statement.”
Residents cheered as Carfora called for an environmental impact statement which, under the National Environmental Policy Act, would provide a more detailed study of the expansion’s impact on the nearby environment and residents.
Carfora said the estimated 61,300 cubic yards of fill required for the expansion construction would only worsen flooding in the flood-prone airport and surrounding neighborhoods, explained that the increase of 21.62 acres in impervious surface would mean large volumes of polluted stormwater runoff and pointed to impacts from heavy airport traffic on the local town green and beach.
“Many citizens are here, giving up their Saturday in order to urge the FAA to do the right thing and simply follow applicable federal laws and regulations,” Carfora said.
But New Haven Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli said the environmental assessment was a significant step toward the expansion, which would create jobs and support expanded air service.
“Our city, our entire region is home to an airport. We are home to a rail yard, we are home to a port, we are home to a major highway interchange. These are all significant drivers of the quality of life in our region,” Piscitelli said. “…we encourage your support of the [expansion].”
Piscitelli said that in accordance with the New Haven-Tweed lease, the airport officials agreed to numerous environmental initiatives, including a new stormwater management plan, coastal habitat restoration upgrades to tide gates at a nearby salt marsh and an upcoming “sustainable airport development plan.”
“These steps are being taken to ensure that Tweed is a responsible neighbor, going beyond any minimum standards that may be included in the [environmental assessment],” Piscitelli added.
But Roger Reynolds, senior legal counsel for the environmental nonprofit Save the Sound, said the study was not consistent with statements made by Tweed and Avelo Airlines – which began servicing Tweed in 2021. Reynolds said that the recent statements contradicted the study’s assertion that an expansion would reduce aircraft operation by supporting larger planes.
“The projection of decreased flights due to improvements is frankly incredible, defies basic common sense and is inconsistent with Tweed and Avelo’s own statements,” Reynolds said. “The Avelo CEO has stated in the press recently that the expansion will lead to increased and larger flights.”
Reynolds said the environmental assessment also ignored increased health risks to environmental justice communities, substantial flood impacts, and mitigation for nearby wetlands.
Numerous officials and residents also criticized the study’s finding that there would be no significant impact to traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods. According to East Haven Chief of Police Edward Lennon, increased traffic to the airport would require additional police and fire resources, impacting response times to criminal activity and emergencies.
Lennon said that after a careful evaluation of the study, the department calculated that they would need at least one additional patrol officer for each shift to respond to increased accidents generated by airport traffic.
“To achieve this, the department will have to hire six additional police officers,” said Lennon.
East Haven’s Assistant Fire Chief Chris Rosa added that additional airport traffic could block emergency vehicle travel to and from the area.
“Increased response times may result in decreased survivability, larger fires and delayed transport and treatment in critical medical emergencies,” Rosa explained.
Residents from East Haven, New Haven and Branford spoke about their own experiences living next to the airport, also calling for an environmental impact statement.
Lori Foster, a New Haven resident, said she lived about 200 feet from the planned runway extension and said she had trouble sleeping and hearing others when planes took off.
“Prior to Avelo, I never had a problem sleeping. But the planes landing after 11 p.m. every hour on the hour is unacceptable,” Foster said. “Airplane noise causes high blood pressure, increased risk for stroke and heart attack, sleep deprivation, …high stress level as well as hearing loss.”
Amanda Sullivan, an East Haven resident, said she was unable to open her windows or sit outside without smelling jet fuel.
“Many times, I stepped outside and a gush of air carrying fumes stinged my eyes, my nose and my throat,” Sullivan said “It lingers and I have to rush back indoors.”
Sullivan said that she had written comments to airport officials and had a 30-minute phone call with former Tweed Executive Director Sean Scanlon about her concerns. She said Scanon told her about the airport’s community assistance programs, which offered residents new windows and central air.
“But I have new windows. I don’t want central air,” Sullivan said. “I want fresh air. Central air does not help me when I want to go outside.”
The FAA recently extended the 45-day public comment period for the study to 60 days. After May 1, the agency will either confirm the results of the study, and issue a finding of no significant impact – approving the expansion – or require a further environmental impact statement.
In a press release following the environmental assessment release, the Tweed’s new Executive Director Thomas Rafter said that he looked forward to working with the community to make the expansion a reality and ensured that Tweed and Avports – an airport management and operations company investing in Tweed – were considering environmental impacts.
“We remain committed to ensuring that this expansion is executed in an environmentally sustainable manner,” Rafter said. “Avports has been an excellent partner throughout, going above and beyond to fulfill the promise of a more sustainable [Tweed].”