Tweed Airport Board Delays Addressing Expansion Questions, Citing Legal Concerns

Tweed New Haven Airport (CT Examiner)


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EAST HAVEN — The Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Board delayed its response to questions regarding the costs and timeline of the approved airport expansion on Tuesday, pointing to an ongoing legal battle with the town.

In a Feb. 14 letter to Tweed Executive Director Tom Rafter, the five board members appointed by East Haven — Kenneth Dagliere, Joseph Ginnetti, Linda Hennessey,  Raymond Pompano and Mark Scussel — requested a discussion about a five-year expansion planning document at the upcoming meeting.

Included in the letter were nine questions about the expected schedule, funding mechanisms and total cost of the federally approved expansion — which includes a new 75,000-square-foot terminal, a parking garage and surface parking on the East Haven side of the airport. The town representatives said they need the answers before approving the draft “Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan,” as the estimated scope and cost of the expansion keeps changing.

But at the Tuesday meeting, the board — including the East Haven members — unanimously voted to instead refer the questions to its legal counsel, delaying the airport’s response.

According to Guilford First Selectman and board Chair Matthew Hoey, the airport first needs to determine whether the letter is legally appropriate, as it was originally sent to Rafter by East Haven town attorney Michael Luzzi. 

“An email from the town attorney to an employee of the authority is somewhat unusual, and could be perceived as interrogatories,” Hoey said.

In August 2022, Luzzi sent the airport authority a litigation hold, meaning the board had to preserve all documents associated with the expansion in case the town sues the board for “impermissible activities.” Particularly, the town said it worried that Tweed colluded with the city of New Haven and Avports, Tweed’s airport management company, to impose unfair financial burdens on the town and increase the environmental impacts of the expansion.

The town has not yet sued the board, but last week it filed a petition to appeal the FAA’s approval of the planned expansion with the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

Hoey said on Tuesday that the board needs to ensure it can answer Luzzi, given the looming threat of litigation. But in a Friday statement to CT Examiner, Luzzi said the letter to Rafter has nothing to do with the 2022 litigation hold, and criticized the delay.

“The East Haven Tweed board members’ Capital Improvement Plan information request is not in any way related to the litigation hold letter sent by my office to Avports, the city of New Haven, and the authority, among others,” he said.

While Luzzi originally forwarded the letter to Rafter and Hoey, he said he did so on behalf of the East Haven members, not himself or the town.

Along with Luzzi, board member Dagliere separately sent the letter to Rafter and Hoey prior to the Tuesday meeting. Rather than delaying the response, Luzzi said the board could have simply answered Dagliere’s email instead.

“Let’s not allow legal intricacies overshadow the primary issue: East Haven members looking for answers to pertinent questions about the CIP. It’s fairly simple — respond to the questions posed,” Luzzi said.

Dagliere, who was appointed by East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora in 2022, made a similar argument at the meeting.

Dagliere said all board members have an obligation to ask questions on behalf of the surrounding communities. The expansion will have a particularly significant impact on East Haven and its taxpayers, he said, and inquiries sent by the town’s representatives must be answered.

Asked on Friday why the East Haven board members later voted to refer the letter to counsel, Dagliere pointed to an assurance made by Hoey at the meeting. 

Because the board received Luzzi’s email before Dagliere’s, Hoey said, the board must first address the town attorney. The chair declined to specify a deadline, but said he doesn’t anticipate the inquiries to take months to respond to. He added that Rafter and other airport staff are likely already working on an answer.

“I got the chairman’s word and the executive director’s word that our questions will be answered,” Dagliere said. “We see it as a separate issue from our agenda request.”

Over the last six months, Rafter, Avports and the FAA have made adjustments to the five-year plan, updating cost projections and funding mechanisms as they clarified the details of the expansion. According to a recent draft of the capital plan, the work in East Haven and extension of the existing runway is estimated to total about $165 million.

In the Feb. 14 letter, East Haven board members asked for the final cost of the expansion, the cost-share between the FAA and Avports, an update on a noise mitigation program and the expected construction schedule. The members also asked about the expansion’s future if there was a change in ownership of the airport operator.

Luzzi said he was concerned by the delay but acknowledged Hoey’s commitment to getting the questions answered.

“Time will tell if our members receive the requested information,” he said.