East Haven Files Federal Court Appeal Against Tweed Airport Expansion 

Tweed New Haven Airport (CT Examiner)

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EAST HAVEN — The town and the nonprofit Save the Sound have appealed the approval of the Tweed New Haven Airport expansion in federal court on Wednesday, maintaining that an environmental study failed to address “crucial” looming impacts.

After reviewing an environmental assessment of the $165 million plan, which includes the extension of a runway and new terminal and parking in East Haven, the FAA issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” in December, moving the project forward to the permitting phase without additional environmental studies.

But on Wednesday, East Haven and Save the Sound moved to challenge the FAA, filing separate petitions to appeal the decision with the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The federal court can now decide to either dismiss the petitions, affirm the FAA decision or reverse it.

According to East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora — who originally supported the expansion but changed his opinion after questioning the economic benefits for the town — the approved environmental assessment neglected to address environmental impacts on air quality, wildlife and water quality.

In a Wednesday news release, Carfora said the town is committed to a thorough appeals process, and outlined his concerns about the expansion.

“The Town of East Haven is deeply concerned about the environmental impact of the proposed Tweed Airport expansion. The project’s scope, including the construction of a close to 200-million-dollar facility in the middle of wetlands and approximately 6,000 parking spaces at or below sea level, raises serious concerns,” Carfora wrote.

In Save the Sound’s petition, Senior Legal Director Roger Reynolds similarly said the assessment fails to take the “requisite hard look” at environmental justice impacts.

Because both East Haven and New Haven are considered environmental justice communities based on poverty levels and racial composition, opponents have argued that potential impacts of the expansion need further study through an environmental impact statement. The FAA decision, however, blocked the opportunity for additional study under the National Environmental Policy Act review process.

In a Wednesday statement to CT Examiner, Jorge Roberts, chief executive officer of Avports — an airport management company which signed a 43-year lease with Tweed — stood by the original study and said the project would be moving forward throughout the appeal process.

“We’re confident in the thorough process undertaken by the FAA, which resulted in an official finding of no significant impact to the environment. Legal challenges are a normal part of the process, and the FAA has an excellent track record on appeals of this type,” Roberts said. “The project can and will continue to advance as this legal process plays out — design is already well underway and we will continue toward permitting.” 

Matthew Hoey, chair of the Tweed Airport Authority and first selectman of Guilford, also noted the merits of the environmental assessment, saying that the board would continue to work on the project as obligated by its lease. 

“The airport and its authority have taken part in the detailed, multiyear process for this project, which is overseen by federal and state agencies. The FAA thoroughly reviewed a detailed environmental assessment and subsequently gave their approval,” Hoey said. “While the federal legal process plays out, we will continue to work with Avports and the state of Connecticut to continue the design and permitting phase, as required under our lease agreement.”

While the approved study predicted little significant impacts on air quality, noise, traffic or wetlands, the town spent $250,000 to conduct its own studies exploring the expansion’s effects on traffic, stormwater maintenance, flood mitigation and inland wetlands. Firms like VN Engineers, Inc., Davison Engineering and Trinkaus Engineering concluded that the FAA’s study failed to analyze peak evening hours and intersections, and that the expansion would contribute to nearby stormwater pollution.

10,000 Hawks, a nonprofit group created by residents opposing the expansion, also used a $10,000 grant from New Haven Green Fund to hire a Tufts University researcher to study air quality around the airport. Dr. Neelakshi Hudda concluded that current residents surrounding Tweed may experience impacts from plane exhaust both inside and outside their homes. Several residents have said air quality will worsen if the airport’s plan is implemented.