The article on Tweed-New Haven Airport published in the CT Mirror and New Haven Register earlier this week raises very important points regarding climate change and resiliency. The Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority (THNAA) shares these concerns and we have been putting time, energy and resources into this challenge.
Unfortunately, the article makes only limited mention the economic urgency and lack of access to global markets in southern Connecticut. Over 60 percent of the air travelers from Tweed’s market area use New York City-area airports. This is a remarkable missed opportunity for Connecticut and the reason we need Tweed as a “southern tier” complement to Bradley Airport, which is in the Hartford/Springfield market. The unnecessary travel to out-of-state airports also adds to greenhouse gas emissions.
Attracting air service to multiple hub destinations could be achieved if the General Assembly eases the limitations of the current runway. Tweed’s runway 2-20 currently has 5,600 feet of pavement, and there is a 1,000-foot-long runway safety area (RSA) at each end of the runway. These grass safety areas provide a suitable surface that reduces the risk of damage to aircraft in the event of a deviation from the runway pavement. Tweed seeks to pave 1,000 feet of the runway safety area at the south end of the runway and 400 feet at the north end, so that planes taking off and landing will have a longer effective runway length, while further increasing the safety of operations.
Paving sections of the runway safety areas and taxiway improvements would add less than 0.25 percent to the impervious surface area of the local watershed. In fact, the airport itself is just 9.3 percent of the basin; the rest of the basin is comprised of homes and businesses in the surrounding neighborhoods. Both the airport and the surrounding neighborhoods have a similar percentage of impervious area (approximately 21 percent).
However, the airport sits at the low point of the surrounding neighborhood. As CIRCA’s Alex Felson points out, the airport and tide gates act as a bowl to collect water that otherwise can’t get out of the neighborhood due to high water in Long Island Sound. During a flood event, the ground is completely saturated, and the mix of pervious and impervious surfaces is much less important than the ability of the airport to store water in its “bowl,” and the capital improvement plan accounts for this very need.
More generally, the East Shore needs to be better protected and made more resilient given the forecast for sea level rise and the impacts of climate change. As the article points out, the fates of Tweed and the surrounding neighborhoods in flood events are closely linked. However, “retreat,” as suggested in the article, is categorically not the policy position of Tweed-New Haven Airport, the City of New Haven or the State of Connecticut.
Federal and state dollars for resiliency are often tied to infrastructure and economic impact; “retreating” from the airport potentially means retreating from funding the projects that would protect our neighborhoods from sea level rise now, in 2050, and beyond.
Numerous community and economic assets along our shoreline will need to be improved and/or protected in many circumstances. In recent years, East Haven received considerable federal funding to clean up and repair the damage from Hurricane Sandy. New Haven is working on a blend of flood protection, living shoreline and drainage improvements to protect the entire East Shore.
Perhaps most importantly, state leadership recently approved a $7.0 million capital improvement project at Sikorsky Airport in Bridgeport. As mentioned in the article, Sikorsky faces many of the same challenges along the shoreline and the state has made a clear policy decision in favor of a major infrastructure investment. Similar decisions are being made every day given the sluggish nature of the Connecticut economy and the urgency of climate change.
The very point of resiliency efforts is to achieve a balance of economic and environmental best practices which will support the health, safety and welfare of the community.
CIRCA’s modeling tool is referenced in the article. While useful for high level planning, the model does not take into consideration an important piece of airport infrastructure that already protects the surrounding neighborhoods: the Morris Creek tide gates. These tide gates were improved as part of the Phase 1 improvements at Tweed that established the runway safety areas, together with enhancing tidal wetlands and improving drainage.
Tweed manages the tide gates and takes pride in helping to reduce flooding in Morris Cove. Tweed’s operations team prevents daily street level flooding from high tides. Moreover, property-damaging floods would occur much more frequently with heavier rain events if it weren’t for the detention basins created on airport property, as part of a federally funded airport project, which accepts runoff from nearby neighborhoods, designed to relieve historic upstream flooding.
I raise these points in part because Tweed and the surrounding neighborhood can better address the adverse effects of climate change as partners. We cannot, however, be that partner until we address the economic opportunity cost and lost productivity associated with flights in and out of the New York-area airports.
Matthew Hoey is Interim Executive Director of the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority.
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