Noise. Jet Fuel Emissions. Traffic. A 'Bunch of Really Big Issues' Bother Tweed Neighbors

Nov. 19, 2020

Nov. 19—NEW HAVEN — The ground rules were to be honest, but respectful, with a focus on trying to reach a solution for everyone.

"One of my goals is to see if there are ways we can address neighborhood issues and the interest to get more air traffic to Tweed ( New Haven Regional Airport). Is there a way to resolve some of these challenges?" Mayor Justin Elicker asked.

The mayor spoke as the faces of the East Shore residents populated the screen on the Zoom platform.

For more than an hour, Elicker and the residents listened to concerns about the environment, traffic, noise and the smell of jet fuel.

This discussion this year was framed by two important factors: a Supreme Court ruling that will allow an expansion of the runway, giving hope to supporters, juxtaposed with the airport's recent announcement that its only commercial airline was pulling out, boosting opponents that feel the facility is just not viable.

Claudia Bosch's testimony included reading from a report on the potential for Tweed to add enplanements "as a regional jet port" as it moves toward "financial sustainability and independence." Bosch said that report was written when the New Haven Airport Authority was established in July 1997.

"We are now 23 years later. Tweed still has not reached financial stability or independence. How many more years shall the city support an airport that in my eyes never will reach sustainability?" she asked.

Bosch said Tweed is not an underserved market. Travelers are price sensitive and are willing to drive the 50 minutes to Bradley International Airport. She said solutions have been "just around the corner" for more than two decades and they are still not here.

Elicker said he also does not want to continue paying a subsidy for decades more "or string this along" for that time period.

Environmental and noise issues produced multiple concerns.

Rachel Heerema said the sound study that was done used computer modeling instead of noise monitors. She said other aspects of a promised program, such as continuous noise monitoring and pilot awareness in terms of where they fly, also hasn't happened.

On traffic, Heerema said the old traffic study predicted that mass transit would move people to and from the airport, but it is more likely there will be additional vehicles as travelers rely on Lyft and Uber services.

Heerema said the city's climate sustainability framework does not include any information on Tweed in terms of carbon emissions. She asked about factoring in sea level change and the increasing severity of storms. "There are a whole bunch of really big issues ringing all the bells," she said.

Jules Scanley said he is in the camp just to close Tweed, but short of that, he complained about the frequency and noise level of the small, private planes.

He wants noise limits and a discussion of the jet fuel and de-icer used in order to control emissions and determine what pollutants nearby residents are exposed to and what is going into Long Island Sound. Scanley also was concerned with the early morning noise made by the gun used to get wildlife off the runway.

A resident of Rayham Hill, Gail, said she her home has lost value because of the airport; she said she also has had to close all her windows to block out the smell of jet fuel.

She said she is a "citizen scientist" working with the University of Connecticut on the Connecticut Breeding Bird Atlas, responsible for 18 square miles around the airport. She worries the area will lose habitat when the runway is lengthened.

Sean O'Brien addressed the development of the master plan for the airport, which was being compiled for the past year. Given COVID-19, he said it is going to be irrelevant.

He asked the mayor in general for more transparency, such as the meetings he was having Tuesday, as well as possible attendance by Tweed Authority Executive Director Sean Scanlon at the East Shore Community Management Team meetings. He and some friends also are concerned about chemicals being used on the property and have talked to state officials about that.

Scanlon said Wednesday that he was pleased Elicker decided to hold the meeting and he "listened in and appreciated hearing what is on the minds of our neighbors."

"The concerns raised were not new to me and I'm glad to say we're actively working to address many of the issues raised last night," Scanlon said.

"We are committed to working collaboratively with both the mayor and neighborhood going forward and I'm looking forward to participating in future important dialogues like this one in the near future," he said.

Catha Cox worried that more planes mean more traffic at the beginning and the end of the day at the same time that residents are going to school and work. She said if the airport expands, Yale University and Yale New Haven Hospital will tout the airport on their promotional literature, a perk paid for by New Haven taxpayers.

Elicker said the city is hoping to convince the state to put in traffic controls on Townsend Avenue, a state road with fast-moving traffic.

John Cox said he wanted a realistic look at the economics of the airport and questioned the $300,000 payment the city pays every year to subsidize an airport that mainly benefits Yale and YNHH. He said it would be hard this year with the city's project $13 million deficit.

Susan Godshall, another resident of Rayham Hill, said she loved the airport.

"I actually find the airport a thrilling part of living here. I love it that people are coming and going from the city," she said.

"I think easy access to local airports is a wonderful tagline. It is how we grow. It is how New Haven attracts new businesses and keeps undergraduates and graduates here who might otherwise leave town," Godshall said. "It is essential. It is a part of 21st century life. It is important to be sophisticated and not provincial."

Devin Tichy, an editor with Tweed Facts, which publishes pro-Tweed material, and a corporate pilot based in New Haven, said having a working airport increases economic development and tax revenue by attracting more businesses.

Tichy said he grew up around the airport and has been here his whole life.

He said the profitability issue is brought up "all too often." Tichy said before COVID-19 the airport was trending in a great direction. "The product was getting better, the aircraft was getting quieter."

"Without COVID-19, it shows we can continue in that direction," he said.

Elicker said there would be a meeting on the master plan in late December or early January.

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