After roughly a year and a half of study, Tweed New Haven Airport and a national aviation consultant have published a federally mandated environmental assessment of the airport’s expansion plans — opening the review up to 45 days of public comment and bringing the airport one step closer to constructing a new terminal and extending the current runway.
The Morris Cove regional airport announced the publication of Tweed’s draft Environmental Assessment in an email press release Thursday morning.
The airport’s operators celebrated it as finding that a larger terminal and a longer runway would reduce noise and air pollution caused by an airport that plans to expand its operations no matter what. Airport expansion critics, meanwhile, lambasted it as a classic example of “greenwashing,” downplaying the environmental harms of increased airplane traffic in and out of a wetlands-adjacent property.
This draft EA has been in the works since Nov. 18, 2021. The airport conducted it along with consultants McFarland Johnson in line with requirements laid out by the National Environmental Policy Act, all to determine the impacts of a planned new four-gate terminal on the East Haven side of the airport property and a planned extension of the airport’s main runway to attract more commercial airfare.
With Thursday’s release of the draft EA, members of the public now have 45 days to weigh in on its findings — including at a planned April 1 public meeting at East Haven High School — before the federal government takes a final look to determine whether it agrees with its findings.
“Completion of this Environmental Assessment marks another successful milestone in our work to enhance HVN and fully realize a $100+ million investment in southern Connecticut that will create more than 1,147 direct jobs, in addition to the more than 300 jobs already created in the last year and a half,” Avports CEO Jorge Roberts is quoted as saying in Thursday’s press release. “The airport will continue to see additional activity in the coming years, and the draft assessment makes clear that this project would reduce the airport’s overall environmental impact to the region as that growth occurs.”
Tweed expansion critic and Morris Cove resident Gretl Gallicchio had a different take on the EA.
“After spending 4 hours with it so far today, I have only just begun to dig in to the guts of Tweed’s EA. But I am thunderstruck by what a thick packet of greenwashing it is, and I admit to being deeply disappointed,” she told the Independent in an email comment. “Tweed and its consultant, McFarland-Johnson, had since November 2021 to produce an honest and fair accounting of the foreseeable environmental impacts of the proposed expansion. What they have done instead is to take a plan which will enrich the airport’s private investors by devastating the area’s ecology, climate resilience, air quality, and the health of one of CT’s designated Environmental Justice communities — and spin it as some kind of environmental boon.”
The draft EA comes out as air service out of Tweed has increased dramatically since November 2021, after the new budget airline Avelo made New Haven its “East Coast” hub. Avelo is currently running nonstop flights to 14 different communities, including Orlando, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Savannah, Charleston, Chicago (delayed to May), Washington D.C., and Raleigh. It also comes soon after Tweed won permission to add 34 more parking spaces to accommodate high traffic at its current New Haven-side terminal.
According to the airport’s press release, the draft EA found that the airport’s planned expansion would “improve the airport’s future environmental impact” when compared to the increased air traffic Tweed expects it would have even if it doesn’t build a new terminal and extend the runway.
The expansion project would cut down on noise by reducing the number of “total necessary flights,” the press release states, by allowing for more passengers per plane and therefore fewer needed flights.
“The air quality analysis found that by relocating the terminal and extending the runway HVN and its airline partners can reduce overall impact on air quality when compared to doing nothing, with potential air emissions from the construction, forecasted operations, and changes in vehicle trips associated with expansion expected to be well below thresholds set by the EPA,” the press release continued.
The press release states that the draft EA “meets the requirements of NEPA and is required for all such projects by the FAA and outlines the purpose and need for the project, analyzing alternatives and potential impacts, and demonstrates compliance with federal, state, and local environmental laws, and requires public participation.” It has “included extensive research and information from a variety of sources, including: scientific studies, community input, and collaboration with numerous local, state, and federal agencies including the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.”
In a followup phone call Thursday morning, Airport Authority Executive Director Tom Rafter emphasized that the final determination for the EA is up to the FAA, which will check the work the consultants have done, verify the work, make sure the report provides enough data. Now the public input process begins, he said.
In a series of comments provided to the Independent for this article, various critics of Tweed’s expansion were skeptical that the airport could really have a reduced environmental impact with a larger terminal and a longer runway.
“The Environmental Assessment released this morning is long and dense and will require significant time and attention to review,” Morris Cove resident Lisa Bassani said. “The public should have more than 45 days to review and comment on the report and detailed appendices that took more than a year to prepare. However, it is clear that the Tweed Airport Authority and Avports are continuing their efforts to downplay the significant health and environmental impacts of the airport expansion. For those of us that live with the increased air pollution, noise, and other impacts – in an area that already suffers from poor air quality and flooding – the Airport Authority and Avport’s contention that the expansion will somehow decrease the environmental impact to the region is preposterous.” She then called for a full Environmental Impact Statement “given the serious effects of the proposed project on inland wetlands, emissions, stormwater flooding, among many other issues.”
10,000 Hawks member and East Haven resident Lorena Venegas agreed. “The Environmental Assessment points out the concerns about air and noise pollution, wetlands, and eminent domain. East Haven as an environmental justice town deserves an Environmental Impact Statement to access the damage and burdens of expansion including effects on asthma, cardiac health, stress and human health.”
And fellow Morris Cove resident and Tweed expansion critic Gabriela Campos raised questions about the underlying funding for Tweed’s planned $100 million expansion project. They “will be seeking federal dollars for this work … Goldman Sachs investors get paid no matter what. When this is so flooded and degraded it can’t be used for anything, they get to claim a loss,” she said. “The taxpayers are left holding the bag on bonds and the environmental clean-up. Given that we are a non-attainment zone for air pollution already — this whole project is a huge environmental justice issue.”