Feds Give Okay to Tweed Expansion with ‘Finding of No Significant Impact’

Lianne Audette, a member of 10,000 Hawks, and Lorena Venegas watch a plane take off over Audette's house near Tweed Airport (CT Examiner).

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The Federal Aviation Administration announced a “Finding of No Significant Impact” on Friday, meaning that the planned expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport can move forward without further environmental study.

For the last seven months, FAA has been reviewing an environmental assessment of the $165 million expansion, which includes an extension of the runway and the construction of a new terminal, parking garage and parking lot on the East Haven side of the airport. 

The expansion of the public airport will be funded by Avports – an airport management company which signed a 43-year lease with Tweed in 2022 and agreed to invest at least $100 million to improve the facility. 

The proposal and review process have faced significant criticism from East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora, neighbors, elected officials, environmental nonprofit Save the Sound and Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine.

In the decision, FAA concluded that the expansion would actually improve Tweed’s environmental impact by reducing the total number of flights, reducing noise for neighbors, lessening the airport’s effect on air quality and abutting wetlands.

In a Friday press release from the airport, Gov. Ned Lamont, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and Tweed officials celebrated the “major milestone” in their efforts to expand flights out of New Haven and East Haven – two environmental justice communities.

“The release of this assessment today is a big step forward to ensuring that south-central Connecticut has the reliable transportation opportunities this region needs to grow economically,” said Lamont. “Additionally, it will ensure that there are commonsense noise and traffic mitigation measures in place that will retain the neighborhood’s quality of life. I am appreciative of Tweed’s partnership with the state and look forward to the airport’s many more years of success.”

Elicker, who has supported the expansion since it was announced in 2021, said the FAA decision serves as another step towards the “responsible and sustainable” development of the airport.

“I am grateful for the work of the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority, the many technical professionals and our residents who participated in this process,” said Elicker. “This is a big step, but just one of many steps, as we support Avelo and build the new terminal all with the lens toward economic growth and the wellbeing of the surrounding community.

In a separate statement, Carfora said he is beyond disappointed in the federal decision.

Carfora, who originally supported the expansion, has since changed his position to oppose the project given what he says are an inequitable share of economic benefits and environmental impacts between East Haven and New Haven. He is also one of the many who has argued that an expansion would actually allow for an increase in flights – not a decrease – making the assessment “fundamentally flawed.”

“The Town of East Haven has committed a number of well-placed assets to

provide the FAA with detailed information about our concerns from traffic, public safety to the environment,” Carfora said. “The substantial impact that the proposed action will have on our community is monumental. Our experts, and my staff will fully evaluate the FAA’s findings before announcing our next steps.”

By issuing a finding of no significant impact, per the National Environmental Policy Act, the agency rejected two other possible courses of action – either rejecting the project outright, or requiring a more detailed environmental impact statement. 

In recent months, a number of East Haven and New Haven residents and officials have called on FAA and the airport authority to undertake a further environmental study regardless of the outcome of the federal ruling.

Opponents of the expansion are predicting that instead of no significant impact, the expansion will worsen already heightened rates of asthma in the surrounding area, route traffic to the airport through residential neighborhoods and increase existing flooding in the neighborhoods surrounding Tweed. More than 70 people signed up to speak at an April hearing and hundreds submitted comments on the study.

On a Friday phone call with CT Examiner, Roger Reynolds, senior legal counsel for Save the Sound, said the decision ignores the reality of the project, and fails to address the criticisms from opponents.

“There’s no acknowledgement of any of the extensive criticisms that were submitted by federal agencies, state agencies, the public, municipalities,” Reynolds said. “And instead, they basically accepted the remarkably flawed document in its entirety.”

Reynolds also questioned the timing of the decision’s publication, given its proximity to the holidays.

“It’s a grim and cynical Christmas gift, dropping December 22 – the business day before Christmas – to try to hide it,” he added.

But Tweed Executive Director Tom Rafter has long maintained that the airport would follow FAA guidance and push the project forward if given approval.

In the press release, Rafter affirmed his intention to continue the expansion under the new FAA approval.

“This determination by the FAA marks another major milestone in the work to enhance HVN and fully realize a more-than $100 million investment by Avports in Southern Connecticut, and this ruling from the FAA is another step toward the promise fulfilling a more sustainable future for HVN,” Rafter said.