East Haven Presses for Tweed Control, Looney Weighs in on Board Dispute

Tweed New Haven Airport (CT Examiner)


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EAST HAVEN – Local politicians and board members debated the balance of power on the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Board of Directors after an East Haven community activist demanded equitable representation for her town.

At the monthly meeting of the board on Wednesday, East Haven activist Lorena Venegas, a vocal critic of the proposed expansion of Tweed, questioned whether the town of East Haven was fairly represented, an open question in recent months. 

“I want to make sure that I highlight for East Haven – that we do need true representation,” said Venegas. 

According to a law passed by the State Legislature in 1997, New Haven has the choice of eight board members, East Haven can choose five, and two are appointed by neighboring towns through the South Central Regional Council of Governments. 

Given that Tweed Airport is owned by the City of New Haven, but is located in part in East Haven, the arrangement giving New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker the last word on airport business makes sense… except now the plan is to further expand the airport into East Haven.

Asked by CT Examiner about the dispute, State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, agreed that there should be a change to Tweed’s board membership, not necessarily to reduce the number of seats controlled by New Haven, but instead the ones appointed by SCRCOG.

As one of the co-sponsors of the 1997 law, Looney took aim at the inclusion of suburban towns on the board, which he said had always “disturbed” him.

“Certainly their residents benefit from the airport because they get convenient flights out of there, so it does benefit the region and that area,” Looney said. “But they’re free riders in that sense, and yet they’re getting representation on the board.”

Because Tweed is owned by New Haven and at least half of the airport is located in East Haven, it makes sense that the two municipalities are represented on the board, said Looney. But while the surrounding towns benefit from the airport, he said, they do not bear the same burden as East Haven and New Haven residents.

“I think the leadership of that board should be always from the towns where the airport is located, and whose residents bear the burden of it,” Looney said. “Especially since the suburban towns who have had appointees on the board in the past – their towns have done nothing to help assist New Haven and East Haven.”

Guilford First Selectman Matthew Hoey, one of two members chosen by SCRCOG – currently serves as the vice chairman of the board. John Picard, a Madison resident and former mayor of West Haven, served as chair until his four-year term expired on June 30.

Asked about the matter, Hoey told CT Examiner that any real change to board composition must be made at the state level, but that he understood the calls for added East Haven seats. 

When the state law was first established, Hooey said, the goal was to ensure a balanced representation of municipalities on the board. But in light of the planned expansion, he said he’d be willing to discuss the matter with legislators.

But Michael Luzzi, an attorney for East Haven, told CT Examiner that until New Haven and East Haven can come to an agreement at the local level, he has no plans to lobby the State Legislature to amend the law. Luzzi also said that an agreement between New Haven and East Haven was unlikely, given their turbulent relationship so far. And without New Haven’s legislative power, he said, any effort by East Haven would likely fail. 

“To date, we’ve not been able to come to any agreement – let alone an agreement on the makeup of Tweed,” he said.

A vacant seat

In a further twist, Venegas pointed out on Wednesday that one of East Haven’s five representatives hasn’t attended a meeting in more than a year. She urged the town to fill its seats, and for East Haven’s representatives to speak up.

“We should make sure that every East Haven representative on here actually speaks at every meeting,” Venegas told the board. “It’s been common that only Kenneth Dagliere speaks, but we need everybody to speak.”

In recent meetings Dagliere has amplified the concerns of some critics of the Tweed expansion, that include the construction of a new terminal, parking, and a runway extension to accommodate larger planes. 

Following the meeting, East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora, who once supported the expansion but now questions its economic benefits for his town, told CT Examiner he’s also concerned about the “lack of equitable makeup” on the Tweed board and called for change.

“I have lobbied anyone who will listen about this fundamental unfairness from the very beginning to seek change,” Carfora wrote in an email on Friday. 

He added that he is aware that the vacant East Haven seat needs filling, but applauded the work of the remaining board members – Dagliere, Linda Hennessey, Raymond Pompano, Joseph Ginnetti.

“I do appreciate the service of our greatly outnumbered members, I know that they currently have a sense of frustration,” Carfora said.

Dagliere also voiced frustration in a Thursday call with CT Examiner. 

“If we’re gonna absorb the bulk of the responsibility in police, fire, EMTs, public works, traffic, noise, pollution, etc., shouldn’t we have an equal representation on the board?” he said. “It’s just common sense, in my view.”

If the planned expansion is carried out, Dagliere said, East Haven “absolutely” needs additional seats on the board.

But Toni Lorenti, who also spoke on Wednesday, said that given the current makeup of the board, municipal interests are actually overrepresented. Lorenti, a Meriden resident and a pilot by trade, asked for industry representation.

She said it had become clear that groups opposed to the expansion had inappropriately taken hold of some members of the Tweed board. She denounced the advocacy efforts.

“Those who elevate the efforts of these groups must be considered anti-airport, anti-aviation as a whole, a burden to proper airport discourse and, above all, undeserving of a seat on an airport board,” Lorenti said.

Lorenti said that extending Tweed board membership to aviators would lend a voice to all stakeholders and help to stop the spread of misinformation.

“While the neighborhood is unquestionably a valid voice in the HVN discourse, it is by no means the only one,” Lorenti said. “Nor should it be confused with the uneducated cacophony of airport rhetoric brought about by certain airport protesters.”

In the call with CT Examiner, Dagliere wrote off those criticisms as “backhanded compliments,” and defended his efforts. 

While admitting that he is no aviation expert, Dagliere said his key goal – both as a member of the Tweed board and as a staffer for former Senator Joe Lieberman – has always been to advocate for quality of life concerns.

“It’s been my goal no matter what I’ve done in my career, and on the board,” Dagliere said. “I mean, this is the way I operate.”

Dagliere did confirm that, along with his own research, he receives a lot of his information about the expansion from the Carfora administration and from groups like 10,000 Hawks – a local nonprofit advocating for the environment.

“They do come up with some good, factual information that I bring forward,” he said. “And when it’s when I look through and I say, ‘OK, this makes sense,’ then I’m going to speak about it.”

Asked if he felt like the sole board member advocating for such concerns, Dagliere said he assumes his East Haven colleagues support his comments, but that he’s just the most vocal.

“I think maybe they’re at the point where they think “OK, Ken is the leader of East Haven on this board, so let’s just let him do his thing. And if we have an issue with it, we’ll speak up,’” he said.